Jesse at Pandagon linked to this interesting bit of news: President Bush will deliver the commencement address this Sunday at Calvin College, one of the flagship schools of evangelical higher education. Along with Wheaton in Illinois, and perhaps Westmont here in California, and a couple of other places, Calvin is one of the "Christian Ivies", a school that combines passionate Christian commitment with first-rate scholarship.
According to this story in the Detroit News, Calvin College is not safe ground for President Bush. Contrary to the media's depiction of evangelical Christians as monolithically Republican and supporters of the administration, more than 100 Calvin faculty (that's a lot at a small liberal arts college) signed
..an open letter of rebuke to the president that's scheduled to appear as a half-page ad in the Grand Rapids Press on the day of the president's speech.
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 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.
Here's today's Detroit Free Press story. Amen. One of my friends and heroes, Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, taught at Calvin for 17 years. He's part of a long tradition of evangelicals with progressive commitments and Calvin connections going back at least as far as the Evangelicals for McGovern campaign of 1972.
I often identify myself on this blog as an evangelical, which leads some folks to wonder what it is, exactly, about my faith and my views that qualifies me to use that (admittedly ambiguous) term. I call myself an evangelical because I love Jesus. I don't love Him because He was a great teacher, or a brave and dedicated fighter for social justice. He was those things, but I believe Jesus is the Savior, one who died to save me and countless others from death and despair and emptiness. I've come to believe that He -- and He alone -- gives me the "power for a new life". I believe that the Scriptures contain the unique record of Jesus' teaching and ministry, and I believe that in the broad sense of the terms, the Bible is both infallible and inerrant. (Click here for a good, thoughtful definition of those terms.) I call myself an evangelical because I agree with the bulk of the content of the Lausanne and Chicago declarations -- which come as close to anything as defining what it is to be a progressive evangelical.
I'm conscious that I'm still on a journey. I'm still, chronologically speaking, a fairly new Christian. My faith has waxed and waned since the first time I accepted Jesus Christ. I've been "born again" more than once, in some sense, because I've fallen and repented and fallen and repented many, many times. I've switched churches several times, and felt "tugged" by my friends to my theological left and my theological right, both sets of whom seem to have more consistency than I! But the great blessing of my adulthood is that even in my failings and my shortcomings, I've never lost the certainty that God is faithful, faithful to me and to all of His people, many of whom worship Him by different names.
And when I read about those faculty, staff, and students who are peacefully and politely protesting the president, I'm reminded once more that even in a progressive Episcopal church, I am right to call myself an evangelical.