Society Control for Calvin College

Our Christian Reformed Synod had to deal with an overture from Iron Springs, Alberta, asking to stop quota support for the Calvin Graduate Studies Program, and also with several overtures from both north and south of the border, asking for society control of Calvin College.

As could be expected, these overtures did not gel to first base. They were rather quickly disposed of. The grounds given for such action were neither strong nor convincing—but on some issues that seem not to be necessary.

I submit, however, that this is not the end of the matter and that Synod will hear more about it in the future too. It is too obviously plain to many people in the denomination that the present setup is neither just nor right, and that it needlessly discriminates against other institutions of learning.

There is no reason in the world why, at this stage of history, Calvin College should receive preferential treatment by way of quola-money. Historically this may have been justified, and one ean understand how the situation arose. But today the story is different. Today we have Dordl, Trinity, and the A.A.C.S. [Association for Advancement of Christian Scholarship, Toronto, Ontario] as well as Calvin. All three colleges, including Calvin, are regional colleges, that is, they receive the bulk of their students and support from the immediately surrounding area. That is understandable, and the way it should be. But why then should everyone be obligated to give to one of these colleges, while the others receive support only from their loyal constituents? Why should those who send their students to Dordt and Trinity (or to the A.A.C.S. for that matter) also be obligated to support Calvin? Or why should one graduate program receive mandatory support at the expense of another?

To my mind, and to that of many others, the answer is clear: There is no reason why this should be so. It just isn’t fair, and no amount of argumentation makes it so. We are no longer in 1876, nor in 1957 (when the time was not ripe for a change-over), but we are now in 1971. Apparently the time still isn’t ripe for society control. I ask in all sincerity: When will the time be ripe? I have a suspicion that the answer is: Never! But that answer does not satisfy. I wont to know why the time isn’t ripe, and what will make it so?

Obviously, a change cannot take place overnight. That takes some time and preparation. But why don’t we at least move in that direction? Why don’t we make the beginnings of such preparation? The least Synod could do, it seems to me, is appoint a committee to look into the matter and prepare for eventual society control of Calvin. That’s all we ask for. But Synod consistently refuses to take even that step, and to my mind much of the reason for this is sentiment rather than principle. It’s been this way for so long, we just don’t see why it should change now.

Synod has repeatedly said that it is not the primary task of the church to run a liberal arts college. It ought not to do so. But unless we show concretely that we really mean this, these words appear hollow. Indeed, instead of gradually relinquishing control, we have now added the graduate program to it, thus broadening the ecclesiastical umbrella. Actions speak louder than words. If it is principially wrong for the church to run a college, then we ought to find a way of changing it.

In 1957 Synod spelled out some conditions that had to be met before the church could relinquish control of Calvin. One of these states that “a Christian liberal arts college training should be sufficiently articulate among our people to insure the future of Calvin College under some other arrangement.” The rise and development of Dordt, Trinity, and the A.A.C.S. (not to speak of tentative plans for other junior colleges) are clear proof that this condition has been met. The other conditions have to do with insuring proper alternative control, financial stability, and the religious character of Calvin. All that needs to be said here is that, if this can be done in the case of Dordt and Trinity, there is no reason why it cannot be done with Calvin. But Synod must indicate a willingness to work in this direction. In short, f believe the conditions laid down in 1957 have been met, and that therefore the time ought to he ready to proceed.

It has been said before, and it was repeated on the floor of Synod 1971, that those who wish to have Calvin under society control ought to come with a concrete plan for its implementation. That sounds nice, but it doesn’t hold much water. Synod must take the first step. Until Synod says: We are ready to relinquish control of Calvin, no one is going to come up with any plan for society control. It makes no sense as long as Synod wants to retain such control. Furthermore, Classis B.C. in 1968 did present a suggested solution, but this was not even considered. Fact is, the entire report of Classis B.C. still has to be answered. It was never really dealt with. And finally, Dordt and Trinity are there as models, good models at that. Surely there are plenty of wise businessmen in Grand Rapids who would know exactly how to put Calvin under the good, sound, safe control of a society. That kind of thing doesn’t have to come from those presenting overtures. To say that it does is only a lame excuse for not acting.

I sincerely hope that eventually Synod will take the bull by the horns and initiate action which will put Calvin on an equal basis with all our other institutions of higher learning.

Jelle Tuininga is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Smithers, British Columbia.