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Presidential commencement conundrum at Calvin College

For those of you who don’t believe that all evangelicals are Bushites, read the following.

In Sojourners Magazine
by Elise Elzinga

Progressive Christian magazine started by Jim Wallis an evangelical author of God’s Politics: How the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.

The announcement of President Bush as Calvin College’s commencement speaker disappointed me not only because of my serious concerns about many of Bush’s policies, but because my final day at Calvin will now reflect what has been my hardest struggle as a student. I have often felt in the minority because of my political ideology, and have had to defend both my political beliefs and personal faith. Coming to Calvin I never imagined the isolation I would feel from my brothers and sisters in Christ because of my political opinion. My faith has shaped my political passion, but I have battled with the feeling that my faith is being judged as less sincere because of my political ideology. 

I’ve been deeply concerned as I’ve watched the political atmosphere divide religious people, causing a downward spiral of Christian civility across the country - and in the Calvin community. All too often, our loyalties have shifted us from fighting independently for issues of real concern to simply putting our complete trust and support in a political party. It is important for all people of faith to recognize that there are devoted Christians in both political parties and Christian values displayed on both sides of the political spectrum.

One of the things I value most about Calvin College is that, despite political divisiveness I’ve experienced in the student body, it has challenged me to think critically about issues and how to respond to them in the world. I believe that Calvin strives to guide and prepare students to live out their faith and to deeply discern political and world issues with a Christian heart. Jim Wallis’ recent visit to Calvin is one of the many ways in which the college has promoted dialogue among students about the integration of our faith into culture and politics. Wallis called on students to broaden their idea of moral values and the meaning of the word pro-life to include a better standard of living for the poor and marginalized.

The majority of Calvin students support President Bush and are honored to have him as our commencement speaker. I have repeatedly heard, “regardless of your political views, you should still respect him as the President of the United States.” I believe that I can oppose Bush’s policies without disrespecting him as a person. As the most powerful leader in the world, Bush has an enormous responsibility. But his actions have not always reflected the Christian values I believe in - such as being a good steward of the environment, alleviating poverty, and pursing peace.

I can disagree with a leader who has unleashed an unjust war - an act I feel deeply contradicts pro-life values. I want Bush to know that I am a person of faith who doesn’t support a war that has resulted in the deaths of 1,748 U.S. men and women. This number doesn’t even begin to portray the unknown loss of innocent Iraqi civilian life and the disastrous toll that war has on the environment. I strongly respect and support the Christian pro-life values that President Bush defends, but I also recognize the fact that not all Bush’s policies are consistently pro-life in their stance towards the poor in America and abroad.

For me to sit silently on the sidelines as Bush addresses Calvin and not stand up for what I believe about these issues would be to ignore my personal faith convictions about working for justice. The goal of Calvin student dissent at graduation is not to be disruptive, disrespectful, or unpatriotic, but rather to apply the lessons we’ve learned about engaging the world as responsible and informed citizens. That’s why I - along with other students and some administration and faculty members - will be wearing an armband or button as a non-disruptive display of disapproval.

Calvin College has offered me a wonderful community and provided me the opportunity to build lasting relationships with genuine people committed to their faith. I want my commencement ceremony to be in the same spirit of community. To me, that community represents a diversity of people and thought - one that encourages all students to actively engage life from a Christian perspective and conviction. We can all pray for God’s guidance for the president, just as we can hold him accountable when his actions are inconsistent with our Christian beliefs.

Elise Elzinga served as a volunteer with Sojourners while participating in the Calvin College Semester in Washington, D.C.

Posted by Nuttshell on 05/12 at 04:33 PM in Politics

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