Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Lessons From “The Foulest Event in College History”

On April 22, 1993, Calvin’s campus erupted in outrage over discussions of homosexuality. Accusations, curses, and laments filled letters, opinion pieces and phone calls. Calvin’s administration fielded complaints from parents, donors and religious leaders.

Here is that story.
In early 1993, the Calvin College Republicans student group invited anti-gay activist and conservative Christian David Noebel to give a talk as part of their speaker series. Noebel had just led a campaign in Colorado which successfully passed an amendment ending protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation. His talk, titled “Christianity, Homosexuality, Contradiction?” was supposed to be held in the chapel basement, but word spread quickly and, by 7:45 on Thursday April 22, the Fine Arts Center auditorium had filled to standing room only.
Noebel took the stage at 8:00pm and delved into a passionate explanation of his anti-gay beliefs. He believed that God had personally called him to fight the “gay agenda”; an agenda which led individuals down an unbiblical path of disease, despair, ruin and even pedophilia. He spoke angrily, derisively and combatively towards the gay and lesbian population and delivered a speech which brought applause, alongside curses and boos. According to Chimes coverage of the event, one woman “cried out in anger that she had never been so ashamed in her life.” Another learned that a prominent member of the gay and lesbian community had died of AIDS and rose and cheered to celebrate. The event ended with a question-and-answer session. When asked about a possible middle-ground for Christians on homosexuality, Noebel did not budge.
The next two weeks’ Chimes issues contained a total of 20 pages of letters to the editor, opinions, and editorials from Calvin faculty, students, staff, and alumni. Some writers disapproved of Noebel’s “rhetorical bombs” and berated Calvin for offering up “the homosexual members of its community for sacrifice at the altar of fundamentalist Christianity.” Dale VanKley, a former history professor at Calvin, called it the “Foulest Event in College History.” Others supported Noebel, calling him “a good example of a radical Christian.” However, the letters all agreed that the Calvin community needed more than vengeful criticisms and hateful words on the topic of homosexuality. The writers wanted nuance. To them, Calvin was an institution of deep engagement and learning, not of heated, angry debates.
One month later, Noebel appeared on an evangelical radio show and told his version of the April 22 Calvin visit. He raked Calvin through the mud: calling the institution hypocritical and questioning its Christian identity. As soon as the program aired, phone calls to Calvin College and letters to President Diekema poured in from CRC pastors, concerned parents, and anonymous individuals. The responses ranged from calling Noebel a “red-neck individual” to threatening to end their financial support of the college. It was time for some major damage control.
President Diekema and the Calvin administration sent letters to CRC pastors, evangelical leaders such as James Dobson, major donors and David Noebel himself. The letters outlined the events of Noebel’s talk, renounced Noebel’s pointed attacks at gay and lesbian individuals, and centered the Christian Reformed Church’s stance on homosexuality as outlined in the 1973 synodical report. Calvin’s administration emphasized the college’s unique position as an institution of higher education grounded in a Reformed identity that valued thoughtful discussion, accurate information and compassionate engagement.
It was this Reformed identity that allowed Calvin College to emerge from the chaos of David Noebel’s talk relatively unscathed. They weren’t blacklisted by evangelical leaders. Synod 1993 only briefly mentioned the events that had transpired just two months earlier. The institutional turmoil had been resolved.

As Synod 2024 begins on campus, Calvin University’s intended posture as a Christian space that welcomes discourse on the topic of homosexuality hangs in the balance.

 

So why should we care now? As Synod 2024 begins on campus, Calvin University’s intended posture as a Christian space that welcomes discourse on the topic of homosexuality hangs in the balance. Denominational decisions made in the coming weeks will have long-lasting effects for Calvin faculty, staff, students and anyone who has found solace in Calvin’s rich tradition of nuance, critical thinking, and openness to dialogue.
This is the tradition that Calvin’s response to the “Noebel fiasco” brings to light.
This is the tradition that kept Calvin from becoming a casualty of the evangelical culture wars.
This is the tradition that both honored individuals and held space for disagreement.
This is the tradition that Calvin cannot afford to lose.
The aftermath of April 22, 1993 highlights Calvin’s ability to center healthy dialogue over political and cultural pressure. It would be a shame if Synod 2024 takes that ability away.

The information referenced throughout this piece relating to Noebel’s talk and subsequent reactions can be found in the Chimes archives, located in the Hekman Library’s Heritage Hall.

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  • A

    AlumJun 23, 2024 at 11:22 pm

    Very timely column, well-written and great historical context. The CRC seems to be abandoning its own with its recent hard right turn. Time for Calvin to make a break so we can retain our wonderful faculty and maintain tradition of open-minded scholarship? I hope the university community can address this wisely and courageously. The future can be bright. Thank you Chimes for excellent journalism.

    Reply
  • C

    cscJun 20, 2024 at 10:28 am

    If we really retain “a Reformed identity that value[s] thoughtful discussion, accurate information and compassionate engagement,” great. Unfortunately, that’s usually not what happens. What usually happens is discussion devolves into “I’ve been thoughtful, accurate and compassionate and you still aren’t seeing things my way!”

    I’m willing to listen until the cows come home, but don’t tell me I’m wrong or irrelevant just because you haven’t convinced me.

    And before you think I’m doddering old conservative, I’m not, I’m right in the troubled middle, dismissed or derided by all sides.

    And to Lord Cavendish, Cornerstone is Cornerstone. Don’t like it, don’t go there. I’ve gotten eye-rolls my whole life telling people I went to Calvin. The socio-politico-egocentric spectrum is very wide.

    ⳨eace,
    –csc
    Class of ’85

    Reply
  • L

    Lord CavendishJun 19, 2024 at 2:29 pm

    Does the CRC own Calvin, or is Calvin an independent entity?

    Let the church deal with their internal problems…financial collapse, the loss of 50% of its members through schism and drop in attendance. June ’24 edition of the Banner lays out those details.

    Choking academic freedom is not going to fix the church, we don’t need to become another Cornerstone University.

    Class of ’86

    Reply
  • H

    HaleyJun 18, 2024 at 11:21 am

    10/10 article!! So interesting

    Reply