Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Lives are at stake in Ottawa County

Below is my column in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

Like many Ottawa County residents, I looked with trepidation to the swearing in of the new Ottawa Impact majority board of commissioners. I was sure I would disagree with some of their decisions, but was also hopeful they would stick with traditional conservative ideals of governmental transparency, limited overreach, and the other principals which have resulted in Ottawa County being such a successful and great place to live for decades.

I have been beyond disappointed.

I was shocked by the moves they made immediately upon taking office, without any opportunity for public input. I was offended that Chairperson Joe Moss has the gall to refuse any clergy to give the invocation at their meeting unless he personally approves of them (As a priest in the city of Grand Haven, I had offered to continue in that service as I had to the previous board, but was told that outside clergy were no longer able to pray before the meeting).

I was dismayed and deeply troubled when the new county administrator found himself so out of his depth on the job that he hired a high-priced assistant to do much of the work for him (work our previous administrator had no trouble handling).

I was floored when they actually leveled claims of unethical conduct against our Republican county clerk, Justin Roebuck, a dedicated public servant who has long had the respect of locals in both political parties. Those are just the lowest points of the past several months. Anyone who has been paying attention knows there has been much more.

However, all of this pales in comparison to the decision of the Ottawa Impact-led board to delay the funding agreement once more for our 2023 Community Health Needs Assessment. This is the nuts and bolt of what actually matters in county government – bringing local stakeholders together to meet the needs of citizens in doing work that doesn’t historically have any real partisan shade to it.

This assessment is something our county does in cooperation with Holland Hospital, Corewell Health Zeeland Hospital, Trinity Health Grand Haven, United Way of Ottawa and Allegan Counties, Community Mental Health and other organizations. It helps the three hospital meet the requirements they must meet in order to maintain tax-exempt status as nonprofit organizations. And it helps county officials in the Department of Public Health know what trends they should be watching for in Ottawa County.

Thankfully, the three hospitals are moving forward, whether or not the county partners with them in this work. They understand the importance of a community health assessment for any local area.

The refusal of the Ottawa Impact commissioners means the county cannot even pay the $29,000 invoice we’ve received (even though we have grant funds to cover it). Saying we won’t pay our bills is one of the choices that will directly and adversely affect what had previously been a stellar bond rating that we held as a county.

You may be curious why the majority of the commissioners continue to delay this agreement. It is because they do not believe in the conservative principle of limited government. Instead, they want the board of commissioners to micromanage tasks that are rightly done by trained professionals. The commissioners reject questions asking whether a respondent has contemplated suicide or had an adverse childhood experience (ACE), finding such questions potentially retraumatizing.

Our deputy health director patiently explained that the surveys are carefully crafted by trained professionals, all the participants are consenting adults and those who administer the survey are trained to explain the sensitive nature of some questions. No one is forced to answer anything and people can stop at any time. Respondents are also offered the opportunity to talk to someone from Community Mental Health, if they are having a difficult time.

But you cannot reason with people whose sole goal is to obstruct the work of the health department. They shouted in the hallways when the previous board noted that it is not the purview of a county board of commissioners to make public health decisions best made by trained and duly appointed professionals. They lost in the courtroom when they tried to interfere with best public health practices in Ottawa County.

So, they raised a heap of money and ran feigning conservative values, winning a majority in a primary that has historically very low turnout. And now that they have the power, they are using it no matter the cost.

But there will be a cost. If we do not know about the rates of suicidality and suicidal ideation in our county, we will not be able to respond adequately to help those at risk. If we do not know about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), we will not be able to build safety nets and support for the long-term impacts of those with ACEs. Why in the world would the commissioners not think this is important information for our Department of Public Health and our healthcare providers to know?

These commissioners need to get their hands out of these surveys. They need to let trained professionals do the work that we have already contracted to do, work that other counties do regularly to try and best serve those at the margins, those struggling in the community. If they do not, and because of this we cannot respond to issues like suicidality and ACEs, then the cost will be in human lives. Actual deaths that are preventable right here in our county.

I hope they will turn from this course and turn toward their fundamental call – serving the residents of this community. But so far, they seem content to play political football with people’s lives and livelihood. How much longer will the residents of Ottawa County let this continue?

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A Queer Place on Holy Week

Below is my column in today’s edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

Last year, when our church started hosting the Lakeshore GSA – Gender, Sexuality, and Allies – Youth Group (find out more at, I had the delight of coming in a few times to offer some teaching and connection with aspects of queer theology. In particular, I spent some time one night reflecting with them about the idea of finding “A Queer Place in Holy Week.”

Queer theology comes out of the same sources of Liberation Theology. In the middle of the twentieth century, theologians in Latin America (first within the Roman Catholic Church but then spreading to other protestant denominations), started questioning some of the assumptions of mainline theology. In particular, it noted how Scripture is often read (and theology is often done) from the perspective of those with privilege, wealth, and power in society. However, when those same texts are read by the marginalized, they tend to be understood quite differently. In particular, the socio-economic and political liberation of the poor can be seen as a dominant theme in Scripture, running through the Deuteronomic code of the Torah all the way to the teachings of Jesus himself.

Liberation theology since then has developed several sub-streams, including black theology in the United States, Dalit theology in India, and Palestinian liberation theology. (The bishop of my diocese, the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, did significant work in his doctoral program on the Dalit class in India. You can hear him discuss some of this in a couple of podcasts produced by our denomination: and In the late twentieth century, Marcella Althaus-Reid drew from the liberation theology she had learned growing up in Argentina and began working in and developing both feminist and queer theology.

The basic argument of queer theology is similar to the original argument of liberation theology. Liberation theology had argued that Scripture and theology is too often done from a place of economic privilege and so ignores the way that power and socio-economic class misuse Biblical texts to further oppression and protect the powerful. Similarly, much of mainstream theology reads Scripture and does theology from a heterosexist perspective which assumes a heterosexual and cisgender identity. Because of that, it has often missed the way Scripture speaks to and for those of other sexual orientations and gender identities.

Some of the best known queer theologians, in addition to Althaus-Reid, if you want to explore this further, include Bishop Hugh Montefiore (Anglican Bishop of Kingston and Birmingham), John J. McNeil (and openly gay Roman Catholic priest, psychotherapist, and theologian who was expelled from his Jesuit order), and Shannon TL Kearns (the first openly transgender man to be ordained into the old Catholic priesthood and the co-founder of the website

When Queer theology begins to explore the experience of Holy Week, several powerful points come to the fore that are often missed by mainstream theology. On Palm Sunday, when Christ rides into the city on a donkey instead of an imperial horse (which is what would have been expected for a triumphal king), he identifies with the poor, oppressed, and outcast. He refuses to participate in the systems of the empire and instead lays claim to non-violent reign. From this perspective, Palm Sunday pushes to ask if we are those who cheer the empire or those who stand with the oppressed and who actively resist their oppression. The call to resistance is seen when, after riding into the city, Christ actively resisted oppression by flipping tables in the marketplace of the temple.

When we look at Holy Thursday, this is the night that we remember Christ’s command that we wash one another’s feet. It is also the night we remember the institution of Holy Communion. Queer theology looks at Holy Thursday and reminds us that love – not judgment and exclusion – are at the core of the Christian faith. Jesus washed everyone’s feet, even the feet of Judas, his betrayer. The washing of feet is a truly intimate and humble act. For many LGBTQ people, physical touch and intimacy can be scary until you have claimed your identity. We are reminded that the grace of the sacrament of communion is a gift we receive because of God’s love for us, not because we fit into the boxes other people put us in. At the end of the liturgy, it is tradition to strip the altar as a reminder that Christ underwent a brutal and humiliating stripping and torture. Christ does this in solidarity with all of those who suffer, but queer theology sees this particularly as an act of solidarity with those who are the subject of homophobic and transphobic violence.

We come to Good Friday and remember Christ’s death on the cross. Queer theology reminds us that Jesus was killed by religious and political extremism that saw his extravagant love as a threat to their power. We can name doubt and fear on this day, remembering that even Jesus’ closest friends ran away. Knowing that he welcomed them back with love on Easter should give us room to know that if we also run away for a season in our lives, that does not have to be the end of our story.

On Holy Saturday, the church traditionally rests in stillness as Christ’s body lies dead and buried in the tomb. We are reminded on Holy Saturday that Jesus followers turned from their failure and reclaimed the body of their friend for burial—a painful echo of the victims of AIDS whose loved ones often had to fight for the right of their bodies to be honored. We are also invited, as a church, to acknowledge that no matter our theological hope in resurrection, death and suffering are still a very present reality today. Queer theology notices that sometimes when we risk, we also meet pain. When someone comes out, or wears clothes that match their gender identity for the first time, or speaks up against the anti-gay perspective of their church … and instead of being celebrated, they are rejected … or worse. When this happens Holy Saturday reminds us that even if it feels like death and hate is winning, love is at work.

When we finally arrive at Easter Sunday, Queer theology invites us to recognize the subversive nature of the resurrection narrative. Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection—and their voice and belief was at first dismissed by the dominant male disciples. The reality that those on the margins, those who were excluded by society and religion, were the first to bring the good news pushes mainstream Christians to look to our Queer siblings and to ask what good news of God’s love and grace they might offer to us.

As you walk this sacred time over the next few days, perhaps consider your own perspective, the lenses and privilege you might bring to the narrative. Perhaps queer theology can help you experience God’s grace anew. And if you are a part of the queer community, I hope you also know how very much this week is for you. Because it is in this sacred week that Jesus Christ insists you are beloved exactly as you are. And even though religion and politics killed Jesus, he stands with you resurrected, inviting you to claim your place as God’s beloved child no matter what misguided religion or politics might say.

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

More Pride Needed in Grand Haven

 Below is my column in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune

Two years ago, in the summer, I stood on the stage at Waterfront Stadium and looked out over a crowd filled with rainbows.

When my parish, St. John’s Episcopal Church, had planned to host the first-ever Pride Community Worship Service, we were not sure how many people would come. We hoped to see around 50 or so people – about as many as we were seeing at in-person worship at our church at that point in the pandemic.

We did not expect over 200 people to fill Waterfront Stadium, people who gathered on the morning of the last Sunday of Pride Month to celebrate all of God’s beloved children, especially those members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have experienced such marginalization and discrimination from the church.

After the second Pride Community Worship Service last summer, several of those who helped organize the event – along with participants – had a sense that we were ready for more. Ever since then, that group has been working to plan for the first Grand Haven Pride festival.

Our application is winding its way through the city processes, and we are hopeful that it will be approved soon so that we can begin planning in earnest. Because it is so very important to have a fully supported community celebration, one that is not just a worship service but one that is a full pride festival that everyone can be a part of.

One of the reasons this need has become clear to me is the work I’ve done with other community leaders in the Lakeshore GSA Youth Group. Hosted by our church, the Lakeshore GSA Youth Group ( meets every Thursday night and is for any LGBTIA+ teens in the Tri-Cities area and any kids who see themselves as allies to this community.

Though our church hosts it in our space, the programming is not religious, and the leaders are drawn from adults around the community – not just members of our parish. Once a month, we offer a special add-on book discussion that is religious for the kids who want to grow in that side of their identity, but it’s not required. Our goal is to provide a safe space for kids. That’s all.

Having run this group for two years now, let me just say that these kids are amazing. Absolutely amazing. Their strength of identity and character inspires me to no end. They are funny, smart, curious and tremendously interesting to spend time with on Thursday nights. They are a big reason we are pivoting from the Pride Community Worship Service on Sunday to a full Pride festival on a Saturday. They have a passion for speaking out, being clear about who they are, and being bold advocates for other youth whose families or faith communities might not support their sense of gender identity or sexual orientation.

If you have a kid that you think would enjoy coming, feel free to contact me at – I’d love to add you to our email group and put you in touch with our leadership.

As many of you know, I grew up in Grand Haven. I have friends I know from growing up here who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and who have told me how massively difficult it was at times. When I was younger, a foolish middle school kid who should have known better, I know I was a part of making it hard for some kids. In some ways, as I work to support the Lakeshore GSA Youth Group, I feel like I’m trying to do penance for the sins of my more conservative and homophobic youth. I know God forgives me, but also know God calls me to make right the harm of the past.

My sense, from the crowds of people at our Pride Community Worship Services over the past couple of years, is that I’m not alone. There are lots of Christians out there who may not agree with their church’s position on this question and who want to be a bold and explicitly affirming voice. I also know that there are several business and organizations right here in Grand Haven who support the LGBTQIA+ community. And, most importantly, we have amazing LGBTQIA+ leaders in the Tri-Cities, people who already contribute so much to making this a great place to live.

My deep hope is that all of these people will come together and support the first Grand Haven Pride festival this summer. You can find out more about the planned festival at The leadership team is still developing and, in addition to leads for a few programmatic areas, we are looking for a second member of the LGBTQIA+ community to serve as a co-chair alongside of our other co-chair, local social worker, educator, and minister, Jess Robinson.

To see what positions of leadership are open, go to Our next meeting of the Steering Committee, where we will plan to lay the final groundwork for structure and planning, is next Monday, March 6. If you’d like information on joining, you can contact the committee at

I am proud to call Grand Haven my home. I’m proud to have grown up here. I’m proud to be a Buccaneer. But I’ll be even prouder this summer when I see the many organizations, businesses and community leaders who I know will stand up and say Grand Haven is a place where you belong, no matter who you are, no matter who you love, and no matter your gender identity. You belong here.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Combatting the corrosive power of Christian nationalism

Below is my column in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune

A few years ago, before the current debates and arguments about the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, I attended a meeting where they were considering the question of refugee resettlement in our county. As the priest at a church that had helped a Sudanese family resettle here, and with a strong commitment to refugees in my own faith, I wanted to speak in favor of this important work.

The room was packed to overflowing so much so that we were not in the normal meeting room. Person after person got up to speak, and I was surprised how many spoke against refugee resettlement. I had not expected many people at all to do that, as refugee work was something that is generally bipartisan and a shared commitment of religious groups across the spectrum. Sure, many residents also spoke in favor of refugee resettlement, both on humanitarian grounds and with the belief that immigrants make communities stronger not weaker.

What truly inspired me, though, was the pastors. Every single pastor – no matter the denomination, no matter how conservative or progressive – every single one got up and spoke in favor of refugee resettlement. I breathed a sigh of relief as I went home that day, after seeing the county commission affirm that Ottawa County truly is a place “Where you belong” – and that this included the refugee community.

Relief is not the emotion I have felt this year, watching the newly elected county commissioners take office and get directly to work doing precisely what they said they would do. Though I knew they would dismantle our office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (even though it was local businesses who had asked for it so we could attract diverse talent to the area), and though I knew they would take several actions to reshape Ottawa County in their own image, I did not expect it to be so brazen and so absolutely uninterested in the principles of transparency upon which they had campaigned.

Decisions were made in advance, outside of the meeting, with no opportunity for public input. The very important position of county administrator was given to a candidate immediately after firing the current administrator – with no public posting of the job, no opportunity for others to apply, and no chance for public consideration of the candidates.

I was shocked that so many of the new commissioners felt comfortable ignoring the basic rules and practices of governance. As they fumbled with how to deal with a consent agenda, I realized that they didn’t even have a basic understanding of Robert’s Rules.

But what has turned my blood cold has been the very clear display of Christian nationalism since these commissioners took office.

Christian nationalists believe that our country is fundamentally a Christian nation, and they seek to use their understanding of the Christian faith to shape public policy with no regard to the variety of faith traditions (and variety of views within Christianity itself). Studies have also found a concerning link between Christian nationalism and white nationalism, as many Christian nationalists also share anti-diversity and anti-immigration views.

Philip Gorski (a professor at Yale University) and Samuel Perry (a professor at the University of Oklahoma) are authors of “The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy,” have written, “We define white Christian nationalism and identify white Christian nationalists using a constellation of beliefs. These are beliefs that, we argue, reflect a desire to restore and privilege the myths, values, identity and authority of a particular ethnocultural tribe. These beliefs add up to a political vision that privileges that tribe.”

Those with Christian nationalist views twist the concept of liberty to make it mean their own freedom to discriminate or violate the law due to their religious beliefs. Thus, Christian nationalists believe they should not be bound by nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQIA+ people, women or religious minorities. The fact that Ottawa Impact started because the founders didn’t believe the government had the power to issue health orders during a pandemic, and that they based this freedom on their sense of faith, makes it clear that this is the viewpoint of this group.

And now, with their new proposed leader of our health department being someone who refused mask mandates and social distancing (and whose qualifications are woefully inadequate given the statutory requirements in Michigan for this position), there is a deep concern that the extreme views of this group may strike at the very core of the health of our community.

Amanda Tyler, an expert on religious freedom and a member of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, says that she believes the single biggest threat to religious freedom in our country right now is Christian nationalism. She is also clear that despite having “Christian” in the name, it does not have a lot to do with the actual teachings of Jesus Christ, “But the ‘Christian’ in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion and carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy and militarism.”

If you don’t think that’s what’s happening in Ottawa County right now, listen to those who speak up to support the new commissioners. As reported by Sarah Leach in The Holland Sentinel, not only do we hear COVID-19 denialism and claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, but clear Christian nationalist ideas. They believe it is God who has put these commissioners in place to orchestrate their plans with comments like, “The power you have has been delegated by Christ.” In the opening prayer before a meeting by one of the pastors who support them, he prayed, “I pray for the chair and that you would bless him and the other council members, commission members. Again, knowing the only reason we’re here is to bring glory to you.”

The reason a county commission exists is not to bring glory to God. I say that as a priest who has taken lifelong vows to devote my life to God and his church. The reason a county commission exists is to enable the flourishing of all residents in an area through smart governance. It’s also clear that it’s not really about bringing glory to God anyway, it’s about enforcing their narrow view of Christianity and the government on all the residents of Ottawa County by destroying anything that stands in their way. And, let’s be clear, that certainly does not glorify a God who became human and who died at the hands of religious extremism and political cowardice.

I’m grateful that there are others increasingly joining the fight against this movement. People from the right and the left, from a variety of faith traditions and no faith traditions, are coming together as a part of the Unifying Coalition of Ottawa County ( Because this county should not be a place where freedom to discriminate rings. Together, we must work to restore it to a place where all people belong and can find home.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Not all boys are boys; not all girls are girls

Last week, one of my fellow community columnists asked a question. On Oct. 25, Geri McCaleb wrote, “What’s extreme about recognizing that boys are boys and girls are girls?” While I doubt that McCaleb does not know how very loaded and problematic that statement is, I’d like to offer an answer. Whether or not McCaleb is interested in learning the answer to her question, though, I’m absolutely sure there are likely a good number of well-meaning and thoughtful folk out there who might ask the same question.

The question itself comes from one of the core commitments of the “Ottawa Impact” PAC, as every candidate they endorse has as one of their values the statement, “A boy is a boy. A girl is a girl.” The problem with this statement is that it seeks to erase the reality of any person who does not fit within the gender binary. It literally seeks to pretend that the trans community doesn’t exist – and thus only continues the marginalization and discrimination toward those who identify as anything other than cisgender (this is the term for those whose sense of gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth).

First, just from a scientific and realistic standpoint, the idea that “a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl” ignores the reality of people who are intersex. That is, the statement ignores the reality of those who are born with ambiguous genitals, or genitals that do not clearly match their chromosomal gender identity due to a variety of scientifically identified conditions. Most scientists believe that somewhere between 0.02 percent or as many as 1.7 percent of births fall under this identification.

Yes, these children are real. Yes, they attend schools in Grand Haven. And to pretend they do not exist is to participate in the culture of stigmatization and discrimination that has led to the high rates of infanticide and abandonment these people experience within their own families.

Second, the true attack of this claim, I imagine, is not on the intersex community (I’m willing to allow that people may be ignorant and unaware of this scientific reality). Rather, it is directed at those who might have a clear biological gender externally but who cannot identify with that gender internally. This could be someone born as a boy who identifies as a girl, someone born as a girl who identifies as a boy, or someone who is nonbinary and does not identify as either female or male.

The Mayo Clinic (clearly not a secret cabal of liberalism) even has a helpful article for parents titled “Children and Gender Identity: Supporting Your Child.” In that article, the staff of Mayo Clinic stress that it is common for children to go through periods of gender exploration when it comes to clothes and toys and even the roles they adopt in play. For some kids, however, as they get older this sense that they identify as a different gender persists. They encourage parents, “Listen to your child’s feelings about gender identity. Talk to your child and ask questions without judgment.”

People can become aware and able to articulate their transgender identity at any age. In a non-discriminatory environment, many adults who identify as transgender can point to an awareness of that reality as young as 7 years old. Some can identify it even younger. For others, they may live for years with a vague sense that they don’t really fit in and it’s not until later in life they realize it is because of their gender identity.

The reality of children and adolescents who don’t fall into the “boy/girl” categories of cisgender is an essential reality for educators and school board members to recognize.

The American Psychological Association advises: “Parents of gender-nonconforming children may need to work with schools and other institutions to address their children’s particular needs and ensure their children’s safety.” Data from the National Institute of Health indicates that 82 percent of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40 percent have attempted suicide – with rates of suicidality being highest among transgender youth.

As adults, these children will also face profound challenges. Most anti-discrimination laws do not protect transgender people from discrimination. They are often discriminated in housing, employment, health care, legal systems, along with their educational experience and their family of origin. In a recent study, about half of transgender participants reported they had experienced a transphobic hate crime at some point in their life. Half.

“A boy is a boy and a girl is a girl” – these are words that contribute to a culture that is literally killing trans people, literally killing trans kids. And ignorance cannot be an excuse anymore. It particularly cannot be an excuse among those who would like to be elected to our school board. Their denial of the reality of non gender-conforming kids is just one of the many reasons I voted for our current school board incumbents (Carl Treutler, Nichol Stack and Marc Eickholt) and against the transphobic platform of the Ottawa Impact candidates (Tommy Van Hill, Roger Williams and Thomas Hoekstra II). While Van Hill, Williams and Hoekstra certainly have the right to their transphobic views, they must be stopped from imposing them on the children of our school district.

One more word on this question, before I close. And that is to the loss. There is a loss when people deny the reality of trans people. You miss how wonderful, beautiful and strong these people are. In my work with the Lakeshore GSA Youth Group (, I’ve had the gift of meeting some kids in our schools who don’t identify as cisgender. They are smart, funny and amazing kids.

Because I believe our God delights in diversity. After all, God created animals that can change their gender identity (particularly common among fish). Some birds can have the biological characteristics of both genders. People want to force God’s creation into a box, insisting that everything should live how God made them – and I agree. After all, fish should swim and birds should fly, right? But our God is a God who created some fish to break the norm and fly into the air and some birds to dive into the water and swim.

The wonderful diversity of God’s creation – and the wonderful gifts of all transgender individuals, whether kids or adults – should be cherished, celebrated and protected. It should never be denied.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at His opinions with regard to the candidates in the school board election are those of him alone as a resident of the community and do not necessarily reflect those of his church or congregation. However, his congregation and denomination enthusiastically support the rights and gifts of trans people everywhere.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Impact versus Integrity: A Correction

The following is a column I have submitted to the Grand Haven Tribune to correct a very unfortunate typo in the first paragraph of my column published yesterday

Yesterday, in my column on the attempts of far-right extremists to take over our school board and force their views upon all the education of all children in the district, there was a tremendously unfortunate typo in the first paragraph. 

I wrote how all this began two years ago with a group called “Grand Haven Conservative Parents” and their attempts to ban book with sexual content, particularly books that contain LGBTQ characters. I wrote how that group then became “Restoring Ottawa,” and then wrote how many of the individuals associated with this campaign are active in a local PAC.

However, in a slip of the keyboard I wrote that this local PAC was “Ottawa Integrity.” Clearly, though, “Ottawa Integrity” is not the PAC formed from these extremist individuals. And throughout the rest of the column, I referred to that PAC by their actual name “Ottawa Impact.” 

As soon as I was alerted to the typo in the first paragraph, I alerted the Tribune who promptly corrected the online version and issued a correction in the next print version. However, there may be a “felix culpa” here. That Latin phrase means “happy fault” and refers to the truth that goodness can flow even from mistakes and sins done wrong. The typo raises the importance of explaining why a distinction between Ottawa Impact and Ottawa Integrity is so very essential. 

Ottawa Impact is a PAC that has already successfully won primaries where their candidates will now run unchallenged to represent several districts on the Ottawa County Commission. Absent challengers in the General Election, those Ottawa Impact commissioners will likely be elected  in November and establish their own majority on the Commission. Presumably, they will proceed to do what they promised in the campaign. They will seek to dismantle the Ottawa County Health Department and to eliminate the Ottawa County Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. They will find any way they can to grind their axes from the restrictions of the pandemic and punish public health officials who were trying to keep us safe. 

This is the same group that is running extremist school board candidates in the Grand Haven Area Public Schools election: Roger Williams, Thomas Hoekstra, and Tommy Van Hill. Not only are these candidates running on a platform to ban books in the name of parental rights (they really are only interested in the rights of parents who agree with them, not other parents who want a free and professionally curated library for our kids), but they have all signed a contract with Ottawa Impact supporting its platform. That platform is based on not only on banning books in library, but is also opposed to LGBTQ content in sex education (erasing the existence of queer and trans kids, something that will only increases their pain and suffering), the rejection of healthcare policies for vaccinations to keep the public safe, and a platform statement that explicitly opposes attempts at racial justice and equity.

This group is so extreme that one of the candidates, Roger Williams, has regularly attended school board meetings and when he is told he has to keep to the same three-minute time limit as everyone else in public comment period, he says the board is racist for insisting upon that reasonable guideline.

And Ottawa Impact is not only active in Grand Haven. They are running candidates in school boards across the county. Right across the bridge in Spring Lake, they are running candidates who are disingenuously hiding their connections with Ottawa Impact, as our communities increasingly realize the danger of this group’s extremist views. Indeed, their fear to confront the public is evident in the refusal of any of their candidates for school board to attend the public forum hosted by the non-partisan League of Women Voters. Ottawa Impact, and candidates aligned with their views, are part of a larger effort nationwide to takeover local government and replace public servants with ideologues who support fascist control based on narrow puritanical and discriminatory beliefs over service to a diverse populace. 

Ottawa Impact is true to its name: they are seeking to punch through the policies and structures that seek to enable the freedom and flourishing of the whole community, insisting everyone else must follow their own views on these questions. Theirs is a platform that would violently disrupt our community.

On the other side of the world from them is Ottawa Integrity. While it is clear that Ottawa Impact only supports far-right candidates who align with Trump’s “America First” worldview, Ottawa Integrity is a non-partisan PAC that “is driven by a desire to protect, promote, and uphold integrity for the people in our community.” Rather than attack the health department and school boards, they have explicitly expressed appreciation for the work they (and so many other publics servants) did, trying to keep us safe in the worst health-crisis we’ve seen in a century. Instead of dismantling government, or running on national partisan issues for local elections, Ottawa Integrity believes that “the primary responsibility of local governments is to assess and meet the needs of the community; through the functional administration of municipal services and infrastructures.”

And, yes, they are non-partisan. When you go to the website of Ottawa Integrity, you can see that they have endorsed both Republican and Democratic candidates who follow the principles of integrity they have outlined. None of these candidates are required to sign a contract with Ottawa Integrity. 

So, I want to express my apology to Ottawa Integrity for anyone who may have been confused by the typo in the first paragraph of last week’s column Ottawa Integrity is striving to create a non-partisan response to far-right extremists like Ottawa Impact. Please, whether you live in Grand Haven or elsewhere, be very attentive to who is running in this year’s election and who supports them. It will take every resident standing up and rejecting this takeover for it to be stopped. It might be too late for this year’s Ottawa County Commissioners, but it’s not too late to protect the kids in our schools. 

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at These opinions are those of him alone as a resident of the community and do not necessarily reflect those of his church or congregation. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Vote for the Interest of All Kids and Against Censorship

Below is my column in this week's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune. 

It’s been around two years since I first wrote in this newspaper, expressing concerns of the efforts of some individuals in our community to ban books, particularly books with LGBTQ content. Originally, that group was “Grand Haven Conservative Parents.” Then it became “Restoring Ottawa.” Now many of the individuals associated with this campaign against our schools are active in the local PAC “Ottawa Impact.”

Ottawa Impact has now released the names of their “vetted” candidates for school board, and you can tell that there is a direct connection between the efforts to ban books in our schools and the candidacies of Roger Williams, Thomas Hoekstra, and Tommy Van Hill. 

Williams states on his campaign site that he began attending board meetings when this effort began bank in 2022 and that, as a board member, a major focus “will be to protect children and defend their innocence, allowing them to enjoy their childhood, free of divisive and obscene materials. He believes children should not be bombarded with adult themed books and subjects, or made to feel like oppressors or oppressed, based on skin color or ideology.” Similarly, on Hoekstra’s website, it says, “Thomas decided to run for school board after viewing pornographic material in the school libraries and attending board meetings where there was disregard for parent comment and school policy.” Finally, Van Hill’s website shares his concern for “recent government overreach into individual freedoms, parental rights, and American values.”

So, let’s clarify a few things right off the bat. There are no pornographic books in our school libraries. Are there books with some sexual content at age-appropriate levels? Yes. That’s not the same as pornography. These parents continue to attend board meetings, reading selections from books without attention to the overall literary quality of the work or how that section of content fits into the larger narrative. It is parents like this who have sought to ban some of the greatest pieces of literature from our school libraries, including: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley, Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin, Rabbit, Run by John Updike, and And Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. 

These candidates, and the individuals in our community who are still waging a war to ban books, say that they support parental rights in education. They don’t let anyone question them about what that means, though, and so they refuse to participate in open events like the one recently hosted by the non-partisan League of Women Voters. Regardless, let’s be clear, these candidates do not support the rights of every parent. Instead, they believe all children and teenagers in our school should only have access to literature they deem acceptable. They believe they should be the arbiters of age-appropriate content. 

These are candidates with a solution in search of a problem. Parents already have access to the books their kids check out. There is already a system for determining appropriate content, a professional program at the Library of Congress that uses experts in the field and identifies the proper age of the audience. Our school librarians are then trained to use this system when curating content that is age-appropriate for libraries. Furthermore, if a parent thinks a mistake in categorization has been made, that parent can raise the issue with the librarian who can investigate the book and what library it is most appropriate for. 

It's of note that many of the books they disagree with contain LGBTQ characters or content. However, as I’ve written before, the Journal of Adolescent Health published a study that found that 24% of suicides between the ages of 12 and 14 were completed by LGBTQ kids. Data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services indicates that LGBTQ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. Another study from the National Center for Transgender Equity found that LGBTQ youth are almost five times more likely to have actually attempted suicide. A study published in Pediatrics found that 40% of transgender adults have reported attempting suicide with 92% of those adults attempting before the age of 25.

However, when LGBTQ students have access to literature which accurately reflects their experience, it helps them as they grow and develop a healthy understanding of self. Studies have shown that LGBTQ students who have access to themes related to their identity have higher attendance, GPAs, and a stronger sense of safety in the classroom. Rates of suicidality decrease. 

Furthermore, as children grow up into teenagers and then young adults, it is important that they have access to age-appropriate literature—including literature with sexual content that is appropriate to their ages. Studies have shown that this literature helps kids explore what is going on in their bodies safely. And many of these books help adolescents begin to understand the importance of questions like consent as well as providing an avenue for finding language around trauma or abuse they may have endured. 

Will one parent have different ideas about the content they want their child or teenager to read? Of course! That’s why it is so important to cultivate an open relationship with your child, to ask them questions about what they are reading and what they think about it. Education should be a partnership between parents, students, and educators—not a war where some parents try to force their own narrow views on all children in our schools. 

As author Laurie Halse Anderson, whose young adult books are frequently challenged, argues, “By attacking these books, by attacking the authors, by attacking the subject matter, what they are doing is removing the possibility for conversation. You are laying the groundwork for increasing bullying, disrespect, violence and attacks.”

Grand Haven can do better than this. Grand Haven is better than this. And the only way this small group of parents will succeed in their attempt to take over the education of our children will be if we don’t stand up and tell them no. 

So, I urge you, vote in the election on November 8. You can already even request an absentee ballot if you need to. Vote for GHAPS Board of Education incumbents Carl Treutler, Nichol Stack, and Marc Eickholt, and send a message that Grand Haven does not support book banning, puritanical views on sexuality, the shaming of LGBTQ students, or efforts to stop our children from engaging challenging content about race and history. Let’s keep professionals and librarians in charge of our schools, not far-right extremists. 

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at These opinions are those of him alone as a resident of the community and do not necessarily reflect those of his church or congregation.