Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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GWB at Calvin College

The President is scheduled to deliver a commencement address at Calvin College this weekend. Fully one-third of the faculty have signed an ad protesting his visit. I don’t think Karl Rove expected this.

A couple of thoughts: First, I’m not altogether surprised that a significant portion of the Calvin faculty (not a majority, from what I can tell) doesn’t support the President. The most neutral way of stating it is that Calvin’s denomination--the Christian Reformed Church--is theologically conservative (though not quite as much as it once was), but not necessarily politically conservative. Yes, there are serious, theologically conservative Christians who oppose the war in Iraq and who think that our social welfare policies aren’t generous enough.

But that leads to my second thought. I haven’t seen the ad, so I don’t know whether the signatories are simply and politely noting their disagreements with the President or telling him he’s not welcome at Calvin. One can civilly and hospitably note that an invitation doesn’t imply an endorsement of the political positions held by the invitee and also welcome the occasion for a conversation. Or one can uncivilly and inhospitably tell the invitee that he isn’t welcome. I hope it’s the former. If it’s the latter, I’ll be very disappointed in my colleagues at Calvin and will say so.

I write this as someone who once composed and read from the platform the honorary degree citation for then-Senator Max Cleland, when he was Oglethorpe’s commencement speaker. Respectfully to welcome someone and to celebrate his genuine accomplishments doesn’t require that one agree with all or any of his views.

Update: First, here are some samples of student and alumni opinion, including a letter from prominent Ohio State professor (and Calvin alum) Dale van Kley, who does himself and his alma mater little credit by offering the following pearls of conventional academic wisdom:

In need of no introduction, George W. Bush’s chief achievement before becoming president is to have given up drinking, although the whole world would perhaps be better off were he still on his back in a Texas saloon. In his self-styled role as the Lord’s Anointed, he has launched the country on a bloody crusade without a plausible semblance of a cause. While George H. W. Bush may have killed his thousands, George W. has killed his tens of thousands.

How are students as students to be “challenged” by someone who, having had privileged access to some of the nation’s finest educational institutions, learned absolutely nothing from them and moreover takes pride in that fact? And how, except negatively, are they going to be “motivated to renew God’s world” by someone who has set out with ideological malice and aforethought to squander its remaining resources?

The benefit that will accrue to George W. Bush and his junta from this event is clear enough. It will lend additional credibility to his blasphemous claim to be the leader of an American Christendom.

But let’s not dwell too much on the negativism, which is meant to besmirch the President and to demonstrate (in an un-Calvinistic way, I might add) the superior righteousness of the protestors. Most of the letters are much more civil than that written by Professor van Kley, who (perhaps) has been away from Calvin for too long (having left for OSU in 1998); those opposed to the President’s policies apparently plan to indicate their opposition in a non-disruptive way, which wouldn’t likely be the case on most major college campuses. And then there’s the fact that only one-third of the faculty have signed the protest ad. Any guess what the percentage would have been at, say, the University of Michigan, Harvard, Amherst, or Berkeley?

Finally, any reader of pre- or post-election polling data should know that evangelicals, even theologically conservative evangelicals, do not form a political monolith. A
reliable post-election survey found that 22% of evangelicals opposed President Bush. In other words, it would be surprising if voices of dissent couldn’t be mobilized on the Calvin College campus.

Update # 2: Win Myers has more, including the text of the open letter, which is respectful but quietly strident. I’m now curious about who among those I know at Calvin signed it.

Discussions - 15 Comments

Both of my parents are grads of Calvin, many of my family members went there, and I grew up in the strong Dutch version of the Christian Reformed Church; no shopping, playing with friends, work, landscaping, gardening, plowing your fields or pullnig your oxen from the well on the Sabbath. It was a family day where we would eat breakfast, go to church, come home, eat lunch, play a family game, get ready for evening church, go back to the church, then go home and get ready for bed and do homework/read books, play another family game.

But when it came time for us to be involved in the rest of our lives, we were much less conservative. I still am. Yes, there are serious, theologically conservative Christians who oppose the war in Iraq and who think that our social welfare policies aren’t generous enough. This would be a good number of those in my church. I would also hope that this protest of the President’s visit is more of a protest of the views and such of Bush, and less of the "Hell no, Bush should Go" type of protest.

I would be interested to see what the ad looks like. I fear that the faculty may have some liberal thinkers who may jump at the opportunity to bash Bush as a protest, not unlike all the coverage you here at NLT have been giving the "force-fed liberal university education". I would bet there are some that fit that description--as "nutjobs" or "radical liberal hooligans"--but the majority of those I have known throughout my life are polite in their dissention. I hope this is the case, but I also hope that Bush sees this as an important part of Christian America. Not all of us support him all of the time.

As a Calvin grad myself, I’ve kept fairly close tabs with a number of faculty there. I doubt that there will be much of the silliness that accompanied Rehnquist’s visit a couple years ago.

Indeed, this sounds like another media constructed tempest. Just like many of the ignorant intellectuals at Newsweek, and the secularist goofballs who see a theocracy blooming under every Christian political effort, this will blow over fairly easily.

The political science department at Calvin reports that 77% of students voted for W. Further, a one-question survey of faculty suggests that a relatively small number of faculty are displeased. The survey asks what one’s opinion of Bush’s visit and allows seven response options ranging from "I feel honored" to something like "I object and plan to make some public comment in protest." Of the approximately 200 responses (well over 50% of faculty), 49% of respondents chose the "I feel honored" option.

Given this, W could make a major inroad into the Christian camp by recalling the writings of Chuck Colson. For example, Colson’s How Now Shall We Live, takes up the sophisticated public theology developed by Calvin College and associated institutions over the last several decades.

If vigorous and civil debate (as opposed to the current drama of murder and mayhem over Koran-related rumors) is a good indicator of intellectual health, then Calvin College is a good place to be.

I’m honored that the President will speak at my alma mater.

Radical Muslims and radical Americans are a great threat to Christianity. These deluded faculty at Calvin need to understand where their bread is buttered. They cannot afford to indulge their oh-so-sensitive consciences. If they can’t recognize a friend (like Bush) when they see one, they will be helpless against their enemies.

Mr. Knippenberg, it seems that you are grasping at straws with your update. I think that if you really knew Calvinistic ways you would understand that most are calm and highly organized with their dissent. As a born-and-raised Dutch Reformed Christian I was taught to be respectful of everyone and everything. That goes for everything from my enemies to nature.

Unlike previous protests at other schools of people like our President Bush, Ann Coulter, or Rush Limbaugh, the "Calvinist" protest would be to offer something like the advertisement first, then sit and listen, then talk about what you disagreed with over coffee and muffins. This is no stereotype, this is the organized dissent of a non-radical Christian denomination who takes pride on being both theologically conservative and socailly liberal.

It would be important to note these key views on current events that the CRC has taken a stand on, and obviously has a problem with Bush’s policy:

War: A just war is one in which the object is not to destroy or annihilate but to deter the lawless and overpower the enemy state in order to assign it to its rightful place in the family of nations. Its goal is to establish a lasting peace on the foundation of justice and a stable and righteous political order, in which human society can flourish.

Glorification of war for its own sake must be warned against, but pacifism that causes people to refuse to bear arms under any conditions is also to be condemned.

Homosexuality: Persons of same-sex attraction should not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement. Christian homosexuals, like all Christians, are called to discipleship, to holy obedience, and to the use of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom. Opportunities to serve within the offices and the life of the congregation should be afforded to them as they are to heterosexual Christians.

It’s not to say that Bush is all wrong, but rather that they don’t agree with him on how he has handled policy and the such in today’s world. The 1/3 of staff that has signed on is supported by a student body larger than that ratio. It’s not that they "hate" Bush, they just disagree.

Sure, you’ve seen the finge examples of students and staff taking the "knock the knees out" approach with their dissent and letter writing, but the Church stands on their views of current events.

Professor of Religion David Crump says it best, in his best Christian Reformed tone:

"Some think we should be honored to have the president here," religion professor David Crump said. "We’re excited by the opportunity to show people that evangelical Christianity is represented by a much broader spectrum of opinion than is depicted by the religious right and the media."

And then there’s History Professor Randall Jelks:

"We are a serious theological and intellectual school, and we try to have our students informed by thoughtful reflection about the concerns," said history professor Randall Jelks, who is rounding up signatures for the ad.
"We are not Lynchburg," he said, referring to the more conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. "We are not right wing; we’re not left wing. We think our faith trumps political ideology."

That pretty much sums it up. Not all Christians support Bush all of the time just based on Christian moral issues. Christian Reformed theology does not wholly support Bush’s policy, and that is what this soft-spoken ad is all about. Those that signed the ad are not looking for a fight. They are looking to say "Hey, President Bush, we don’t agree with everything you’re doing. Just thought you should know. Thanks for coming, and we appreciate the opportunity to have you, our President, speak here."

Mr. Vos,

I’d urge you to calm down, but you’re a member of the CRC, so such an admonition isn’t necessary.

I agree with virtually everything you say in characterizing or predicting the response of various elements of the Calvin community. I don’t really expect folks up in west Michigan to be inhospitable to the President. Nor do I expect the President to attempt to politicize the situation. He will be respectful of believers who sincerely and civlly disagree with him.

It seems to me, further, that the CRC statement regarding war admits for reasonable and prudential disagreement about the character of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as GWB should not and does not purport to speak for all Christians, so should his critics not wrap themselves in the mantle of righteousness and make universalistic claims about the "Christian position" with respect to this particular dispute. I’m very interested in the content of the letter. I hope it’s closer to Vos than to van Kley.

Finally, just to demonstrate that I’m not a total piker when it comes to my acquaintaince with Calvin College and the CRC, I am aware that the commencement speaker displaced to make room for the President is Nicholas Wolterstorff, who is the veritable embodiment of the theological conservative/social liberal CRC you prefer. I enjoyed six weeks of Wolterstorff’s company one summer in this seminar. We had many disagreements on hermeneutical and prudential matters, but we do, I think, respect one another.

Joe, I am calm. I’m struggling to understand what wasn’t calm about my post. I was rebutting the David Frisk comment, as well as your attempted degradation of Calvin’s staff and students who have chosen to voice disapproval. That’s all.

Never meant to call you a piker, but I certainly know the CRC pretty well, and I found your Update a little misplaced in terms of the snide and snarky comments about vanKley, "who does himself and his alma mater little credit by offering the following pearls of conventional academic wisdom".

I am pleased to see you understand the letter for what it is, and what I calmly stated above:

"President Bush, we don’t agree with everything you’re doing. Just thought you should know. Thanks for coming, and we appreciate the opportunity to have you, our President, speak here."

That’s the CRC.

I’m a bit confused by this paragraph in your comment:

It seems to me, further, that the CRC statement regarding war admits for reasonable and prudential disagreement about the character of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as GWB should not and does not purport to speak for all Christians, so should his critics not wrap themselves in the mantle of righteousness and make universalistic claims about the "Christian position" with respect to this particular dispute.

Futhermore, I do prefer the "theological conservative/social liberal CRC". That’s who we are. Thanks for the good conversation.

Mr. Vos, I’m puzzled by this formulation: "to be respectful of everyone and everything."

The literal import of this is simply staggering. It seems utterly otherworldly to me. Respectful of Muslim extremists who kill their teenaged daughters or nieces for chatting with a boy? Respectful of Michael Moore, who praised the Iraqi
terrorist "resistance"? Respectful of home-grown bigots who spit at Christianity every chance they get?

To me, translated into real life, it means: White flags, hands up, walk all over me. No thanks. That’s not the stuff America was made of. Indeed, it’s not what Christianity was made of. Nor is it what Jesus himself was made of.

Mr. Vos,

I’m sorry if I seemed to be "degrading" Calvin faculty, staff, and students. That certainly wasn’t my intent and I don’t see where, in my post and comments, I do that. I’m not going to be too hard on the kids, but the adults are another story. The one person so far who does not show himself to good effect is Professor van Kley, whose comments do not seem in any way to be marked by Christian charity or any sense of his own fallibility as a judge of what statesmanship requires.

As to the paragraph to which you refer, I think that the language of "unjust and unjustifiable war" is absolutistic and not sufficiently open to the possibility of reasonable disagreement and of the responsibilities of prudent statesmanship, even if one takes as authoritative the CRC strictures you note.

Mr. Knippenberg,

Thanks for the post. I think we share more than I knew in our views on the situation. In fact, you are typically the author I can identify with best on this blog. Thank you for the conversation, again!

As for Mr. Frisk,

Yes, I believe that Jesus did, indeed, teach tolerance. He never asked you to buddy up with terrorists or see what they are doing as acceptible behaviors. This goes for Michael Moore, too. Whoever you disagree with may be your designated "enemy", but we are called as members of a Christian community (as CRC members) to be extremely tolerant, and let God punish those he sees fit, and we are all called to be witnesses to them.

"We are trying to be an inclusive church. By this we mean that we welcome and embrace people of different gifts, races, tongues, and traditions as members of our congregations. We want to reflect the church of Revelation 7:9-10, a church in which ’there were so many people that no one could count them. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . . They were shouting in a loud voice, ’Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’" (The Everyday Bible).

Also, the CRC states in their beliefs:

T"he church affirms that it must exercise compassion for sinners in their sins as it exercises for all other people. The church should do everything in its power to help persons who sin, and give them support toward healing and wholeness."

Mr. Frisk, I fear that you show an amazing hatred of a number of people. I encourage you to embrace those you disagree with and follow in the tolerance Jesus taught us in his life. It is our calling to give those living apart from God, and those beliefs which keep us on the path of righteousness, the tools they need to become closer to God.

I did not realize that respect, in your mind, means throwing your hands up in surrender. Respect may be difficult to define in such areas as terrorism or murder, however, a chief antonym for "Respect" is "disdain", or "contempt". Contempt conveys scorn, open derision, ridicule. I think that what you are showing is that you have contempt toward these groups. You are not exhibiting respect.

Furthermore, Peter Gill discusses this in "Determinism, Respect, And Innocence--

"...Clearly, no person - no matter what his structure, thought, feeling, or behavior - is contempt-worthy if such qualities are forced on him by the determinants of his life.

"On the one end of the spectrum, respect can mean little more than common courtesy. When you say you behaved respectfully toward someone, you generally mean that you were polite, considerate, and gracious. That’s a far cry from the type of respect we reserve for someone or something that we hold in the highest regard, treating the respected thing or person with awe or reverence. Cardigan’s Corner artice "Respect"

Your brand of respect comes closer to the "highest regard" end, and sadly, the word "respect" has variable meaning. Perhaps it is my fault for using "respect" in such a loaded way, but the "respect" you are describing is hardly Christian. Contept is not something Jesus ever told us to have for another human, or part of God’s creation.

Mr. Vos,

Yes, I’m familiar with the usual mush-mouth interpretation of Christianity.
It’s the same stuff we hear from the National Council of Churches and many others on the "religious left." It has gotten our civilization into a great deal of trouble. At a minimum, you should be grateful to those of us who choose to defend that civilization, rather than be nice at all costs, which is the essence of your position. I am no hater, as you imply. But I am a fighter, and you should be glad there are a few people like me, and much gladder that there are real fighting men in Iraq and Afghanistan -- fighting men who, I suspect, do not show respect and tolerance toward their, our, enemies.

Now, go back to sleep.

Wow. Just wow. Your inflammatory respone amazes me. If you look at the facts, Frisk, you’ll see what the CRC’s stance is on War. Look it up.

Glorification of war for its own sake must be warned against, but pacifism that causes people to refuse to bear arms under any conditions is also to be condemned.

The church must extend Christian love and concern to those who take up arms and to those who choose selective conscientious objection.

Until then, I would pray that you will look to your God and, if he/she/it is a Christian God, see that you are called to love your neighbor as yourself.

I would hardly call my the CR denomination "mush-mouthed". This is highly offensive, and if you were familiar, you would see that there are a number of things which line up on the right side of the aisle. Christian Reformed Churches are hardly left- or right-winged. They simply see themselves in a non-ploitical, theologically based deniomination which allows its members to learn from God’s teachings and make their own decisions about secular life.

Mr. Frisk, I’m so sorry that you feel so strongly against what I have said. However, I struggle to understand why you resort to name-calling and inflammatory baiting such as, "Now go back to sleep..."

Well, sir, this might have remained more gentle if you had not accused me of having "amazing hatred." I had simply criticized your universal "respect," pointing out that I cannot respect (and cannot see why you should respect) 1) Muslims who murder girls in their own families for who show interest in boys; 2) Michael Moore, who praised the Iraqi terrorists; and "home-grown bigots who spit at Christianity every chance they get."

That is not "amazing hatred." Your Christian charity should most certainly include sufficient "respectfulness" to read things carefully before you start calling someone a hater, no?

I’d suggest you get off your Holy Joe horse and do some hard thinking about the nature of the crisis we face. Are peace, love, and understanding really enough?

Not worth my time. Thanks for a little bit of clarification on your character.

And thank you. By throwing around utterly cheap accusations of "hatred," you have undermined the integrity of your own unworkable position. Love and understanding for the Islamo-fascists, name-calling for a fellow American who
demands to know why they should be "respected."

Should our enemies come for us again on our own soil, I’ll know not to count on you, Holy Joe.


Your ad hominem, perjorative comments weaken your arguments and your valid concerns are no longer heard. That’s my 2 cents.

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