There is a house I walk by frequently that is owned by Calvin University.
Calvin is one of the major higher learning institutions owned and supported by the Christian Reformed Church in North America or CRC.
CRC is a major Evangelical and Calvinist denomination in the USA with influence and missions abroad. The CRC could even be used as an archetypal example of American Evangelical Protestantism in many respects.
As such the student body and academic structure of Calvin University is usually assumed to tilt strongly toward the American political right.
The university has even produced several high profile political figures on the right like Betsy DeVos, Bill Huizenga, and Dave Agema.
Yet, as I made one of my frequent passes by the house owned by this school I’ve noticed a curious thing.
In the window I notice a Black Lives Matter sticker.
The decal is one of the standard emblems of BLM with the raised first AKA the forceful salute.
Now I’ve watched any number of figures on the right lambast BLM with any number of accusations.
I’ve heard BLM called socialist, communist, anarchist, satanist, or feminist. And any number of extrapolations or combinations.
So what is that decal doing in the window of a house owned by an Evangelical institution?
The house is called Nizhoni House. Nizhoni being a Navajo word for beautiful and in this case used as a broader sense of “good”, lining up with the mission of the house. That mission is the University’s attempt to show commitment to the neighborhood as they try to spread the Good News amongst its residents.
And it should be noted that Calvin University also has strong ties to Calvin Seminary which is an educational institution for producing professionals trained in theological, scholarly, and leadership for the CRC.
(And to be fair, Evangelicals in general)
But this hasn’t cleared anything up yet. Why would the students living in this house, presumably on a path to some form of Evangelical leadership, have a BLM decal up?
Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones condemning BLM?
Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones denouncing communism? feminism? anarchism?
Here though is where you can find the divide, if you look hard enough.
Evangelicalism in the US is multifaceted to be sure but there is an element that is nearly universal: the centrality of the Bible.
The Bible is the authority.
The Truth with a capital “T” is found in the Bible and the Bible only.
All other authority is insignificant.
But at the institutional level, the academic and scholarly and expert theological level, there is far more nuisance to the concept of Biblical authority than the oversimplifications I’ve written out above.
You can dive deep into the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to see what I mean. And that’s just a start. You can then move on to other statements like the Nashville Statement from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
These are complex and intricate statements that are meant to define the correct belief for Evangelicals in America and their international networks of Evangelical mission churches.
If you take the time to dig you’ll come across the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation from The Southern Baptist Convention.
And more pertinent to this house I walk by, the CRC Office of Race Relations.
Because the leadership of these a Evangelical bodies DOES acknowledge the reality of racism and the need for reconciliation. They have for several decades.
But their congregants do not.
Because Evangelicals have been told NOT to trust authorities. NOT to listen to experts and academics. They’ve been ignorant of the fact that those tenets they’ve been following were developed by experts.
Experts in theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, and so on.
And slowly but surely a chasm has developed between the congregants and their institutions of leadership.
They’ve been told (by academics) that they shouldn’t trust academics.
They’ve been told (by experts) not to trust experts.
And now the experts have lost control. Those who imagined themselves to be leaders have lost any semblance of broader authority.
Their attempts to purge any reliance on scholarly analysis worked too well and when they try to exert influence on changes in ethnic reconciliation it is not working.
It’s the same with several other topics.
That’s why the BLM decal in that window seems befuddling. The CRC leaders in training at their University recognize and believe in the need for racial reconciliation. But their congregants don’t care what they think.
Their congregants are forging their own socio-political culture and identity that despised expertise and study through higher learning institutions.
This is their reckoning; the reckoning of authority condemning authority without emphasizing that their authority should be the exception.
Those pundits denouncing BLM are the academics working on theology and religious scholarship. They are political figures, people with power on the mind. Not trained to lead as experts.
And therefore much more effective at leading their congregants.
Populist figures rather than institutional leaders.