Guiding Principles

It’s not often that I hold fast to voicing an unpopular opinion. Usually when I catch wind that something I believe is opposed to the conventional wisdom or will possibly cause division, I back down. I listen more to the opposing view, and I usually keep my own opinion to myself.

So, when I found little to no public outrage at my college’s allowing presidential candidate, Donald Trump –a man known not for his leadership skills as much as for his acrid tongue, his caustic commentary, and his habit of bullying his opponents–to speak in our auditorium, I was surprised. Most people disagreed with my position against hosting Trump on our campus. But this time, I didn’t back down. I’ve been questioning myself a lot the last few days. Why do I feel so strongly that my college did the wrong thing by allowing equal time to a person whom polls say is a perfectly viable presidential candidate?

But, you see, that’s where I found the disconnect. It’s perfectly reasonable for my college to act as they did. Political Science clubs from the Dordt community extended an open invitation to all of the candidates –of both parties– so when Trump’s people responded, to have rescinded the invitation would have created a whole new set of difficulties. I understand that. It’s a reasonable response.

Another piece of the puzzle came together as I recalled a chapel sermon given at the start of the semester. The theme of the sermon was regarding our use of time. As an illustration to emphasize the priority our God places on setting time aside for rest and worship, our college president gave an illustration. As it happens, Dr. Ben Carson also responded to our invitation to the candidates. The problem was, the only day his campaign had open was on a Sunday afternoon. Our college has taken a stand to set Sundays aside as a day of rest. Other than the commons food service workers, you won’t find many (if any) people working at Dordt on a Sunday. Pretty much everything’s closed on campus –the bookstore, the campus Grille, the offices. It used to be that way in town, but with the arrival of Walmart and the increasing size of the town, that’s pretty much in the past.

So, when Dr. Carson’s people called, because Sunday was the only day available to them, our college administration decided that it wouldn’t work. In a sense, they rescinded Dr. Carson’s invitation. Sunday is the Lord’s day, a day for rest and worship. It’s not a day for hosting political rallies. If he were able to come on any other day, I’m sure he would have been welcomed, just as every other candidate was. So it’s not a preference of person going on here. It was a matter of principle.

And, thinking on that, I realize why I can not back down from my position that hosting Mr. Trump was the wrong thing to do. Having him here was reasonable, but was it the right thing to do, in light of the fact that his values, his communication style, and his reputation are largely in opposition of the servant-leader culture we strive to encourage in the Dordt community? Did hosting Donald Trump exemplify love for our neighbor?

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

I saw what just the announcement of his coming did to my friends who don’t look like the majority at my college: the ones who aren’t blonde, Dutch, and White. It was discouraging to them. To some, it felt threatening. “A man who publicly stated that Mexican immigrants were responsible for murder, rape, and drugs; a man who claimed that Blacks have a natural tendency to be lazy; a man who made a crude reference to commentator Megyn Kelly and refused to apologize —this is who our college agreed to host?” I heard them saying. Dordt College may say that they do not necessarily embrace the views of the candidates they host, that they are not endorsing anyone’s candidacy; but our college gave Trump an audience, a public address system, and a venue in which to say anything he feels is appropriate.

Dordt denied Dr. Carson a date because of our principle regarding Sunday as a day of rest and worship. Why, then, are we so uncomfortable about denying Trump our college as a venue because of our principle of loving our neighbor?

Why? Because allowing him to speak was reasonable. It was fair. That is my problem, at the bedrock level, with what happened on Saturday. In my opinion, Dordt College let its principle of fairness, of allowing an equal platform to all views (even ones that we may disagree with) become more important than that of love. They failed to consider the thoughts of the significant immigrant population of Sioux Center and how his visit would be perceived. They failed to hear the voices of minority students on the Dordt campus who view Trump and his rhetoric as a very real threat. From my perspective, these things were not as carefully considered as Dordt’s principle of providing an open door to various viewpoints.

Granted, Dordt College is not a church. It is an educational institution. Part of that calling is to bring the world to its students (and to its community), providing them with a wide range of viewpoints and opinions, giving them the tools to evaluate and discern truth from lies, good from evil. In my experience, they do an excellent job of that calling. It’s why, at the age of almost 43, I chose to return there to finish my education, when I just as well could have finished my degree online or at a much cheaper public university. I value a lot of what Dordt stands for. Even as an 18 year old arriving for my freshman year, I valued the openness to the world that Dordt offered, that they allowed us freedom to explore the world outside a Christian fence of sorts and gave us the tools to intelligently discern our way through. I also know that my college does their best to open their hearts and arms to a world of people from various cultures who see things very differently than the majority view. In many cases, I’ve seen people from the Dordt community go out of their way to embrace our world neighbors. In this case, however, I would have liked to see the principle of love for our neighbor brought to the forefront, but I do not believe that it was. And for that reason, I am disappointed.

The rally is over, but I question now what is being said around the kitchen tables of our community’s Latino neighbors. Do they view us differently, in light of the company we’ve kept? I wonder what is going on in the mind and heart of the Black high schooler poring over his Dordt view-book, noting on his Facebook feed that it was from our college auditorium that Trump mentioned that because he is so well-received, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any voters. What a White person may hear as a  joke in extremely bad taste, a person of color may hear as Trump’s boasting of the privilege afforded by his skin color and economic status. In a nation where some question whether Black men (and women) are being unfairly targeted and shot by police, Trump’s joke was far more damaging than simply “odd” or “inappropriate.” It could be perceived as threatening. It’s all in your perspective. Love for our neighbor means listening and learning to better understand the perspective from which he or she comes.

The rally is over, but if I know Dordt, the conversation will continue. My hope is that our conversation will be one not that is not only guided by reason, but saturated in love for our neighbor.