Saturday, May 21, 2005

There Are Some Maps We Don't Want To Be On

The conservative paper, Detroit News, has reported on Bush's recent commencement address at (that's a Technorati tag).  mlive.com has printed the text of his address.  The reason for this focus is that Calvin College (Wikipedia link, which does link to something) is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Previously, Calvin College's only claim to fame was their school scarf, which looks an awful lot like the one that Harry Potter wears.  Apparently, there was quite a run on their scarves and neckties when it was noted that their colors are the same as Gryffindor's.

Mr. Bush made some laudable comments during his speech:
First, we must understand that the character of our citizens is essential to society. In a free and compassionate society, the public good depends on private character. [...]

Second, we must understand the importance of keeping power close to the people. [...]

Finally, we must understand that it is by becoming active in our communities that we move beyond our narrow interests. In today's complex world, there are a lot of things that pull us apart. We need to support and encourage the institutions and pursuits that bring us together. [...]
Of course, he would have to be a Dumbledore-class wizard to make us believe that he actually means what he says.

Before the commencement, the students met for a conference with Jim Wallis, the author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It and the and the editor of the Sojourners magazine.  The student newspaper, Chimes, mentioned this:
Student Activities director Ken Heffner opened the discussion with the precaution that it is not a protest-organizing meeting but a chance to “converse about a historical event.
So why did the student activities director specify that it was not a protest-organizing meeting?  It a previous issue, Chimes reported that their Provost considered an invitation to Bush, based in part on Bush's performance at a prior speech, given at Concordia University:
“He did not in my estimation dishonor the occasion,” said Carpenter.
Does that sound like faint praise, or what?  In an act of wizardly premonition, the Provost commented on the reception that Bush might receive:
In response to rumors of possible protests, Carpenter responds that although the event will unavoidably have political dimensions to it, it is “important to be good hosts and to show the personal and institutional maturity of being able to extend hospitality and a civil audience to someone whom we may disagree with.”
Maybe those scarves and neckties endow one with the ability to predict the future.  According the the Detroit News after-action report, one third of the faculty, plus another 40 staff members, signed an open letter to Bush:
While welcoming the president, the letter delivers a carefully worded critique of administration policies from a Christian viewpoint. It calls the Iraq war "unjust and unjustified," expresses dismay at policies that "favor the wealthy ... and burden the poor," challenges policies of intolerance toward dissent, and environmental policies that are at odds with being "caretakers of God's good creation."

The letter signers view the occasion of the president's speech as a teachable moment.
"People have been saying that the president's visit will put us on the map. But there are some maps we don't want to be on," says David Crump, a Calvin professor of religion who helped draft the letter. [...]

The letter is one way to register the fact that even in the heart of Christian America, religion does not dictate politics. It reminds Americans that even at a conservative Christian school, where religious values are paramount, people have different social, political and cultural views.

It's a way, the professors say, to counter stereotypical thinking about Christian institutions.
They are insistent on a tradition of liberal thought, grounded in religious belief, that suddenly feels positively 19th century.
The Detroit Free Press reported that the letter was published as an advertisement in the local paper, at a cost of $2,600.  They inform us also that 800 students, faculty, and staff published another open letter, taking a full page, at a cost of more than $9,500. 

I could not find the text of the student's ad, but the faculty ad was posted at Daily Kos:
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
In contrast, other students set up a website that collected more than 500 student signatures in support of Bush's visit.  An article in Chimes described the controversy:
At the same time others, including Bruce Berglund, assistant professor of history, do not think political figures are appropriate for the graduation setting.

“The appearance of a politician at a commencement politicizes that event, even if that politician steers clear of explicitly political topics,” he said.

Indeed, some members of the Calvin community have expressed concern that the President’s speech may be overtly political, something they believe would be inappropriate and possibly detract from the true meaning of the occasion, which is to honor graduating students.

“If a political figure does speak at an openly non-political venue, such as commencement, the [Calvin] administration should stress that politics should not be included,” Venhuizen said.

Beyond being divisive, a political speech may also serve to further align Calvin College as an institution and Christians in general with the right side of the political aisle, something Berglund finds alarming.

“I find [Bush’s] visit unfortunate in that it will perpetuate the idea that committed Christians are, ipso facto, committed supporters of the Republican party,” he said.
More information on the event is blogged here, here, and here.  A Google Group discussion is here.  The latest post on the discussion board went up at 8:36 PM today, just after the commencement address:

Bush and the Anti-Christ
Laura B.

While the answer isn't clear for the time being, Bush has left a strong impression that he is indeed an anti-Christ. He has not only marred the good image of Christianity, but he's also made it miserably difficult for missionaries to do their jobs of spreading the Gospel. [...]

With Bush being the world-class moron, it would be so perfect for Karl Rove and Dick Cheney to steer the country down the road of total destruction. By allowing the major corporations like Halliburton to rob the hard-working Americans, the Bush administration has bankrupted this country as he promotes greed, selfishness, tyranny, corruption, cruelty, disgrace, and every possible Unbiblical and evil activity to flourish during this tenure in the White House.
Here at The Corpus Callosum, I have, from time to time, commented on the Unchristian aspects of Bush's policies.  My comments don't carry as much weight, since I speak from an perspective.  But the blockquote above, now that's a blistering comment.  Read the whole thing, if you have the time.  I couldn't do it better.

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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Knowing said Student Activities Director, I suspect he introduced the conversation with Jim Wallis as he did not in order to quell protest, but to ensure that whatever did occur was not a knee-jerk reaction.
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