Bush, Tyndale and the dilemmas of Christian leadership

Our family moved to the U.S. shortly after September 11 and experienced what it meant to be foreigners under the George W. Bush administration. We had lived there in the 1980s. Our children were born there then. We thought that we knew what life in the U.S. was like. Yet we were unprepared for how much had changed in the intervening decades, with the ramped up rhetoric and suspicion of all things foreign. On occasion we attracted hostility for being Canadian and learned to keep our nationality quiet, even toning down accents.

Much fear and hatred was couched in Christian terms. I was galled and alarmed by American Christians who were jubilant over Bush’s Christian rhetoric. I was heartsick over how the term “evangelical” came in the U.S. to be understood as automatically implying right-wing militarism. When I left Indiana to teach at a Canadian evangelical school, some friends criticized me. I repeatedly said that Canadian evangelicalism is different.

I visited overseas during my U.S. years and had long conversations with seekers from around the world. When they asked what I believed as a Christian and I explained my commitment to reconciliation, conversation partners were startled, even shocked, often asking: “What about George Bush?” He had become the face of Christianity for many.

The rest of Arthur Boers article is at ChristianWeek, and worth a read. Boers had previously expressed his opinion at the petition site set up by former alumni.  In his edited piece, Boers mentions that he was made aware of the Tyndale G.W. Bush fundraiser three weeks ago. ChristianWeek had some technical glitches earlier today, but everything is back to normal.  The letters to the editor and ChristianWeek continue to reflect the diversity of opinion,and ongoing misinformation of who Bush was going to see, where he was going to be and what he was going to talk about.

Background here.

Tyndale leadership, who told media and interested parties an invitation only breakfast with Bush had been cancelled because of a scheduling conflict, finally released a statement from  President and Vice Chancellor Gary Nelson.

September 19, 2011 -
The controversy surrounding the cancelled breakfast with George W. Bush has demonstrated that Tyndale needs to have clearer policies and guidelines in place so that diverse views can be expressed in a respectful and hospitable space. In retrospect, I regret that we did not have such a framework in place. Consequently, we will be working with our constituents and the Board of Governors to develop appropriate procedures and practices for the future. As a university college and seminary, Tyndale will continue to host various people to speak on issues that matter.
Thank you for your engagement, your comments, and your patience.

Faculty was aware of the Tyndale ‘profile raising’ fundraiser three weeks ago as mentioned above. It appears that people at Tyndale did try to approach administration, on their turf and their terms.  Arthur Boers:

“The day after the faculty was informed of the impending presidential breakfast, a colleague and I proposed a forum for interested faculty and students. The event would consider Christian interpretation of the legacy of George W. Bush, inviting four diverse viewpoints that spanned the political and theological spectrum. We would structure a civil conversation and give room for other faculty and students to respond and interact.

Our proposal was in the spirit of dialogue, academic freedom, and freedom of speech. A key administrator explained that our offer was not accepted because of – quoting here – “concern that we not make too much of this.”

Was G.W. Bush in Canada today? There are rumours on Twitter he was in Toronto yesterday. The cancelled donor breakfast for Tyndale scheduled for today, would have been held at the Toronto Hilton.

Oh. Guess to came to lunch? More below the fold.

 Update: Yep. G.W. Bush was in Toronto, and spoke to 200 invited guests at a luncheon courtesy of Prem Watsa, Fairfax Financial Holdings Inc.  I wonder if Tyndale  leadership were invited?

Monday’s lunch and talk lasted two hours, during which the folksy former president told jokes, talked about his memoir and the U.S.’s current economic woes. Guests then had the opportunity to have their photo taken with Bush.

…What was uncertain then was whether Bush would be participating in any other events in the city. Neither Fairfax nor Watsa responded to the Toronto Star’s requests for clarification.

Was this a fundraiser or just a smoozer for Prem Watza and his golfing buddies? Why did Dr. Gary Nelson redirect and misdirect the organization he leads, and the public following events? There is a phrase that jumps out in this post from Tyndale.co:

In light of this, I would like to publicly apologize to all of those who have followed this discussion. A number of people have called for me to apologize, so here goes:

I suspect that I have failed on all counts – Bush still came, Tyndale’s administration never took responsibility or made any equivocal statement, and there is a very real possibility that Tyndale is still benefiting from money raised at the Bush event (the silence we have received in response to that question should be pretty telling to everybody at this point). I’m sorry. I tried and failed.

I’m also sorry for being a central part of a process that went viral and spread false information about the cancellation of Bush’s Toronto visit. Had that media blitz not occurred, there is a good chance that many more would have shown up to protest Bush at the Hilton yesterday. Furthermore, this event has inspired a false hope in others. I’m sorry for doing that.

It is up to those at Tyndale to choose if they want to speak up, continue to expose the oppressive and abusive form of power operating there (anybody else find it telling that those who were cheerleaders of the event can write and say whatever they want, but when one person getting paid at Tyndale speaks critically of the event that person’s writing is redacted?). It is up to the faculty and staff who know better but who have stayed silent because they are afraid of losing their jobs to speak up. It is up to the students who know better but who have stayed silent because they are afraid of being expelled or given failing grades to speak up.

The redacted writing was Arthur Boers according to the petition website.  Are internal politics at Tyndale that toxic?  Faculty knew about the fundrasier for three weeks. I keep beating that dead horse. I fail to comprehend why no one who knew was permitted to express their opinions openly, and engage in discussion with an informed student body.
It took concerned alumni to put a website up. What’s worse, being muzzled or getting flamed online? I think what is more egregiousness is an administration which deflects, misdirects and redirects and expects others to go with the program.

Dr. Gary Nelson and Tyndale admin seems to have played it’s own faculty, staff and student body like fiddles in what looks like an attempt to save face. So much for ‘raising the profile.’

Update: Tyndale leadership and Tyndale.co bloggers meet.

About Bene Diction

Have courage for the great sorrows, And patience for the small ones. And when you have laboriously accomplished your tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
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One Response to Bush, Tyndale and the dilemmas of Christian leadership

  1. BD says:

    This is Arthur Boers original article, the edited paragraph is in italics.

    George W. Bush not welcome at Tyndale

    By Arthur Paul Boers | Monday, September 19, 2011

    George W. Bush will not be speaking at an event organized by a supporter of Tyndale University College and Seminary. PHOTO COURTESY FLICKR/U.S. NATIONAL ARCHVIES

    Editor’s Note: A September 20 breakfast event with former American president George W. Bush, organized by a supporter of Tyndale University College and Seminary, was cancelled after some students and staff publicly questioned whether Bush’s values were in keeping with the college.

    Arthur Paul Boers, who holds the endowed Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, explains his concerns on how the event was handled, and why he thinks Bush doesn’t represent evangelical Christian faith.

    TORONTO, ON – Our family moved to the U.S. shortly after September 11 and experienced what it meant to be foreigners under the George W. Bush administration. We had lived there in the 1980s. Our children were born there then. We thought that we knew what life in the U.S. was like. Yet we were unprepared for how much had changed in the intervening decades, with the ramped up rhetoric and suspicion of all things foreign. On occasion we attracted hostility for being Canadian and learned to keep our nationality quiet, even toning down accents.

    Much fear and hatred was couched in Christian terms. I was galled and alarmed by American Christians who were jubilant over Bush’s Christian rhetoric. I was heartsick over how the term “evangelical” came in the U.S. to be understood as automatically implying right-wing militarism. When I left Indiana to teach at a Canadian evangelical school, some friends criticized me. I repeatedly said that Canadian evangelicalism is different.

    I visited overseas during my U.S. years and had long conversations with seekers from around the world. When they asked what I believed as a Christian and I explained my commitment to reconciliation, conversation partners were startled, even shocked, often asking: “What about George Bush?” He had become the face of Christianity for many.

    My chief concern about George W. Bush was his use of faith. Early on, he employed “crusade” terminology. After September 11, he deliberately echoed words of Jesus, saying, “You’re either with us or against us.” On the first anniversary of September 11, in front of the Statue of Liberty’s flame he messianically proclaimed that the “ideal of America is the hope of all mankind.” Rewriting Scripture, he added: “That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.” He conflated the light of Christ with pompous American pretensions.

    His carefully crafted remarks distorted sacred texts into words of mass deception. In a State of the Union address, Bush said: “There is power – wonder-working power – in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.” This time he rewrote a beloved hymn, substituting American qualities for “the precious blood of the Lamb.”

    Such claims need to be tested for blasphemy and heresy. Yet few Christians raised questions, let alone criticisms. Instead we often complain about militant Islamic rhetoric. There is a theological term for that: hypocrisy.

    All this from a country that pompously called one war campaign “Operation Infinite Justice.” Really? Let’s talk about justice. As no one has been convicted, I do not label anyone a war criminal. Yet George W. Bush ought to be investigated and held to account for: wrongful abduction and imprisonment without trial; employment of torture; tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq (conservative estimates total 100,000); other civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan; invading Iraq on mistaken if not fraudulently deceptive grounds; gross human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere; and greater instability around the globe.

    As an orthodox believer who honours and upholds Christian creeds, who believes that only God Almighty is infinite and that Jesus Christ is the hope of all humanity, I am heartbroken over the absence of careful deliberation, discernment or debate about the arrogant theological actions and assertions of George W. Bush.

    In recent months, I helped facilitate a group of pastors, professors, business people, professionals and parachurch leaders who pondered and discussed the life and witness of German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a group with diverse theological and political beliefs, we were energized to examine how we might grow in faithfulness to following Jesus today.

    Over and again, we noted Bonhoeffer’s commitment to truth-telling especially when his nation, the German church or indeed even his beloved Confessing Church, fell short of God’s Reign. He was particularly passionate whenever authorities usurped, exploited or distorted Christian faith for political purposes. Christians have an obligation to speak up and speak out in such times.

    Little did I realize that I would soon be faced with a dilemma where I longed for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s wisdom. I learned of the planned Tyndale breakfast with George W. Bush three weeks before it was scheduled to happen and I had several concerns.

    First, I saw the damage that occurred when Christians were silent during the Bush years about theologically questionable claims and ethically questionable actions. I witnessed Christian faith discredited, largely through our own fault, our own commissions and omissions. If Bush was going to be associated with my school, conscience compelled me to speak.

    Second, in Canada I hear evangelicals – especially leaders in major parachurch organizations – regularly worry and complain about being automatically lumped with American counterparts. As Bush was going to be honoured at a private invitation-only event, Tyndale risked contributing to popular perceptions that Canadian and American evangelicalism are equivalent.

    Third, steeped in Mennonite convictions, I believe Christians can differ and disagree, even vigorously, and at the same time grow in love for one another.

    The day after the faculty was informed of the impending presidential breakfast, a colleague and I proposed a forum for interested faculty and students. The event would consider Christian interpretation of the legacy of George W. Bush, inviting four diverse viewpoints that spanned the political and theological spectrum. We would structure a civil conversation and give room for other faculty and students to respond and interact.

    Our proposal was in the spirit of dialogue, academic freedom, and freedom of speech. A key administrator explained that our offer was not accepted because of – quoting here – “concern that we not make too much of this.” (In spite of our administration’s caution, a maelstrom of controversy ensued once the press exposed Tyndale’s plans.)

    Moving back home to Canada, I did not want to think anymore about George W. Bush, the world’s most controversial Christian. I naively heaved a huge sigh of relief and crossed the border. I never dreamed that Mr. Bush would so directly impact my life even at Tyndale. Still a stranger in a strange land, I’m struggling to figure out how to speak up and to sing the songs of Zion.

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