Monday, May 16, 2005

One-third of the professors at an evangelical Christian college in Grand Rapids, Mich., are taking out a large ad in a local newspaper Saturday to protest President Bush’s commencement speech.

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

The 130 signatories, which include 20 staff members, work at Calvin College. Founded in 1876 as a school for pastors of the Christian Reformed Church, it now is one of the nation’s flagship schools for a Christian liberal-arts education.

“No single political position should be identified with God’s will,” says the ad, which also chastises the president for “actions that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor.”

Christians are to be characterized by love and gentleness, it adds, but “we believe that your administration has fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees.”

Moreover, says the letter, set to run in the Grand Rapids Press, the Bush administration’s environmental policies “have harmed creation,” and it asks the president “to re-examine your policies in light of our God-given duty to pursue justice with mercy.”

Although Calvin College President Gaylen Byker called the Bush visit “an extraordinary opportunity,” the Chimes, the college newspaper, urged the 900 graduates to wear armbands protesting the visit. The publication pointed out that the president had been looking for a speech venue in Michigan, a state he failed to carry in 2000 and 2004.

After U.S. Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, a Republican whose district includes Grand Rapids, got an offer from presidential adviser Karl Rove, the college sidelined its previously scheduled commencement speaker, Yale University professor Nick Wolterstorff, in favor of the chief executive.

“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.”

In a 2001 poll, 25 percent of Calvin’s faculty described themselves as politically liberal, according to the college. Forty-five percent considered themselves centrist, and 28 percent said they were political conservatives.

In 2003, the evangelical weekly World ran an expose on Calvin, scolding it for having ?drifted away from Scripture” on “theology-rooted issues such as origins, feminist theology and homosexuality.”

Calvin officials contested the characterization, saying the college is trying to set an example for its 4,186 students.

“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.”

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