Just Citizenship series builds connections

Guests+await+speaker+Matt+Walhout%3B+Photo+courtesy+Just+Citizenship+Series.

Guests await speaker Matt Walhout; Photo courtesy Just Citizenship Series.

Matt Walhout, the dean for research and scholarship, kicked off the Just Citizenship Forum Monday, framing the series by giving the intergenerational audience a chance to air their political concerns, exploring the importance of the verb “equip” in Calvin’s mission statement.

At the ReGathering last week, Dr. Laura Smit challenged Christians to engage in hard and deep conversations. Walhout called this a “theological springboard,” framing the Just Citizenship series as one of its applications:

“We want to see and hear from people who have different views of what’s going on in the world today,” he said. “We want to face the difficulty of building connections across different ways of seeing things.”

Walhout told the story of Bayram Akbulut, a student he met in Hungary. After Akbulut showed interest in studying abroad and learning about different religions, Walhout arranged for him to spend a semester at Calvin.

Akbulut, who emigrated after a failed coup in Turkey, supported the Islamic government in power. This meant he had few shared values with the people he met while in the U.S., yet those he encountered reached out to him, working to bridge the divide by sharing intelligent conversation. This way of reacting to diverse thought is what Walhout hopes to encourage throughout the Just Citizenship series.

Walhout encouraged the audience to split into small groups and talk about an aspect of political concern. He hoped people would end up in groups with those sharing different views and encouraged groups to consider what it’s like to see things differently and why it might be important to reach across the divide.

Attendees discussed current issues ranging from immigration to abortion to the rural-urban divide. This discussion time “was really beneficial” for junior Kelli Grimm:

“It was really interesting knowing nothing about the other people in my group, where they were coming from, what their situations were or if they would agree with me. It changed the way I approached the conversation.”

For many audience members, this opening session was valuable, but philosophy professor Matt Halteman pointed out that sometimes you simply don’t share a coherent vision of the world with other people and there is no common ground. In that instance, he said, “maybe we have to be in solidarity with people we agree with.”

The verb “equip” can sum up Calvin’s mission statement, said Walhout. He explained becoming equipped can mean both a social know-how, how to interact with those around us, and an internal communication that builds you up and prepares you to go out into the world.

 

He pointed out that, in French, “l’equipe” means “team.”

“It’s not ‘us against them,’ but it’s trying to talk to each other and consider the voices we don’t normally listen to,” he said.

Walhout also encouraged people to discuss ways to move forward, both through practically affecting the government and considering diverse perspectives. Audience members gave ideas ranging from political postcard writing parties, to creating a dating-style app where people could meet up and discuss differences to simply think through what you believe.

The Just Citizenship series is every Monday at 3:30 in the chapel.