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By Bill Gallagher

"As Christians we are called to be peacemakers, and to initiate war only as a last resort. We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq." -- An open letter to President George W. Bush from concerned faculty, staff and emeriti of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.

DETROIT -- Hallelujah! It's time for rejoicing. When one-third of the faculty members of this distinguished Christian college sign the letter denouncing their commencement speaker, telling him bluntly, "We see conflicts between our understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your administration," you know the Busheviks are seething.

Things like that are not supposed to happen to the most thoroughly scripted, supremely orchestrated and meticulously controlling administration in American political history.

The rule is simple: George W. Bush never, in any way, sees, hears or encounters those who disagree with him. Stalin faced and tolerated more public dissent than Bush.

His rare news conferences are a joke and cheap theater. He spouts out his memorized lines and the toadies in the White House press corps sit there like a reverential audience lapping up the lies, and then repeating them.

Would just one Democrat stand up on the floor of Congress and call Bush a lying criminal who should be impeached and indicted for war crimes? Why do so many Democrats find it impossible to accuse Bush of raiding the U.S. Treasury to rob from the poor and give to the rich, and burdening our children with unconscionable debt?

Calvin College is in Grand Rapids, Mich., deeply conservative ground that provides a rich motherlode for Republican fund-raising. It's home for the DeVos family and their Amway Corp. -- a cult-like enterprise that promises riches to all participants willing to climb the pyramid of success.

The DeVos crowd dominates Michigan Republican circles these days and they would drum out Grand Rapid's own Gerald Ford from the party. The former president's views are far too liberal and inclusive for the Bush-DeVos GOP, rooted as it now is in fundamentalism and intolerance. Given that environment, it's easy to see why Bush's "brain" Karl Rove selected Calvin College as one of two schools where the president delivers the commencement address this year. The other, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., will provide Bush with his perfect audience -- guaranteed standing ovations and no hint of dissent. But to Karl Rove's unpleasant surprise, many of the folks at Calvin don't buy Bush's radicalism wrapped in religion. They're speaking out forthrightly, teaching the wimps in the Democratic Party a lesson they should heed, but will probably ignore.

In addition to the professors' proclamation, another letter to Bush from students, faculty, alumni and friends of the college published in a full-page newspaper ad protested his visit, noting they are "deeply troubled" by it. Kicking the sanctimonious president right in his political shins, they added, "In our view, the policies and actions of your administration, both domestically and internationally over the past four years, violate the deeply held principles of Calvin College."

The modern Republican Party has laid exclusive claim on conservative religious groups as essential to its base. Any defections threaten the dynasty and must be dealt with as grievous departures from the "true faith."

The only Republican religion is Bush's claimed Christianity. The Grand Rapids Press, noted for one of the worst editorial pages on earth, praised Bush as a "fitting speaker for the college and its graduates." In an editorial gushing over the "honor," the paper sings "Hail to the Chief," noting, "A conservative and deeply Christian man, Mr. Bush's outlooks overlap broadly on those of the college and its students." The implication, of course, is that those who differ with Bush must be "shallowly Christian" or, God forbid, secular.

Many who cling to the school's own mission statement do not accept the purported congruence of Calvin College and Bush Republicanism. The statement reads, "We pledge fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God's work in God's world."

The faculty letter, published in an ad in the Grand Rapids Press, takes on Bush's frequent evocation of the divine to brand his work. "While recognizing God as sovereign over individuals and institutions alike, we understand that no single political position should be identified with God's will." Those words alone should get them burned at the stake, with Karl Rove proving the wood and Jerry Falwell lighting the fire.

Bush's Robin Hood-in-reverse policies take an arrow. "As Christians we are called to lift up the hungry and impoverished. We believe your administration has taken actions that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor," the faculty members write.

They challenge Bush-flavored faith that nurtures wedge issues to cloud more important matters and carry out a cynical political calculus. "As Christians we are called to actions characterized by love, gentleness and concerns for the most vulnerable among us. We believe your administration has fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees." Amen.

David Crump, a professor of religion at Calvin, was one of the leaders of the faculty protest. He told the Detroit Free Press he felt compelled to speak out because "the largest part of our concern is the way in which our religious discourse in this country has been largely co-opted by the religious right and their wholesale endorsement of this administration."

I spoke with Crump and discussed the faculty letter and politicians who cloak themselves in religion. He struck me as a soft-spoken, committed person whose conscience led him to action. Crump has taught at Calvin for eight years and he's up for a tenure appointment this summer. Speaking out like he does requires more guts than Bush, Rove and a division of Busheviks have ever displayed.

Crump said he's tired of all evangelicals being lumped together and people "naturally associating us with the right wing." He admires Jim Wallis, another evangelical whose "moral values" differ sharply with the Bush administration's.

Bush used to seek the advice of Jim Wallis until he told him things he didn't want to hear. In a recent interview in "Mother Jones" magazine, Wallis said, "Fighting poverty is a moral value too. There's a whole generation of young Christians who care about the environment. That's their big issue. Protecting God's creation, they would say is a moral value too. And, for a growing number of Christians, the ethics of war -- how and when we go to war, whether we tell the truth about going to war -- is a religious and moral issue as well." No wonder Wallis got kicked-off the White House A-list.

According to ABC News, protesters outside the college wore buttons saying, "God is not a Republican or a Democrat." What kind of radical theology is that? Some of the students had "No War" taped on their graduation caps.

Bush has a certain nostalgia for Calvin College, the site of one of the debates among the Republicans running for president in 2000.

At the time, Sen. John McCain was seriously challenging Bush's bid for the White House. McCain used the forum to oppose Bush's plan to deposit the entire Clinton surplus into one shaky basket. McCain prophetically said, "For us to put all of the surplus into tax cuts, it's a mistake. We should put that money into making sure the Social Security system will be there, that Medicare is helped out, most of all, let's pay that $5.6 trillion debt we've laid on future generations."

Before the students at Calvin College, and the world, George W. Bush then uttered a lie for the ages. He twanged, "I have a plan that takes $2 trillion over the next 10 years and dedicates it to Social Security. My plan has been called risky by voices out of Washington. In my judgment, what's risky is to leave a lot of unspent money in Washington. It's going to be spent on bigger federal governments."

Bush has not dedicated a dime to Social Security. He has squandered the entire Clinton surplus and created unprecedented debt, including $300 billion for the war in Iraq. His fiscal madness brings great risk of economic collapse. Bush has significantly increased the size of the federal government.

The Calvin professors are speaking eloquently and courageously and they are exposing Bush's misuse of Christianity for his selfish and destructive political agenda.

He's not listening, but let's hope evangelicals everywhere are.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 24 2005