On Inviting First Mondays Speakers to Campus

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Nearly a year ago in October 2019, I wrote these words in The Voice of Dordt University, our alumni magazine:

“We believe students should listen and respond to people who see the world from different perspectives. This helps students to learn not only how to meaningfully engage with people they disagree with but also to sharpen their own understanding and beliefs. If we isolate our students from those we or they might disagree with or from those whose beliefs about specific issues make us uncomfortable, we will have poorly prepared our students for living as Christ-followers in today’s world.”

We have an upcoming speaker in our First Monday Speaker Series about whom I’ve received some inquiries, so I want to clarify a few points to our campus, our alumni, and our broader community.

We first invited Dr. Kristin Kobes DuMez (’97), an alumna and accomplished historian, to be a First Mondays speaker more than a year ago. She was originally scheduled to be on campus in March 2020. Due to the closure of campus last spring because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we rescheduled her for October 2020. After we rescheduled her visit, Kobes DuMez published a book, Jesus and John Wayne—How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. The book has elicited much attention and debate in both the political realm and the broader Christian sphere. That this book (and its title) might elicit strong feelings is not a huge surprise, given that we’re a few months from a U.S. presidential election in which candidates from both parties are implying that this election is the ultimate and final choice for the soul of America. 

In November, Justin Giboney, co-founder and president of the AND Campaign, will speak on campus as part of the First Mondays Speaker Series. The AND Campaign is a coalition of Christians who are determined to address the sociopolitical arena with the compassion and conviction of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Giboney is also an attorney and political strategist, and he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

As I wrote about in “Putting our Worldview to Work”:

“We will not always agree with the writers and thinkers, Christian and non-Christian, who are shaping our world. But as an institution committed to a Christian, Reformed perspective that holds Scripture high and uses a redemptive-historical method to read and apply God’s Word, we need to understand how such people shape us and our world.”

I am grateful to have Kobes DuMez and Giboney on Dordt’s campus as First Monday speakers. I trust that our students will ask them good questions, and I hope that if our students disagree with the speakers, they will make well-reasoned arguments when they do so.

I trust Dordt’s faculty and staff to help students grapple with what we hear from outside speakers like Kobes DuMez and Giboney. We don’t always tell students what to think, but we do teach them how to think. We don’t indoctrinate our students—we do educate them. Especially in an age of reflexive cancel culture, this means sometimes taking in speakers, concepts, or ideas that may make us uncomfortable. We teach students to sift through and weigh how differing views measure against biblical truth, and seek to help them grow in their faith as they do so. It’s part of the discipleship process of equipping our students to become effective kingdom citizens.

As I explained in our decision to invite then-candidate Donald Trump to our campus back in January 2016, I don’t want any Dordt student to unreflectively or uncritically believe everything they hear from any campus speaker. We need to develop our students as biblically grounded critical thinkers; it’s part of the education that we promise to them. And, I believe that if you look at the outcomes of our educational process here over the past 65 years in the lives of our graduates, you’ll see the positive fruit of that work to help them not hide from the world, but to engage it with a positive Christ-centered witness.

Lastly, lest you have concerns about how we’re shaping our students’ minds and hearts in the coming semester, I’d encourage you to examine some of the recent work of our faculty and staff. Read about Donald Roth’s examination of recent Supreme Court decisions, review Dr. Abby Foreman’s “Considering Citizenship, Dare to be a Daniel,” and watch the first chapel of the year by Rev. Aaron Baart.

The speakers we invite to our campus—either political candidates, First Mondays speakers, or other guest speakers—are not the dominant voices nor the core messaging to students at Dordt University—yet they are important and supplemental to the educational process. The central  role is held by our talented faculty and staff—grounded in their love for Christ and the truth of Scripture—who are entrusted with the task to “equip our students to work effectively toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life.”

If there are those of you who still have questions or concerns about this speaker—or any other aspect of Dordt University—I stand ready to talk with you, at any time. Your care and concern for Dordt are greatly appreciated, and I welcome the conversation.

Warmly,

Dr. Erik Hoekstra

President, Dordt University