My old school, the place I graduated from 43 years ago, the place at which I taught for 35 years, the place I still hold close to my heart, hosted Mike Huckabee, former Baptist preacher, former governor of Arkansas, former presidential candidate, in the college chapel program yesterday. I have to say that I’m very proud of a large group of my ex-students and friends who stood through the chapel program in protest, wearing white T-shirts that said “Love” and “No Ban, No Wall, No Hate.”
Let me be clear about something. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for my old school to invite someone like Mike Huckabee to speak to the students. He represents one side of a very important debate in our society. BUT his appearance is appropriate ONLY if the school also invites someone like Tony Campolo to speak at one of the other chapel programs, because Campolo represents the other side of that debate. It’s important for students to hear both sides. The “higher” in Higher Education doesn’t simply mean a higher number of years of study. It also means an exploration of the life of the mind, an exploration of the most important ideas and areas of expression that are not strictly related to getting a job and making enough money to live on. Faith-based colleges like my old school struggle with the “higher” in Higher Education. Faith-based colleges like to say “All truth is God’s truth,” but most of them seem to be afraid to present “All truth” to their students. The result is something more like indoctrination than education.
Many years ago, my old school actually did have Tony Campolo come and speak in the chapel program. The students loved him. The front row of students in the auditorium brought umbrellas and raised them when Campolo got up to speak because he is one of those fiery speakers who tend to shower the front row. He loved it when they opened the umbrellas. But alas he seemed to offend the powers that be, or more importantly the powers behind the powers that be, and he was blackballed from future appearances. Shane Claiborne, another important voice for the Campolo side of the debate, was also invited to the chapel program back in the day. The students loved him too. But alas he too seemed to offend the powers that be, etc., and has been put on the do-not-call list. My old school has continued to bring in the Mike Huckabees, Asa Hutchinsons, Benjamin Netanyahus, and Franklin Grahams of the world for students to hear. But there doesn’t seem to be room for the Tony Campolos and Shane Calibornes. The chapel schedule for this year includes several guests whose focus is social justice, and I applaud that. I simply don’t see it as an adequate counterbalance to the Huckabees, Hutchinsons, Netanyahus, and Grahams.
Mike Huckabee represents an extreme conservative position. I abhor most of what he says in the political, social, and religious arenas. He does not speak for the Jesus whom I try to follow. He does speak for an earthly kingdom called “Evangelical Christianity,” but it is a kingdom that, as far as I can see, has less and less to do with the Christ it says it follows. It is a kingdom that has become for the modern world what the religious authorities/system in ancient Palestine had become in Jesus’ eyes–the problem rather than the solution. Jesus’ attitude can be summed up in one of the phrases he used to describe them–whitewashed tombs. Jesus’ strongest condemnations, his rare outbursts of anger, were aimed at religious hypocrisy and mistreatment of the powerless in his society, not at the garden variety “sinners.” The only sinners toward whom Jesus lacked tolerance (a bad word in conservative circles) were the religious hypocrites.
Mike Huckabee uses language and promotes ideas that increase bigotry, distrust, and potential violence against the kinds of people Jesus reached out to and spent time with. He is a masterful communicator and seems to sincerely believe he is doing God’s work. The Pharisees and Sadducees undoubtedly believed they were doing God’s work. Jesus didn’t think so.
So I say God’s blessing on the people who stood up for Jesus in chapel yesterday. I’m proud of them.