Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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GWB at Calvin again

This article covers the run-up to tomorrow’s commencement address nicely and even-handedly. I’m not at all surprised that David Hoekema is one of the signatories of the much-ballyhooed letter.

For more coverage, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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:


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 College.

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
God’s creation.

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.

Discussions - 11 Comments

I don’t see why evangelicals should be "divided politically." I would think they need all the help, politically, that they can get. And they certainly won’t get any from the Democratic party.

While I have my own opinions, which should by now be tolerably clear to readers of this blog, I certainly believe that "reasonable" people (among whom I include the vast majority of American evangelicals) can disagree about matters that demand prudential judgment, like the justice of the Iraq war and the appropriate environmental and social welfare policies.

Well put, Mr Knippenberg. I agree wholeheartedly. On both your post and your comments.

Sadly, I feel that in this, and other earlier posts, Mr. Frisk is simply inflamatory. I struggle, now, to find the connection between religion and "support" from the Democratic party. In the separation of church and state there is room for those of any religion to use the tools they are given in practice and worship to determine their own moral paths. I would have to say that there are many representatives who are both fed spiritually by their faith, and may still find ways to make that spirit work in a secular society.

For evangelicals to vote Democratic at this late date is to place the Social Gospel (and statist assumptions about how to pursue it) ahead of their own cultural survival. The Democratic party is the party of rigid secularization, abortion on demand, unlimited biotechnology (human cloning, etc.), opposition to parental rights, gay marriage, ACLU-type judicial tyranny ... the list goes on and on.

America is divided into two cultures, and the evangelicals are on one side of that divide. To vote for a party that radically and ever-increasingly disrespects their values is simply foolish.

You forget the power of choice. Christians do not have to support things they do not agree with simply because it is a part of secular society. The crass example of this could be:

Don’t want abortion? don’t have one; Don’t like gays marrying? Don’t marry one, etc. As for "Judicial tyrrany", the answer is in the separation of church and state outlined above. Secular society does not dictate what you can or cannot do in these cases. (for any clarification, please see above "crass" examples) If a judge rules in a "liberal slant", most likely the ruling won’t directly influence you. Do I have to have an abortion if it is legal? No! Do I become attracted to members of my sex because gay marriage is legal? No!(again, in terms of above mentioned cases)

Liberals and Democrats understand the fact that there are secularists and non-spiritual people out there that should receive the same protections under the law--the same allowances, too. They are not "plaguing" society, they are simply representing those which we religious folks may forget about time to time while fighting for what we believe willc contribute to a better, more "Christian and God-like" society. But until all of those in America believe the same things, there is no reason to limit what they may desire, even if it is in direct contrast to our faith and desires. This is the fork in the road at which we can chose as Christian Americans to follow our hearts and faith to not participate in "sins".

Look at it this way: Some Evangelicals don’t allow gambling. Should we outlaw gambling? Do they, themselves have to gamble? No.

This all sounds easy to dismiss as insane liberal-speak, but it is presented as a theory. I say this only to try and maintain a civil discussion, and not a shouting match.

Our lives are shaped by what others do and by the predominant environment, not just by our inner wills or our conversations with God.

No society can exist without a moral code. It is impossible for the extensive state apparatus of modern times to be morally neutral. In addition, no education of any kind can possibly be morally neutral. Finally, your position seems to ignore the issue of parental rights -- of parents’ rights to govern their children according to Judeo-Christian moral tradition.

I will be less charitable than Prof. Knippenberg. What pompous idiocy, judging the President of the United States against the "principles" of Calvin College! Is there any man or woman of state, charged with difficult choices and accountability to diverse constituencies, to say nothing of the in this case weighty responsibilities in matters of defense and security, who will not have a thousand times or more violated the "principles" of Calvin College? They should read Weber’s Politik als Beruf--now there was a serious Protestant!

Joel Vos speaks like a libertarian. The notion that government, which is needed to shore up society’s other institutions (e.g., family law, contract law) can be morally neutral is insane and demonstrably wrong. Murder is wrong and illegal. Property theft is wrong and illegal. There are hundreds of examples of the government-circumscribed morality -- in short, the government has NEVER been neutral nor can it be.

Give this fact, it is perfectly acceptable that Christian people should try to influence (via politics as well as by personal behavior) the morality of America. Live-and-let-live is a cheat, leading to rule by the lowest common denominator (i.e., moral decay, corruption, and social collapse).

"There’s a certain moral arrogance in the letter that I don’t like to see in anyone, religious or secular, conservative or liberal."

Then, by all means, Mr. Knippenberg, avoid looking in the mirror. Pot calling the kettle black, indeed!

May be so bold as to suggest that Bush may have picked the wrong college to speak at? There are friendlier environments he could have chosen. Even if Calvin is majority pro-Bush, majority "red," or whatever you want to call it, that’s not good enough, because the liberals always make more noise. There seems to be a critical mass of liberals at Calvin who have a lot of clout there. The White House should have known that any appearance by Bush would be used by the liberals as a chance to bash him and his party.

The ads placed by the leftists at Calvin were factually wrong.

This is well documented, point by point, at

So the leftists tried to use Bush’s visit for their own partisan, leftist, liberal Democrat purposes. That is fine, they are free to be wrong politically in America. But to try to Bash Bush on "Christian" grounds was beyond the pale.

Leftists at Calvin, take the plank out of your own eye before you pay attention to the speck of sawdust in your brother, President Bush’s eye. How can you vote for Democrats who aggressively promote the killing of innocent unborn baby American boys and girls, through the painful and bloody procedure of abortion?

You can see all the linkages between the leftists in politics (John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, et al), and those that strongly support them in NARAL, Planned Parenthood, People for the American Way, National Abortion Federation, NOW, The Democratic Party, Emily’s List, and so on, at

You can trace how issues like leftist anti-capitalism hides itself in leftist "environmentalism", and how Islamofascism and the Socialist Left are linked.

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