Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Christians of Conscience Stage Insurrection at Calvin College



President Bush’s Message of Theocracy Politics and Radical-Right Extremism Muted by Protest Involving Nearly One Thousand Undergraduate and Seminary Students, Faculty, and Alumni of Calvin College

While many were focused on the fight about the “nuclear option” in the US Senate a very significant event occurred in the all-American, conservative city of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In an “Open Letter to President Bush” published in a full page ad appearing in the May 20th, 2005 edition of The Grand Rapids Press, a diverse group of 823 “alumni, students, faculty and friends of Calvin College” told President Bush he could not expect support from their part of the Christian community for his political purposes. A second letter signed by 130 “concerned faculty, staff, and emeriti of Calvin College" also appeared in The Grand Rapids Press.

President Bush was the speaker at the 2005 Calvin College and Seminary Graduation – one of only two commencement addresses to be delivered by the President this year.

The 823 signatories of the Calvinist group urged President Bush “not to use Calvin College as a platform to advance policies that violate the school’s religious principles” and went further demanding the President “repudiate the false claims of supporters who say that those who oppose your (Bush’s) policies are the enemies of religion.”

The follow-up letter published by faculty members was tougher in tone and stated specific objections to Bush policies as well as their position on the role of faith in relationship to politics:

“We seek open and honest dialogue about the Christian faith and how it is best expressed in the political sphere. While recognizing God as sovereign over individuals and institutions alike, we understand that no single political position should be identified with God's will, and we are conscious that this applies to our own views as well as those of others. At the same time we see conflicts between our understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your administration.”
The protests were not limited to just those connected to Calvin College, hundreds, not merely “dozens” as erroneously reported by AP, included newly activated Western Michigan progressives who also turned out to demonstrate his presence. Bush, whose popularity in the polls is sinking, only now appears in very closely controlled environments. Calvin is the only occasion where the President has spoken, or is likely to speak to, this year in which the audience was not carefully-screened and selected.

“Tyrants maintained their power by isolating their citizens” Bush proclaimed, quoting Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 classic Democracy in America.

What could be more tyrannical that a leader afraid to face his own people, unwilling to answer unscreened questions from the press, eager to exploit the cultural differences of a diverse nation, and uninterested in the plight of the everyday citizen?

The stand and courage of these Christian Reformed few on the eve and in the wake of the failure of the live or die “nuclear option” must have Karl Rove and Bush’s handlers puzzled and embarrassed. This kind of encounter is not supposed to happen.

The stand taken by the Calvin College protesters was clear: The Rovian strategy of cultural division, the rape and pillaging by right-wing pundits that divide and conquer in an extremist campaign of hate that has left our political landscape smoldering, barren and broken is not “Christian”. Perhaps the time for fear mongering and narrow-minded partisanship in the name of God and religion is over.

When following Bush’s dream for our generation, the supposed “road of Providence” or plainly stated “God’s will”, there can be no compromises. Politicized Christian leaders from the radical religious right, like James Dobson, have already called the compromise over the Senate rules nuclear option a “betrayal” and “treason”. Bush may have reached the high water mark of his path to unquestioned political power, hidden by the noise of the right’s corporate media machine, and this dangerously deceptive “Christian” crusade. Bush’s handlers were never about religion, in their quasi-Christian heart of hearts, they seek power and homogeny.

Calvin College’s “intellectual” Christians have succeeded in calling on Bush to reexamine his faith stating, “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.”

Why is the Insurrection at Calvin Significant

It is very important for the radical right to paint the incident at Calvin as a single, non-event, particularly to other parts of the Christian community. Calvin must be shown as being a religious school outside of their fundamentalist or evangelical “base”.

What would happen if at many other religious events, there were Christians of conscience actively voicing their objections to various Bush initiatives and his continued use of the “religion card”? Just as the president stated to the world in the State of the Union in 2002, Bush and his supporters push people of faith into his own good vs. evil, binary worldview, “Are you with us, or with the terrorists”. The discovery that one can be a good Christian or person of faith while objecting to parts of the Bush Doctrine and policy spells real disaster for the neo-conservative agenda. This reflection by individual Christians on specific, singular decisions, past actions and missteps of the administration is their worse nightmare, the collapse of a faith-based following within their political base.

Much like the Crusaders in the Middle Ages were given the Pope’s protection to cross Europe and the Eastern Orthodox Empire to fight in the Holy Land, Christian hot button issues are being used to give a number of lesser agenda items and right-wing Republican candidates “free passage” across a diverse American political landscape. As some of the Calvin alumni have pointed out in their interviews with the media, it is the “emotion and passion” of key religious fighting words such as “abortion” and “gay marriage” that are key to leveraging political support from the greater Christian community. Their arguments emphasis each issue and position demands evaluation through the eyes of the faithful under God’s grace, not dictated by politicians laying claim to knowing God’s will.

European motivations for their holy crusades were seeking penance, religious edification, papal power expansion (and later the Black Plague), as well a long string of devastating wars between kingdoms and nationalities. The call to the Crusades was to be their salvation. Today, Bush propaganda and the noise machine drum the beat responding to of the rise of fundamentalist Islam, terrorism, and a seeming unstoppable march of popular culture leading to what they view as a decline in moral values, family traditions, and the rise of secularism.

As Rev. Tom Sullivan, substituting for Rush Limbaugh on the radio while Rush was in court, said, “There is a war between secular and non-secular America”. The language of the radical right continues to climb the scale of hype and hate using the terms of “revolution”, “civil war” and “religious war” which is still out there since 1992.

However, things among conservatives may be falling apart. Pat Buchanan, in a May 17, 2005 article in the Washington Times, declared” "The conservative movement has passed into history," and "It doesn't exist anymore as a unifying force". He further stated "There are still a lot of people who are conservative, but the movement is now broken up, crumbled, dismantled.”
Just as the Crusaders of old discovered after bloody, hard fought battles with an enemy, who was more likely to negotiate a peace than were their own zealous allies, many Christians are starting to express their reservations about Iraq, the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war, tax breaks to the rich, support of corporate agendas, and forced democratization through some form of Pax Americana.

Some argue that democracy, just as in Christianity, is a personal choice and that change comes from within, and is not to be forced on people or nations from outside. They look at the profits and gains that come from contracts in Iraq and the continuing loss of the life there and ask, “What are we doing? If this is God’s plan, why is it so difficult and costly?”

Only days before at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on May 19, 2005, President Bush quoted an Army Chaplain stationed in Iraq saying “The safest place is in the center of God’s will”. Politically, among many fundamentalist support networks and communities, continuing to convince his followers that he is following “God’s will” is critical.

This is why “non-Christian” behavior by Bush and members of his administration, even such things as Dick Cheney’s “F--- Yourself” uttered in the Senate cloak room or the image of Bush flipping the bird, must be immediately suppressed and hidden from the public. Today’s would be “Crusader Kings” must be pure, and their claim to have God’s voice must be above reproach.

The message from the Calvin crowd is clear: Only God determines God’s will, and it is through His Grace that we should love one another, and it is very dangerous for politicians to drag Our Creator into the muck and mess of divisive American politics.

Many courageous Calvin supporters, students and faculty put it directly to George Bush… Mr. President, if you are thinking of using God to endorse your policies and ideology with Calvin’s commencement as a PR backdrop we’d rather that you’d do that somewhere else, or better yet not at all.

NOTE: This is the first of a four part series by Neo Prose on the events at Calvin College. Additional links and essays will be posted here as the teams complete their work.

Full Text of Letter to President Bush in The Grand Rapids Press May 20, 2005 (823 Signatures)




An Open Letter to President Bush

Dear President Bush:

We are students, alumni 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.

Signed [List of 823 names with year of graduation that cover full page ad]

From 823 Alumni, Students, Faculty and Friends of Calvin College



Full Text of Letter to President Bush in The Grand Rapids Press May 20, 2005 (130 Signatures)




An Open Letter to the President of the United States of America, George W. Bush

On May 21, 2005, you will give the commencement address at Calvin College. We, the undersigned, respect your office, and we join the college in welcoming you to our campus. Like you, we recognize the importance of religious commitment in American political life.

We seek open and honest dialogue about the Christian faith and how it is best expressed in the political sphere. While recognizing God as sovereign over individuals and institutions alike, we understand that no single political position should be identified with God's will, and we are conscious that this applies to our own views as well as those of others. At the same time we see conflicts between our understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your administration.

As Christians we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate war only as a last resort. We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq.

As Christians we are called to lift up the hungry and impoverished. We believe your administration has taken actions that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor.

As Christians we are called to actions characterized by love, gentleness, and concern for the most vulnerable among us. We believe your administration has fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees.

As Christians we are called to be caretakers of God's good creation. We believe your environmental policies have harmed creation and have not promoted long-term stewardship of our natural environment.

Our passion for these matters arises out of the Christian faith that we share with you. We ask you, Mr. President, to re-examine your policies in light of our God-given duty to pursue justice with mercy, and we pray for wisdom for you and all world leaders.

--Concerned faculty, staff, and emeriti of Calvin College