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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Opponents and friends

An unlikely 1992 political race seems even less plausible in today’s climate

Opponents and friends

I had to go back and read the column a second time. It just didn’t seem believable.

What made it worse was that I knew the fellow who had written the account I found so hard to believe. He worked for WORLD magazine.

I was that fellow.

WORLD published the column in question 25 years ago. It was all but unbelievable back then, in 1992. In today’s ugly, bitter, and angry political setting, most WORLD readers would almost certainly say: “That didn’t really happen. That is absolutely not true.”

The story was about Paul Henry, congressman from the 5th District in Michigan. The 5th District had belonged for a number of years to Gerald Ford, but Paul Henry had won four elections there—typically by bigger margins than Ford ever imagined. Paul Henry was the son of Carl F. H. Henry, the founding editor of Christianity Today and a giant in the evangelical Christian community.

The younger Henry tended to be a political moderate. Back then, I wrote, “He’s usually too hopeful for the role of government and too open to what are euphemistically called ‘pluralistic’ influences in public life.” But everyone in his home district in and around Grand Rapids, and in Washington, D.C., knew him to be a man thoughtfully and deeply committed to his Christian faith.

All that came to a poignant focus when Henry learned in 1992 that his opponent for the House seat was Carol Kooistra—a woman who had earlier been a fellow member of the same church in Grand Rapids where Henry held his membership. In fact, he had first introduced her to the whole issue of Christians’ taking an active role in politics. Their paths parted—and then she took him seriously, becoming the Democratic candidate to oppose him in the newly reorganized 3rd District.

By all accounts, it was a model campaign, focused on public policy issues instead of personal matters. The two candidates were friends. They argued vigorously—but civilly.

Then, just two weeks before the election, doctors told Henry that he had a massive brain tumor. It was inoperable, they said, and all but certain to take his life within a few months. In one sense, everything about the campaign took on a new character.

Wherever Kooistra went, she helped distribute Henry’s literature ‘so that voters could be well informed about both sides.’

Yet if the campaign until then had indeed been a model of mutual respect, that character was now enhanced. Beth Bandstra, Henry’s campaign manager, credited Kooistra with running a “class act” effort. In a show of fairness that must have been unique nationwide, Kooistra immediately withdrew a planned literature distribution in which she intended to attack Henry’s voting record. Then, wherever she went, she actually helped distribute Henry’s literature “so that voters could be well informed about both sides when they went to the polls.”

Henry won the next week’s election decisively, was sworn into office for his fifth term in Congress, and served in that office until the cancer ended his life the following July. He was 51.

If U.S. and state politics needed that display of good manners and respect in 1992, how much more today? I can’t imagine a single congressional district in the whole wide country where such a story could unfold.

“I’ve pretty much quit listening to anything political,” one of our staffers here at WORLD told me recently. “It has all gotten so juvenile.”

Yes, indeed. Except that I know a few children who might manage things more capably than so many of those folks right now running our political parties and our local, state, and federal governments.

If I did a column about those kids, you might well call it another case of “fake news.” But I bet that at least you’d read it.


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  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Thu, 04/20/2017 09:44 am

    Very uplifting article demonstrating that we have (are) a testimony to what we believe (whatever it is) wherever and whenever we go.