Two thoughts: first, some of the brouhaha (far from all of it, to be sure) was stirred up by a Calvin alumna with connections to John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. So the Bush Administration’s "outside agenda" isn’t the only one on the ground in Grand Rapids. Let me ask those who were paying closer attention back then (or who have better memories) whether the President’s Notre Dame commencement address of a few years ago also stirred up such a hornets’ nest. Presidents give commencement addresses all the time. That GWB is only giving two this year suggests to me not that he isn’t willing to give more or that he’s simply politically calculating about this one, but rather that most prominent colleges and universities are likely more willing to countenance this sort of performance than any sort of speech by the current President.
Second, it is worth remembering that both Calvin College and the wider world of evangelicals are divided politically, which is as it should be. I expect tomorrow’s speech to acknowledge that and to celebrate what people of faith (and not just theologically conservative "Judeo-Christian" faith) have or ought to have in common. The speech, I predict, will be statesmanlike, not crassly political.
There apparently is another open letter ad, signed by students, alumni, and staff, in today’s Grand Rapids Press, but I can’t find its text on-line. If anyone does stumble across it, please send it my way.
Update: Here’s the letter:
AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH FROM ALUMNI,
STUDENTS, FACULTY AND FRIENDS OF CALVIN COLLEGE
Dear President Bush:
We are alumni, students, faculty and friends of Calvin
College who are deeply troubled that you will be the
commencement speaker at Calvin on May 21st. In our
view, the policies and actions of your administration,
both domestically and internationally over the past
four years, violate many deeply held principles of
Calvin is a rigorous intellectual institution, and a
truly Christian one. Since its inception in 1876,
Calvin has educated its students to use their minds
and hearts to transform the world into a "beloved
community" where no one is an outcast and all of God’s
children are cared for. Calvin teaches its students to
work for peace and justice, and to be good stewards of
By their deeds ye shall know them, says the Bible.
Your deeds, Mr. President--neglecting the needy to
coddle the rich, desecrating the environment, and
misleading the country into war--do not exemplify the
faith we live by.
Moreover, many of your supporters are using religion
as a weapon to divide our nation and advance a narrow
partisan agenda. We are deeply disappointed in your
failure to renounce their inflammatory rhetoric.
We urge you not to use Calvin College as a platform to
advance policies that violate the school’s religious
principles. Furthermore, we urge you to repudiate the
false claims of supporters who say that those who
oppose your policies are the enemies of religion.
I count myself a friend of Calvin College, but, needless to say, could not have signed the letter. To be most charitable, we have here a case of the pot calling the kettle black, especially when it comes to using religion to advance a political agenda. The principles articulated in the letter may be those of the College, but the judgment about how to apply them and about whether the Bush Administration has in fact violated them is a matter of dispute. There’s a certain moral arrogance in the letter that I don’t like to see in anyone, religious or secular, conservative or liberal. It doesn’t provide an opening for conversation and serves only as an attempt--one that I think will fail--to embarrass the President. There are more effective ways to bear witness than to engage in this kind of posturing.