Letters to the Editor

Controversial 'Notes'
Increasingly, Spark magazine is receiving alumni correspondence, intended for print in the publication, that some readers may find controversial.

Our reasons for thinking that a note is potentially controversial tend to be on religious, social or political grounds; at times, there may be knowledge of a personal situation that could cause certain alumni discomfort.

Since the editors have been wrestling with a number of difficult alumni submissions in recent months, the Calvin Alumni Association Board spent a significant portion of its May 2004 meeting discussing and giving counsel to the Spark staff about responding to these matters. This dialogue was in addition to the usual work that is done three times a year by the board’s Spark Advisory Committee, a five-person alumni group that reviews the production of the magazine.

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Policy: Letters regarding the contents of the magazine will be considered for publication in Spark unless specifically marked "not for publication." Correspondence may be shortened to meet editorial requirements. We will not publish anonymous letters; however, we may withhold names upon request.

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One result of these conversations is a new editor’s note at the beginning of the “Class Notes” section of Spark. Beginning with the Summer 2004 issue, we added this introduction to the “Class Notes” section: “These correspondences were either received by alumni or noted from media sources. We reserve the right to edit submissions and do not consider every ‘Note’ a reflection of college views.”

We do not consider this statement something to hide behind, but rather an honest acknowledgment that Christians do not agree on every societal issue. Perhaps these kinds of tensions train us best for a life of careful scrutiny of the Scriptures and a humble walk of faith among a diverse group of Christian brothers and sisters.

The Alumni Association Board believes that the “Notes” section should be seen as a factual report on what is happening in the lives of Calvin alumni, not as a place to derive Calvin College’s viewpoints on a variety of issues. Some alumni have concluded that Calvin has a specific, official political or social-issues perspective, simply based on reading news about a Calvin grad.

These days, intense partisan politics and strongly held views on homosexuality generate the most pointed criticism. Spark readers should know that the decision to print any potentially controversial “Class Note” or “Alumni Profile” is made only after careful reflection, which includes studying Scriptural and church teachings, as they might apply. Admittedly, this is a difficult task, and we do not claim perfect judgment or that we will make the “right” decision in each case.

Taking a very current issue as an example, some may assert that by allowing any listing from gay or lesbian alumni we are “promoting” gay and lesbian causes. Instead, our intent is to follow the church’s teaching about homosexuality. The Christian Reformed Church’s 1973 Synodical Report on Homosexuality reminded us that although the Bible has many specific things to say about homosexuality, what is not so clear is how the Christian community ought to relate to gays and lesbians who profess to be Christians. We are called to follow the example of Jesus, who was non-compromising but overwhelmingly kind-hearted.

The 1973 report certainly affirmed by that homosexual practice is “incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture,” yet it warned Christians not to elevate this issue over other struggles, adding that “the church must exercise the same patient understanding of and compassion for the homosexual in his sins as for all other sinners.” In other words, we all fall short of God’s commands and all alumni are dependent on God’s amazing grace.

A subsequent Synodical Committee on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (1999), in discussing the challenges of handling this topic, wrote: “These kinds of scenarios are not usually simple. Often they are, or feel to us as though they are, part of a larger political gay/lesbian agenda. Perhaps if we give an inch, we will lose a mile. Perhaps. But shouldn’t we entrust the future to the God who holds it and who calls us to ‘do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God?’”

The purpose of “Class Notes” is to print the news as alumni send it to us as directly as possible (while reserving the right to edit for space and tone), thus allowing the Calvin community to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

On the Calvin campus, the important dialogues of our day (whether they are about the current conflict in Iraq, global warming, affirmative action, homosexuality, worship in the church or countless other important issues) — and the Christian’s response to each is a regular part of our study, debate, writing, teaching and learning. Again, we do not profess to have all of the answers, but do press forward to patiently and obediently follow the way of Jesus Christ. We trust that the pages of Spark will reflect that thoughtful perspective.


Thanks for the memories
Thank you, Spark, for the touching reminiscence on the late Queen Juliana (Winter 2003). It reminded me of a poem that I seem to recall the late Sietze Buning wrote about her visit to Calvin that was published, I believe, in Style and Class. Perhaps it would be appropriate for you to reprint that also in recognition of the Queen’s recent death.

Doug Bratt ’80
Silver Spring, Md.