Bush’s Calvin College surprise
by Jim Wallis
As I’ve traveled the country this spring – 82 events, 48 cities, and hundreds of media interviews since January – I’ve witnessed a new movement of moderate and progressive religious voices challenging the monologue of the Religious Right.
An extremely narrow and aggressively partisan expression of right-wing Republican religion has controlled the debate on faith and politics in the public square for years. But that is no longer true.
At packed book events around the country these days, I often make an announcement that elicits a tumultuous response: “The monologue of the Religious Right is finally over, and a new dialogue has begun!” Smiles light up the faces of thousands of people as they break out in thunderous applause.
That new dialogue was visible recently at Calvin College. Karl Rove, seeking a friendly venue for a commencement speech in Michigan, approached Calvin and offered President Bush as the speaker. The college, which had already invited Nicholas Wolterstorff of Yale to deliver the speech, hastily disinvited him and welcomed the president. But the White House apparently was not counting on the reaction of students and faculty. Rove expected the evangelical Christian college in the dependable “red” area of western Michigan to be a safe place. He was wrong.
The day the president was to speak, an ad featuring a letter signed by one-third of Calvin’s faculty and staff ran in The Grand Rapids Press. Noting that “we seek open and honest dialogue about the Christian faith and how it is best expressed in the political sphere,” the letter said that “we see conflicts between our understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your administration.”
The letter asserted that administration policies have “launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq,” “taken actions that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor, ” “harmed creation and have not promoted long-term stewardship of our natural environment,” and “fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees.” It concluded: “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….” One faculty member told a reporter, “We are not Lynchburg. We are not right wing; we’re not left wing. We think our faith trumps political ideology.”
On commencement day, according to news reports, about a quarter of the 900 graduates wore “God is not a Republican or a Democrat” buttons pinned to their gowns.
The events at Calvin, along with the growing crowds at our events around the country, are visible signs that the Religious Right does not speak for all Christians, even all evangelical Christians. What I hear, from one end of this country to the other, is how tired we are of ideological religion and how hungry we are for prophetic faith. The students and faculty at Calvin College are the most recent sign of that hunger.