Inside the Bubble, All White Christians Look the Same

President-elect Trump’s pick for Department of Education, Betsy Devos, has deep ties to the Christian Reformed Church:

She is daughter of Edgar Prince, the founder of Prince Corp., an automobile parts supplier based in Holland, Mich. While her mother, Elsa, and her husband’s parents have supported anti-gay marriage efforts in the past, Betsy Devos has focused primarily on education.

DeVos has been member and an elder at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, which was formerly led by popular author Rob Bell. Former president of Fuller Seminary Rich Mouw said he served on a committee with her to replace Bell, and he said DeVos is heavily influenced by Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch writer and Calvinist theologian.

“I wouldn’t consider her to be right wing,” Mouw said. “She’s a classic free-enterprise conservative. She takes public life, art and politics very seriously.”

Middle-class work ethic – check

Anti-gay marriage – check

Abraham Kuyper – check

Rob Bell – what the bleep?

29 thoughts on “Inside the Bubble, All White Christians Look the Same

  1. Which is it? CRC or RCA?

    The DeVos family belongs to the deeply conservative Reformed Church in America, and has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.* (The Washington Post reports that Betsy DeVos has been an elder at Mars Hill, a nondenominational megachurch in Grand Rapids.)

    Dutch Americans get no respect.


  2. Scott Clark amplifies East Coast ignorance of LSA (Lesser States of America):

    On Wednesday of this week, Jane Mayer published what is known in the journalism business as a “hit piece” in The New Yorker on Betsy DeVos, whom president-elect Trump has nominated to become the Secretary of Education. Mayer begins “dirtying up” DeVos right away by positioning her as an insider and a member of the hated “donor class” (and thus a contradiction of Trump’s “outsider” campaign theme). She notes DeVos’ connections to the Koch Brothers and some of the travails of the DeVos family going back to the Regan administration. Most all of this is standard DC-NYC corridor stuff. It is intended to comfort the readers of the New Yorker that yes, they were right to vote for Secretary Clinton, yes, the bad people are now in charge.

    Along the way, however, as Mayer illustrates yet again why people ignored her class in this election, she also illustrated how utterly disdainful they are toward what they really do regard as “flyover country”—that great swath of the U.S. between Manhattan and Santa Barbara—but also how utterly disinterested they are in the truth. Meyer knows her job: to reinforce what her readers already believe to be true. So insulated is she that, when confronted by evidence to the contrary about basic facts (what is) she cannot accept the evidence. She knows a priori that she cannot have erred.

    How do I know this, the reader might reasonably ask? Because I saw it with my own eyes on Twitter. At 7:59PM James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, posted a quotation from Mayer’s article in which Mayer wrote that the DeVos family belongs to the “deeply conservative Dutch Reformed Church and has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.” Smith responded to this sentence by writing, “Stopped reading at this sentence which is a factual embarrassment twice over. So much for fact checking.” Mayer replied 8 minutes later confirming that Smith teaches at the college from which DeVos graduated and asking “what are the errors?” Smith informed her that there is no such denomination (at least since the mid-19th century) in the U. S. and that she is not a member of a Reformed Church. She is, in fact, a member of Mars Hill Bible Church, founded by Rob Bell. Smith explained that DeVos is a member of the Christian Reformed Church, regarded by some evangelicals as liberal (his language) and that she does not question the separation of church and state.


  3. How can she be Mars Hill and Gereformeerde Kerk? Talk about doleantie? Anyway, nice to see the West Michigan plutocrats spreading their wings. Dick Jr couldn’t win every square inch of Michigan but Betsy seems to have won every square inch of education.


  4. CRC or RCA, does it really matter? The new joint hymnal seems to suggest any lingering differences are quibbling (though it is some irony that one factor that caused the birthing of the CRC from the RCA was the issue of public schooling–the RCA making room, the dissenters perhaps worried that worldviewry was being undermined?).

    Still, DeVos seems about as “deeply Reformed” as her new boss is “deeply conservative.” More interesting here than the distinction-without-a-difference between Dutch Reformed sideline/mainline denominations is the difference between “conservative” and “rightist.” Does the relative inability of journalists to discern the difference between conservative and progressive religious bodies mirror the inability among religionists to discern between conservative and rightist politics?


  5. Zrim, no irony, just old fashioned Dutch culture viz a vis Americanized Dutch culture and before kuyperian worldviewism. Mirror?…sure, my big government is better than your big government.


  6. Zrim,

    The trajectory of the CRC since 2007 has, I think, justified calling it a “borderline” denomination. The new hymnal, which I have yet to see in print (I’ve perused it online) seems (as you suggest) to support such a view.

    Can you expand on your comment about the distinction without a difference between Dutch sideline and mainline denoms?


  7. Scott. I’m using your categories (because I have found them helpful in navigating my own way through the Dutch Reformed world).

    When I sat with its editor on a CRC worship committee, it seemed pretty clear that whatever formal distinctions there might still be between the RCA and CRC, the joint hymnal was one serious effort to bring back together two denoms that basically share a similar organic ethos as (useful category alert) cultural Calvinists. After 20 years at ground zero as something of an-observer-with-membership, when I think RCA and CRC, I don’t think TFU. I think Hope and Calvin Colleges. In other words, these are not so much doctrinal bodies as they are culturalist. They are only “deeply Reformed” if that term is defined by the latter instead of the former. And more to the point here, to the extent that education is a sub-set of cultural, and to the extent that DeVos is herself a product of Dutch academia, then, yeah, I guess she is “deeply Reformed.” But as a doctrinalist, her Mars Hill membership (and eldership) say something else. Something tells me that most journalists aren’t interested in a doctrinalist take though. And the church history lesson some seem eager to give someone like Mayer seem less interesting than asking DeVos what interest she has in public education as said product, because from a public education advocate’s point of view it looks like a legacy in trying to undermine or dismantle it. Is that what a worldview education is all about? But to be fair, I’ve seen plenty of worldviewers acting as better PE advocates.


  8. Hi Zrim,

    Thank you. I think we agree. I may be a little more optimistic about DeVos’ agenda. I’m hopeful that someone might break up the public school monopoly. It’s clearly not working—well, it’s working but it’s not educating.

    I don’t expect Mayer to get the nuances of church history or GR sociology but I do expect her to make corrections when presented with facts. She couldn’t see the distinction between simple facts and opinion. The attempted correction is still wrong! I find that amazing. It used to be a cardinal rule of basic journalism that the reporter is to get this sort of stuff right or at least to make corrections.


  9. Scott, she’s clearly a product of government schools. But seriously, any good PE advocate would agree that like many institutions it needs reform. It’s not as obvious that DeVos is the one to do it. She’s less an educator than an activist with money. That has great popular appeal, but from where some sit it looks a lot like government business as usual.


  10. Zrim and Scott, the irony is that public schools used to be what made America great. The public school was the institution that assimilated immigrants to the “American way.” For a long time, Protestants (except for Dutch Calvinists) were happy with public schools. But once they took out prayer and Bible reading, the seeds of Make America Great were available.


  11. Darryl, ding. Local neighborhood schools were (and still can be) a vital institution for fostering place and cohesion among a highly diversified populace. But atomization, personalization, even consumerism is the rule of the day and education is no exception. A champion of vouchers, DeVos looks more like an agent for the latter. And the former can be done without prayer and Bible reading. Try harder, Protestants.


  12. Darryl and Zrim,

    What’s your solution when the neighborhood schools are crap with respect to actually providing an education?

    Anectdote—I am a product of public schools through my bachelors degree and I received a good education. But several years ago, during seminary, I was a cashier at a grocery store where many of the other cashiers were high school students in one of the best school systems in the area. When the registers went down and we had to whip out old fashioned digital calculators to ring up orders and figure tax, they hadn’t a clue how to do any of it.

    So while it is true that many Eeeeeeeeeeeevangelicals went negative when prayer was removed, that’s not the only reason. It also overlooks the fact that for decades and even now, most Eeeeeeeevangelicals still send their kids to public schools. Most Christians I know, myself included, would be quite happy to send their kids to public schools if they could be reasonably sure that their kids would receive a good education and that their kids wouldn’t be subject to social reengineering from the federal government and crap like title IX being used to ram transgenderism and other such things down their throats. I can’t be sure of that in my area, and it’s all but impossible to get any significant parental involvement in the schools, so what’s the answer?

    And how are schools great tools for social cohesion when they’ve become test labs for victimization culture and the very politically-motivated and thoroughly leftist NEA? When teacher union membership is mandatory in so many school systems?

    Say what you want about atomization, personalization, and consumerism. They are all driving factors as well. But maybe they wouldn’t be so attractive without all of this other crap.


  13. Robert, as I’ve mentioned, any good PE advocate would concede it needs reforms. The same advocate would concede that competition makes it better, i.e. good private and parochial schools should viewed as assets (is the favor returned, ahem?). I understand your grievances with regard to the social engineering and political maneuvering, but after a lifetime in PE in various capacities (student, teacher, parent), they also sound more like the grievances informed by sensational media outlets. Most days on the ground where it really matters teachers are trying to get Johnny to master his 3Rs and aren’t as interested in the politics swirling above.

    When our oldest was to begin kindergarten, we weren’t satisfied with the local PS around the corner, nor the Xian school across the street from it. We went charter (which also wasn’t perfect). We’ve since returned to traditional local PE (with some later dabbling in college prep charter) and have experienced the usual mixed bag of let down and satisfaction. My guess is that it would have been the same report in the local Xian schools. The point is that there is no superior answer to various imperfections. I know many think they have one.


  14. Zrim,

    To be fair, it depends a lot on the school district with respect to the social engineering aspects. Some of it will be ignored in more conservative states. But the threat of the loss of federal funding is a game changer. It’s not just sensationalism.

    Which probably argues more than anything else for the federal government to get out of the education business entirely, but that’s another question. All I know is that in my local area, the best school system still has to confront problems such as people getting raped in the bathroom and other such things while producing students who can’t even use a basic calculator. That is a marked difference from when I was in public high school in South Florida twenty years ago in a system that drew from a comparatively less affluent area.


  15. Robert, victimization culture? At least it’s an ethos.

    I’m not saying public schools as now constituted are the answer. I am saying that historically white Protestants put their trust in public schools to teach the American (read Protestant) way. As a multi-culturalist, I’m with Machen. We should have lots of different schools for different needs with lots of foreign languages. But when you do remove an important institution from the mix of national consolidation, you’re going to get something like what we have.

    Except, the military unifies — makes us all proud (as long as we don’t have to think about the foreign policy). There’s that.


  16. Hmmm, what I remember about school is that I was already better than all my teachers, except for the guy who went on to the Vatican. He’s a smart one. Seriously, I can count the number of good teachers(the ones I learned something from) I had on one a hand. School was about socialization. Just look at the disservice that has been done to so many homeschooled kids. Knickers, blouse and a large wooden cross on a leather rope necklace is no way to go through adolescence.


  17. Cw, that’s a lot of money spent to find a “new way”(postmodern context) to say that you have a friend in Jesus. Of course, there’s all the doctrinal qualifications and understandings that need to come with that and Redeemer isn’t in that business. Not winsome enough.


  18. Zrim, you’re anti-Trump slip is showing:

    No one listening to the entirety of this interview should feel uneasy or triggered, in any way. In fact, across the board, whether Democrat or Republican, Christian or other, parents should be comfortable with DeVos’ take on improving schools.

    Now that it has been put out there, however, expect that one point, “advance the kingdom of God,” to be all you hear about, twisted into a thousand different versions of leftist condemnation.

    Democrats gonna Democrat.


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