There is Still Time to Change Your Mind: An Open Letter to Gary Nelson

To the Board and President of Tyndale University

I write this letter as a former student of Tyndale University College and Seminary, one who completed two full years at your institution, started the the student magazine on campus and has been sponsored by Tyndale multiple times to run events and bring in keynote speakers from around the world. I had heard a rumour a week or so ago that Tyndale was bringing George W. Bush in to promote Tyndale and I thought it was a joke. However, the rumour was proven true today by a few Toronto Star articles and a letter from Gary Nelson. Not only was it proven true, it was announced only a week before the proposed date of the actual event that is happening on Sept 20, 2011. I can’t help but view this as intentionally secretive as nothing was mentioned anywhere by Tyndale until we started bombarding Facebook walls with questions and links to what we were finding out.

I’ve been running events now for a number of years and if there is one temptation that keeps coming back over and over again it is to invite speakers based on ticket sales and revenue rather than content or character. It’s a tough balancing act. Unfortunately for Tyndale, they have failed at bringing any balance to this through the decision to bring in one of the most controversial so-called evangelical leaders of the century. As David Fitch puts it in The End of Evagelicalism, “I suspect that many American Christians under the age of thirty-five refuse to be called evangelical because of the presidency of George W. Bush.” Gary Nelson seems to think that “Tyndale represents a more thinking kind of evangelicalism.” Gary Nelson obviously has no clue what Tyndale represents or he is set out to completely destroy the reputation that Tyndale has now. Gary Nelson has also cemented the fact that he does not represent the growing amount of those under the age of thirty five who want nothing to do with the “Christian” rhetoric of a man like George Bush.

I’ve now been deleted four different times across two different Facebook pages with the post of “anybody talking about george bush coming to promote Tyndale at a breakfast on sept 20? is there a reason why it’s been so silent among the students? if anyone is interested in speaking more about this and possibly working with us to voice our disgust with such a publicity stunt/money grab, shoot me an e-mail. ([email protected]).” Gary Nelson states that they “are a university that tries to present all sides and be open to different opinions,” and “as a university, it’s {Bush} someone we need to listen to just like other points of view.” Meanwhile his staff are deleting opposing comments from Tyndale’s Facebook walls and rather posting announcement letters that are written by him. I’ve also been contacted by others who have had their comments deleted because of their questioning or opposing stance against Bush while leaving immature comments for everyone to see like this one by a man named Brian that says “Hey don’t go then, you immature know it alls!! You are so wise you would have voted for Obama!” Since when was being open to all sides picking and choosing what Facebook comments you feel like the rest of the world needs to read?

This is a shameful money grab and publicity stunt for Tyndale. Whether or not they came up with the idea or funded it themselves they are most certainly excited about “elevating the school’s profile” and benefiting from the event as much as possible. There is no reason to give George W Bush any sort of voice when it comes to Christian Higher Education. If this was really about addressing Christian Higher Education, James KA Smith just wrote an excellent book that addresses Christian Higher Education beautifully, ask him to speak. But we all know it’s not about that. This is about two things. 1. Raising Money. 2. Raising the School’s Profile (whatever that means). Using Bush (or anyone else for that matter) to do either is wrong. A Christian school that cares more about “elevating their profile” than about forming Christians is a school I can do without, as that flies completely in the face of the Christian values that I have come to understand should characterize the church.

I don’t need to dig too deep to expose the kind of policies the Bush is affiliated with. He’s been accused of plenty of war crimes, he has been threatened to be arrested if he shows up into certain countries, he thought that God told him to invade Iraq and he approved and gave orders for torture. He doesn’t have a great track record. Bush seems to represent and promote systemic dysfunction at its finest. This is not the kind of man that should be promoting a school that is supposed to be identified with peace, love, grace, forgiveness, suffering for good and loving the poor.

As a response to our disappointment and disgust with Tyndale’s decision to partner with such a man to help Tyndale become more successful in our world, we have started a website to oppose this event.

WWW.TYNDALE.CO

On the website you will find my letter along with others like mine, articles posted, and a petition full of names of those who oppose this decision. You will also find announcements about the protests that we plan on staging along with updates on where to meet and what we will be doing. We hope that you will change your mind and pull back on this event entirely and refuse to allow Tyndale to stoop to a level of marketing (because that is all that this is) that is abhorring. We hope for an apology from Gary Nelson and an admission that he and the Board made a mistake by moving the school in this direction.

The quote below from Stanley Hauerwas will help explain exactly what I think is going on here. Tyndale is doing nothing more than trying to be seen as a high profile learning centre for Christian studies and they don’t care what they have to give up in the process.

“It is clear that those who support Christian universities would be quite upset if the qualifier came to mean that the education students received might put them at a disadvantage for being a success in America.”
– Stanley Hauerwas

I write this letter from the position of not caring if Tyndale has a raised profile, creates successful students who get jobs or can attract a leader of international popularity. None of this matters. The kind of education that Tyndale should be providing for their students is one that would form students who are disciplined in the ways of Christ and his church, and refuse to allow fame and wealth to seep into their decisions.

There is still time Tyndale. Please cancel the event. Walk away. You don’t have to do this. It’s really not worth it.

2 Comments

  • I would urge the Tyndale community to begin pressing for the resignation of Gary Nelson for the following reason: he is clearly disingenuous when he claims the justification for Bush’s invitation to a breakfast event is to “dialogue”. When would this dialogue take place, after the pancakes and muffins? The real reason, as he even concedes, is to “elevate the school’s profile”. Well, he has succeeded in doing that along the same vein as Bob Jones University when it comes to racial discrimination. If dialogue is what he wants, I suppose Gaddafi is next on the invite list. It is obvious Nelson is smitten with the power and lure of American religion, and this invitation marks Tyndale’s effort to legitimize Bush’s perverse vision of Christianity and its place in the public sphere.

    Mr. Nelson dares to say that Tyndale represents a “thinking kind of evangelicalism”. Interesting… I see this as an example of him spitting in the face of the Tyndale community and then telling them it is showers of blessing!

    The perception of Nelson’s leadership and judgement is severely eroded by this decision, and the trust in him as president should be wholly rescinded, lest Tyndale’s reputation as a Christian institution be irreparably harmed in the eyes of the public to whom they are trying to minister. After all that the school has been through in recent years, can it afford this?

  • This whole thing is really bothering me and I think it is time I speak out. I am a Tyndale student and I am embarrased by my fellow Tyndale students. So many assumptions are being made.
    First, do we know that Dr. Nelson invited George Bush, or is he taking the heat for someone else who did the inviting.
    Secondly, it is WAY to easy to attack our leaders and tear them down but it is VERY difficult to build them back up. The things that are happening around this incident are NOT edifying to the body of Christ nor to our university. I firmly believe that God is not pleased by the actions of the Tyndale student body.
    There is a way to speak out against issues without attacking people.
    Thirdly, while I am not a George Bush fan and would not have attended the event, I do believe that hearing from all sectors of society and being open to ideas not in line with ours is important. We cannot be narrow-minded and closed. A university is a place to learn and explore new ideas and thoughts that will help to expand our thinking and our learning. The reaction of the press and student body over all of this should maybe have been to ask that someone with another view be invited as well so that both sides can be heard. That may have been more appropriate.

    We need to all stop and think through our thoughts and our actions before we damage our institution and more importantly the godly people that are trying to serve God as they are called. God bless Dr. Nelson and his staff.

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