A Paper and Portal of Reformed Social Action
August 2001 (Issue 0701)
Inside this Issue:
From Loving to Sing to Loving a Convicted Felon?
Diamonds and Small Arms: The Issues Cannot be Separated
Conflict Diamonds Update
Latin American Nominations Raise Concerns
An African Discussion about Africa
Extras: Charitable Choice to Criminal Justice
From Loving to Sing to Loving a Convicted Felon?
How does one go from doing good works to ―doing justice?‖
How did one man go from loving to sing to loving a convicted felon named Maurice
Doug Tjapkes, a member of Ferrysburg Community CRC in Michigan, loves music. The
church organ salesman directed a choir called His Men Chorus for twenty-one years. His
Men most often sang in penitentiaries for the inmates, and it was through these visits that
Tjapkes became interested in the stories of some of the men serving time.
Tjapkes heard about Maurice Carter, a man who was convicted twenty-five years ago for
assault with the intent to kill. In 1973, a man opened fire on an off-duty police officer in
a Benton Harbor wig and record shop. The officer was shot six times in front of his wife
and twelve other eyewitnesses. Two years later, Carter stood trial for the shooting, was
convicted, and has been in jail ever since. The strange thing is, the evidence
overwhelmingly shows that Carter had nothing to do with the crime.
What happened? The details of the case are disturbing. Carter was arrested two years
after the crime on the testimony of an acquaintance, a habitual drug offender who, in
return for a dismissal of the harsh drug charges against him, gave testimony against
Carter. Though the acquaintance recanted his testimony during the trial saying that he
fabricated the story to avoid his own charges, the trial went on. There was no physical
evidence linking Carter to the crime, nor was there any apparent motive.
―His trial was a mockery and a farce,‖ said Tjapkes, who met Carter after hearing his
story. The jury, all white, was not informed of the weaknesses and discrepancies in the
testimony of various eyewitnesses. One witness who testified that Carter looked like the
gunman had initially stated that he did not see the gunman at all. Another witness who
testified against Carter (who had initially stated she saw only a ―shadow of a black man‖)
was employed by the prosecutor’s office at the time. The store clerk, a black woman,
who had actually waited on the gunman for several minutes before the shooting, has
stated for the past twenty-five years that Carter was definitely not the gunman. The
gunman shot with his left hand, while Carter is right-handed. And the list does not stop
What started for Doug Tjapkes as a ministry of singing soon turned into an interest in the
lives of the incarcerated, which then turned into a specific ministry of action and justice
for a man Tjapkes believed was wrongly accused.
―Maurice was so nice that I agreed to see him once in a while and write him once in a
while. Nothing more,‖ said Tjapkes. ―Then God stepped in, and the doors that opened
The University of Wisconsin Innocence Project, Rubin Hurricane Carter and his
Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted based in Toronto, the Medill School of
Journalism, and Northwestern Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions have all
taken on Maurice Carter’s cause, working to free him.
Tjapkes became the Executive Secretary of the Citizens Committee for the Release of
Maurice Carter. ―I’m not going to be satisfied until he gets out,‖ said Tjapkes. Carter
has one appeal left.
There is not a very great gulf between loving to sing and loving justice. In fact, it’s a
natural progression. It’s a simple gift of grace that gets people like Doug Tjapkes to
notice who’s in their path, to sense the wrong, and to put some effort into making it right.
Maurice Carter is only one man. One twenty-five year ―mistake‖ in a system that may
have almost 200,000 innocent people locked away. What’s the next natural progression?
To learn more about Maurice Carter’s case and to join the effort visit
www.freemauricecarter.com or contact Doug Tjapkes at email@example.com. Consider this
for a social justice project for your church, and keep Maurice Carter and those working
on his case in your prayers.
Sources: The Banner, October 2, 2000
The Muskegon Chronicle, May 4, 2001
Diamonds and Small Arms: The Issues Cannot be Separated
We in the CRCNA Social Justice office and in Sierra Leone have been encouraging you
to support US Congressional legislation against conflict or blood diamonds. Thank you
for your understanding and for the letters you have written to your representatives in
Congress. However, my friend and co-worker in Sierra Leone, Paul Conteh, was not
beaten to death with a bag of diamonds. He was killed by a child soldier with an AK-47
(automatic rifle), shot along with several others at a rebel check point.
Literally thousands of people have been killed by small arms in Sierra Leone’s brutal
civil war. The diamond issue and the small arms issue can not be separated.
Small arms have recently made the news because of a major worldwide United Nations
conference on the control of small arms. Representatives of more than 140 nations met at
UN Headquarters in New York City to discuss the flow of small arms to the world’s
conflict zones, many of them in Africa where I have lived and worked for over twenty-
five years. Small arms are generally thought to include hand held automatic weapons
(AK 47s, M-16s, Uzis, machine pistols, mortars, fragmentation grenades, land mines,
handguns, light machine guns.) The UN estimates that every year close to 500,000 people
are killed in God’s world by the 500,000,000 small arms that are used by rebel
movements, terrorists, ethnic conflicts such as in the Balkans and Rwanda, and by
oppressive governments such as Sudan, Liberia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
The United States opposed agreements to control the arms trade, particularly the
provisions that would prohibit civilians from owning military weapons and another that
would restrict arms trade to rebel groups. The secretary general of the UN, Kofi Anan,
personally urged the US to reconsider its position with no success. We have to look
beyond a domestic NRA argument on gun control. The simple fact is that uncontrolled
arms sales, which are a major growth industry in some parts of the world, are killing
innocent civilians in the hundreds of thousands on a regular basis. This is not right, it is
not biblical, and it violates almost every Christian moral value that I can find in the bible.
And we as a church ought to be speaking out on this issue.
To that end I suggest that we as a church educate ourselves on the issue of small arms
trafficking in the world today. To do that it would be helpful to take some time to do your
own investigation of some very informative websites, which are listed below:
www.IANSA.org (International Action Network on Small Arms) This website will
provide information and links which describe and expose the illicit arms trade in Africa,
Latin America and Asia.
www.Amnesty.org/web/ttt.nsf/June2001/sierra_leone (Terror Trade Times) This
website describes in detail how terror is used by various governments, how the arms trade
threatens global security, and has several case studies which expose the perpetrators in
Sierra Leone, Columbia, and the Middle East.
Both of these web sites will lead you to a wealth of information about the arms trade and
will help you understand how our own government is involved in it.
It would be time well spent. As Christians who pursue biblical justice in our relationships
with countries and people around the world, we must be aware, active, and be Christ’s
footprints in the shady world of arms dealing and the continued global violation of basic
Paul Kortenhoven, CRWRC/WM to Sierra Leone firstname.lastname@example.org
Conflict Diamonds: Kimberley Process Meets for Seventh Time in
During the second week of September, non-government organizations, the diamond
industry, and thirty-five governments will meet in London to attempt an agreement on an
international certification system that will help end the trade in conflict diamonds.
The meetings, called the Kimberley Process, were initiated in May 2000 by South Africa
and pushed forward in an UN General Assembly Resolution to develop the certification
In the prior six meetings, Governments and diamond industry resistance to international
standards had frustrated the NGO and anti-conflict diamond supporters. A group of
NGO’s and concerned partners are now circulating a petition of support for strict controls
in the attempt to place pressure on the resistant governments and diamond industry.
The petition, organized by Oxfam International and Partnership Africa Canada, argues
that self-regulation of diamond certification will not work, rather, governments and the
diamond industry must form an agreement for a certification system with credible
international monitoring provisions.
Peter Vander Meulen, coordinator for the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action,
and Paul Kortenhoven, a long-time missionary to Sierra Leone and anti-conflict diamond
advocate, have signed on to the petition, joining hundreds of other organizations from
around the world.
Latin America Nominations Raise Concerns
President Bush has nominated some familiar names to serve in senior positions
responsible for Latin America policy and human rights.
Elliot Abrams, Otto J. Reich, and John Negroponte, officials once worked under the
Reagan administration, are among the men chosen in the controversial Bush nominations.
Critics are concerned that, at the very least, these men will create a divisive atmosphere
in Latin American policy.
In 1992, Former President Bush pardoned one of the better known of the returning
officials, Elliot Abrams. He had pled guilty to misleading Congress about the Iran-contra
affair. ―I just find it passing strange that perjury or lying to Congress can become a
qualification for public office,‖ said former ambassador to El Salvador, Robert E. White.
Source: New York Times, ―Bush’s Latin America Nominations Reopen Wounds‖
For Further Information: Petition to Oppose John Negroponte
Pan-African Seminars on Religion and Poverty – An African Discussion
It hasn't made the front pages of even the religious press, but if you want to know where
the new religious energy and creativity will come from to understand and confront
poverty and related social ills in the new millennium, look to African religious scholars
both on the continent and in the diaspora.
The second of a series of yearly pan-African seminars aimed at providing a channel for
African religious scholars to discuss religion and poverty took place this past July in
Kenya. The first seminar took place in Ghana while others are planned for South Africa,
and Jamaica. The four-year series will culminate in an international conference in the
United States in 2004.
Peter Paris, a Christian Social Ethicist at Princeton Theological Seminary is the force
behind the seminars. He believes that past pan-African discussions have concentrated on
political, economic, and liberation issues and have largely excluded the religious
perspective. He believes a new discussion bringing together the pan-African common
thread of endemic poverty and the rich and vibrant African religious experience could
generate significant new energy and ideas.
We'll keep you informed.
Extras: From Charitable Choice to Criminal Justice
Charitable Choice Information: Amy Sherman’s Charitable Choice Handbook for
Ministry Leaders is a guide that ―aims to provide basic information on Charitable
Choice—what it is, how it works, what types of faith-based organizations might best
benefit from it, and how to pursue the new opportunities it affords.‖ The Handbook is
available for five dollars on the Center for Public Justice website: visit
http://www.cpjustice.org/stories/storyReader$351 to order.
For more on charitable choice, check out the August 27 issue of The Banner for the
―Uncle Sam’s Charitable Choice‖ article by James Skillen.
Criminal Justice News:
Recommended Reading: Beyond Retribution: A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime,
and Punishment, by Christopher D. Marshall. For Advocate reader John De Vries’s
review of Marshall’s book, please write to email@example.com with your request. (Mr. De
Vries is the Communications Chair of the Church Council on Justice and Corrections.)
The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice, edited by Michael L. Hadley. Both titles are
available on Amazon.com.
The Church Council on Justice and Corrections now has an electronic newsletter, ―The
Well.‖ The newsletter explores issues in Canadian criminal and restorative justice. Visit
www.ccjc.ca for more information on the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, and
send an email with ―subscribe‖ in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org to join the newsletter
Honors for CPJ Co-Founder: Gerald Vandezande, co-founder and former national
public affairs director for the Canadian organization, Citizens for Public Justice, was
awarded the Order of Canada on August 22 for his work for social justice in Canada.
Read the CPJ press release at http://www.cpj.ca/about/release.pdf
CRC Classis British Columbia Northwest to Consider Overture on Restorative
Justice: Following a successful denomination wide consultation of CRC members
connected to the criminal justice systems in the US and Canada, First Christian Reformed
Church of Victoria has asked Classis British Columbia Northwest to appoint a committee
to study the "Biblical concept of Restorative Justice ..." The study, if approved by classis,
will seek to illuminate how Christian involvement in Restorative Justice efforts could
witness to society by seeking reparation, restoration, and reconciliation in the context of
community rather than seeking retribution and punishment.
An ad-hoc group in the US and Canada led by Canadian Chaplain John De Vries is
continuing the work of the February 2001 consultation which asked the denomination to
study the criminal justice situation in our two countries and to work on educational
efforts. A copy of the overture is available from the CRC denominational Office of
Social Justice and Hunger Action: email@example.com
Web Bytes: Visit Seeds of Hope Publishers for information on the fall worship packet
with a hunger emphasis. http://seespublishers.org/he_2001_ad.html or www.seedspublishers.org.
Citizens for Public Justice has joined the Rabble – that is, the new alternative news
website at www.rabble.ca The website is a source for a number of justice-oriented but
quite disparate organizations to post their news and views, and for Canadians to get
alternative and unfiltered takes on the stories and the issues of the day.
Bread for the World News: The U.S Senate passed the S.Con.Res.53, the ―Hagel-Leahy
Hunger to Harvest Resolution.‖ Sponsorship is growing for H.Con.Res.102, ―Hunger to
Harvest Resolution: A Decade of Concern for Africa.‖ Find out if your Representative is
a cosponsor, visit www.bread.org.
The Advocate Calendar
Friday, November 9, 2001 - 8:30 a.m. Call to Renewal Roundtable on Poverty
Convened by West Michigan Call to Renewal with keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Yvonne
Delk at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church. Call 774-2042 for more
The West Michigan Call to Renewal is a West Michigan movement of people of faith, led
by the West Michigan Call to Renewal Committee, coordinated by and legally grounded
in the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism, affiliated with the National Call to
Renewal, and supported by denominations, congregations, organizations and people of
faith in West Michigan.
Sunday, September 9, 2001--8 p.m. AFRICA, the magnificent eight-hour series
presented by Thirteen/WNET New York’s Nature series and National Geographic
Television, will premiere on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and air on consecutive
Sundays through October 28. These two critically acclaimed production units have
collaborated to create a landmark television event, unprecedented in its treatment of
historical and contemporary Africa -- illuminating the continent’s cultures, religion, art,
history, ecology, and wildlife.
Editor: Peter Vander Meulen
Managing Editor: Tracy Young
The Advocate is a publication of the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action of the
Christian Reformed Church in North America
2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49560
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