A recent Saturday issue of the Grand Rapids Presscarried an advertisement on the religion-page entitled “A Statement On Vietnam.” Since the subject of the war is a burning issue of the day, one’s attention is quite naturally drawn to such an ad. The statement read as follows:
Recently a group of military men, now retired, issued a call for cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam. Included are General David Shoup, former Marine Corps Commandant; Rear Admiral Arnold E. True (wounded at the Battle of Midway in World War II); Brigadier General R.L. Hughes (on MacArthur’s staff in World War II); Brigadier General W.W. Ford (commanded a division in Europe during World War II); and Brigadier General S.B. Griffith (a leading expert on Communist China). A similar statement, urgently calling for an end to the war, was recently issued by the Catholic bishops of South Vietnam.
We, the undersigned, college teachers in the Grand Rapids area, hereby affirm our support of these appeals for action towards peace.
Appended to this statement was a list of 48 names, 47 of which were the names of college teachers at Calvin College.
Now it is quite conceivable that one might argue on the basis of Reformed and Christian moral principles in favor of one position or the other with respect to the present war, although it is very difficult for me personally to assess the rights and wrongs of either side in the war from a Christian point of view: I can hardly imagine, for example, that the nations of this world (pro-communist or anti-communist) could sit down and read the Ten Commandments to one another. Besides, I hardly think that the question of the morality or immorality of modern wars and of this war in particular is the chief point of interest for the believer. There is a great ado about these questions; but there is little attention to today’s war and rumor of war as one of the signs of the times. There is much ado about the morality of the war and the individual conscience with respect to the war and military service, but very little ado about the Christian’s duty to obey his government,—not out of patriotism and national loyalty, mind you, but for God’s sake. Nevertheless, it is at least conceivable that one might choose a position on the subject concerned, whether for or against ending the war.
It is also conceivable that a group of Christian citizens would formulate a statement and would publish that statement as some kind of Christian testimony in the daily newspaper. In itself, of course, there is nothing wrong with such a testimony.
But this is indeed a strange statement. In fact, Calvin College ought to be ashamed of its teachers for making such a statement, and the. Christian Reformed Church should call its faculty members to account for affixing their names to such a statement.
For one thing, the statement has no real content. It does not produce a single substantive reason for “action toward peace.” It refers to a group of retired military men. On a military basis, I suppose it might be argued that since these men are retired, they are out of touch with the situation and therefore cannot qualify as experts on the issue. It also cites a statement made by the Catholic bishops of South Vietnam. One might ask: are these Catholic bishops experts on the subject? Or is this some kind of indication of ecumenical thinking? The simple fact is that this statement has no substance: it mentions not a single reason for action to end the war. It engages in namedropping, apparently.
For another thing, the reference to the fact that the signers of this statement are “college teachers in the Grand Rapids area” makes a strange impression. If they had mentioned the name of their college, the statement would at least make known how part of the faculty of Calvin College feels on the subject. But perhaps the statement means to express that “college teachers” are in a class all by themselves: sometimes I think they are. Perhaps the idea is that college teachers are a notch or two above the hoi polloi and therefore have some special claim upon the attention of the general citizenry, I know not. I would suggest that they are college teachers only in their proper domain, their college; but evidently their being college teachers is supposed to have something to do with the weight of their statement on Vietnam, whether they are teachers of history or of philosophy or of mathematics or of English or of religion, or of whatever subject. I am really surprised that they did not list their degrees behind their names. But what value or weight this adds to their substance-less statement is a conundrum to me.
But what is especially disturbing about this statement is the fact that it does not even purport to be or give any evidence of being a Christian, let alone aReformed, testimony.
I suppose this is supposed to be an instance of not being isolated in what some choose to call a Christian Reformed ghetto, an instance of getting involved in the social and political issues of the day. And I suppose that the signers of this statement were aware, too, that many readers of the Grand Rapids Press would recognize their names as members of the faculty of Calvin College. Again, I say, there is nothing wrong with a group of Christian citizens publicly making known their Christian position on a given subject. And it is not my purpose to argue the question what would be the Christian position on this particular question. My point is that there is absolutely nothing Christian about this testimony. It agrees with military men; it agrees with Catholic bishops; but does it agree with Christian principles? There is not a hint of it. It is a statement utterly lacking in any kind of Christian distinctiveness. It lays no claim to being Christian. It is purely secular in character. It could as well be a statement by a number of faculty members of any worldly university or college. No one could distinguish whether these are Christian, Calvinistic, Reformed college teachers.
As such, regardless of the pros and cons of the issue, it is a bad testimony. It is not commendable. It is not neutral. It is bad: principally carnal. And it reflects shamefully on a college which bears the name of John Calvin.