There has been much to discuss on Calvin’s campus in recent weeks. Some call it controversy, some heresy, some merely a political issue. In the slew of outcry, debate and flag pluckings, I have found myself disappointed and concerned by the attitude recent advocacy has taken, and would like to take time to lay out a better way forward for healthy disagreement on our campus.
I have no interest in presenting or justifying either side of recent debates, nor does the topic at hand apply exclusively to these issues. Rather, I am attempting to use that which is fresh in our collective memory to hopefully inform our collective future.
Two events stand out in my mind, and I’m sure many readers’ minds, for their remarkable similarities. Last year, several students set up an unapproved table on Commons Lawn, bearing the statement “LGBTQ is sin, the Bible says. Change my mind.” These students were later reprimanded by the Calvin administration for circumventing guidelines for event approval. Last Friday, a separate group of students, also without proper approval, planted dozens of LGBTQ+ pride flags on Commons Lawn. Once again, the university was unforgiving of violations in their event guidelines, and JB Britton and a CIL employee were forced to remove the flags. Though these events could not be more different in intention or cause, their stories are strangely similar.
The leaders of both events seem to share a desire: that their strongest convictions be seen and acknowledged by everyone. Each group of students cared deeply about their given stance, and perhaps had dedicated many hours to conversation and research around it. They all arrived at these events firmly equipped with a decided ideology, a heart to demonstrate and be heard. I commend them for their desire to stand up, to be heard and to hold close to those topics that they care deeply for.
Where I take issue is at the lack of thought each coalition seems to have put into the results of their actions. I am stunned, though perhaps my surprise is naivety, that each group of students, who I believe acted out of a genuine desire to edify their community, would choose to do so in a fashion that is clearly inflammatory and ultimately unproductive. I cannot imagine a less gracious, thoughtful or kind stance to approach conversation with than “change my mind.” Likewise, I cannot imagine what it was like for JB Britton and his employee to remove those flags publicly, regardless of their sympathies and open to the condemnation of any given bystander. I cannot imagine a world in which Jesus, the Son of God who ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, would do anything which resembled the unapproachable, single-minded actions of these two groups.
As if somehow that table or those flags could amount to the patience and wisdom it takes to consider these issues, or issues of any kind, with the respect and appreciation for others they deserve. As if any minds were going to be converted through controversy or sheer loudness of voice. In some sense, these students have done an injustice to the ideas they are acting on behalf of by choosing demonstration over discussion, by stripping the topic of all that is nuanced, complicated or worth fighting for.
These are important issues, close to our identities and bound up in the wonder, complexity and pain of individual experiences. They deserve discussion, they deserve discourse over broken bread. And they especially deserve individuals willing to have those discussions, rather than separate camps shouting in the absence of them. I long for our campus to step out of the news cycle, out of our instinctual responses, out of the institutions we occupy, out of the beliefs we have always held, and consider these issues at Jesus’ table, shooting the breeze with fellow sinners.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18).