This has been an eventful fall at Calvin. We celebrated Homecoming in October for the first time in 57 years. And a statement issued from the board of trustees to faculty and staff had the campus buzzing. Two disconnected events? Perhaps not. Here are a few thoughts about them.
Homecoming. Even though the Michigan weather didn’t fully cooperate, Calvin’s first fall Homecoming was a fine event, with activity in each corner of the campus all weekend [see page 36 for a review]. We learned a lot from the experience. Without a singular “everyone’s invited” event to wrap around (for most schools of course, this is a football game), how do alumni connect? That’s a question with which we continue to wrestle.
We’re also pondering this challenge from an alumni observer from Boston, Robb Scholten ’86: “If Calvin is really about the outstanding education we received, why don’t you feature more of the faculty to draw us back?” It is a great question, and we’re excited about developing an appropriate answer during Homecoming 2010. If you have other suggestions for activities that would compel you to come home to Calvin next fall, please e-mail us at email@example.com.
The 25-year Class of 1984 used their coming home experience to reflect on the then and now of their life journeys. As they thought about the professors, classmates and experiences that made their Calvin days formative, alumni looked ahead and pledged to continue listening carefully to God’s call in their lives.
The ’84ers demonstrated that coming back as Calvin alumni can awaken the same call to a life of purpose that was a part of formation of heart and mind during Calvin student days. The reunion reminded many that what goes on at this school is indeed special, worth preserving and deserving of continued engagement.
Trustee Statement. In late August, the board of trustees sent a statement to all Calvin faculty and staff clarifying the board’s stand on advocacy of homosexual practice and same-sex marriage, inside and outside of the classroom [see this page to read more about it]. Some Calvin faculty members responded that they would have expected more internal conversation about the matter prior to the statement’s appearance, and the conversations, debates and letters—fueled by media attention and Facebook—commenced.
So here we have the latest in private-gone-public discussions about adherence to biblical teachings and confessional standards, academic freedom, process and procedure, and college-church relations—this time coupled with the topic of homosexuality, a powerfully emotional and potentially divisive issue.
The college seeks to be a hospitable place for gay and lesbian students, maintain faithfulness to Scripture and adhere to the Christian Reformed Church’s statements on the issue. Nobody said this would be easy.
I’ve been observing these complex and substantive interactions for many years now and can offer these words to alumni and friends: Calvin College’s administration, faculty, staff and board are comprised of deeply committed Christians who fervently wish this academic enterprise to thrive in order to train young men and women for faith-infused lives of service. This school has never backed away from dealing with the hard issues of today’s world, often at great risk to public relations. For example, the media picks up this story and, of course, won’t delve into topics such as academic freedom in a Reformed Christian context [see "Seeking Truth" story] or what is or isn’t a confessional issue.
I trust the individuals in the Calvin community wrestling with the questions that have surfaced and am proud that this school has always faced them, head on, with prayerful and thoughtful deliberation—and for the most part without the shrill tones of “I’m totally right, you’re totally wrong” invectives.
It is my hope that alumni and friends of Calvin, who deep down know the heart of this place, will follow this story with the same grace.
As Richard Mouw writes in his excellent book, Uncommon Decency: “Developing a convicted civility can help us become more mature Christians. Cultivating civility can make strong Christian convictions even stronger.”
So what’s the connection between Homecoming and the trustee statement?
That means that even though we have strong convictions about these issues, they are not battles to be won or lost by one side or the other, but instead challenges to be faced together, at a college that refuses to believe that fearless academic inquiry and unashamed dedication to Jesus Christ must be separated.
If you attended here, I trust you had this experience. If you come to campus, you will see how that Calvin legacy of faith-filled inquiry continues to happen every day in many corners of this place, just as it did when you attended—and, in fact, is even more dynamic due to the incredible growth in academic and spiritual programming.
Perhaps, when assessing the trustee statement and other campus headlines, you need to make sure you have the complete picture of Calvin College. May I suggest visiting Homecoming weekend?
Michael J. Van Denend
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