Honoring Those in Authority

President Bush at Calvin College

I was in Grand Rapids last week for a celebration, as Calvin Seminary established a chair in my name. I agreed because of my respect for the man who will hold it, Dr. Neal Plantinga — one of the keenest thinkers in the Christian world and a wonderful, godly man.

But while there, I was confronted by the ad in the Grand Rapids Press challenging President Bush’s Christianity. Before the president spoke at the commencement at Calvin College (which is affiliated with the seminary, but a different institution), nearly eight hundred students, professors, and alumni signed the ad.

Now, I believe, of course, that Christians are free to protest. And though the majority of evangelicals support this president, some do not. And that’s okay. In my book Kingdoms in Conflict, I wrote that Christians should never get enmeshed in a partisan agenda.

But there’s a time and place to do it. And a college commencement that the president is gracious enough to attend is not the place. Calvin ought to make a course on civility and manners mandatory.

The ad said, “Your deeds, Mr. President — neglecting the needy to coddle the rich, desecrating the environment and misleading the country into war — do not exemplify the faith we live by.”

Ironically, right before the president appeared at Calvin, he announced that he would veto any stem-cell bill that destroyed life, despite huge pressures to sign it. No president in my lifetime has been more consistently pro-life.

What about the sanctity of marriage? The president strongly supports a constitutional amendment to protect marriage.

Human rights? When I told the president one day of the uncontrolled state of sexual trafficking, he was horrified. He spoke to the United Nations about it. And at home, he got a bill passed in Congress to stop women from being kidnapped into the sex trade.

When a number of us urged the White House to get involved in Sudan, this president ended the killing of southern Sudanese Christians.

And neglecting the needy? At a summit meeting on AIDS in Africa held in the Roosevelt room, the president told us, “We will spend 15 billion dollars, and we will teach abstinence-only as our priority.” This is the first president to back a bill to stop prison rape and to put funds for prison re-entry in a State of the Union message. He has delivered Angel Tree gifts with us; he’s encouraged mentoring. He has been the most vigorous advocate of faith-based solutions.

I have talked with the president about his faith, which, I can tell you, is rock solid. You may dislike the president’s policies, but challenging this man’s faith in this way — no, that’s out of order.

John Calvin, the great reformer for whom this once proud school was named, said, “The first duty of subjects towards their rulers is to entertain the most honorable views of their office, recognizing it as a delegated jurisdiction from God.” People in office should be held in “esteem and veneration,” and he added that we are to “bear patiently their failures.”

The best advice I can give these upstart students and faculty at Calvin College is to study the words of the one whose name they bear (particularly Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV). They will find no better example of a truly Christian attitude toward those in authority.


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