On Feb 21-21, Upper House and Geneva Campus Church are launching the Geneva Forum at Upper House, featuring theologian Vincent E. Bacote. In anticipation of the forum, Dan Hummel (Upper House) talks with his forum co-host, Rev. Jim Kirk (Geneva Campus Church), about the backstory to the Geneva Forum and why they’re both excited about this partnership.
Dan Hummel (DH): Hi Jim. We’re fast approaching our first Geneva Forum in a couple weeks (February 21-22). Can you explain a bit about the history of the Geneva Forum at Geneva Campus Church, and where this new version fits in?
Jim Kirk (JK): We’re really looking forward to this forum! For as long as Geneva Campus Church has existed, we’ve sought to engage the University community in thoughtful ways as a church. Many of our members through the years have been students, faculty, and staff, so this feels very natural for us. We care deeply about the life of the mind and love the UW, so we’ve regularly sponsored “Geneva Forums” as a way to contribute to campus conversations. It’s also why we’ve been passionate supporters of Upper House. Since Upper House launched, we’ve had the opportunity to partner regularly with you; so formalizing our partnership in this new “Geneva Forum at Upper House” just made great sense, combining Geneva’s history and distinctive contribution on campus with the wonderful work that Upper House is doing. Our plan is to hold this new Geneva Forum at Upper House annually in February.
DH: We’re especially excited to be welcoming Vincent E. Bacote, professor of theology at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill.) as our inaugural speaker. Vincent’s name came to the fore after a long series of discussions at Geneva Campus Church and collaboration with Upper House. Can you describe what went into that decision process? What are the issues your community is interested in grappling with through this forum?
JK: It’s hard to believe that we began this process nearly a year ago! We have a diverse church community, and we could have gone a lot of different directions. We brainstormed a long list of possibilities. We settled on Vincent because he is a scholar of public theology, which is about how our faith intersects with public life, including politics. We’ve known for a long time that we as American Christians are in need of more robust ways of navigating our responsibilities as democratic citizens. On the one hand, we’re all too aware of the ways in which political engagement can be done badly. On the other hand, it can be tempting to simply withdraw from the public square. We believe Vincent has a way of thinking about these issues that will be very helpful and invigorating for remaining engaged in society as followers of Jesus, with both courage and humility.
DH: Your concern for the virtues of courage and humility also resonate with us, and I think all of us saw that shining through Vincent’s work as we were considering the invite and then actually talking to him. Now, in addition to his events at Upper House on Feb. 22, Vincent is spending the day prior, Feb. 21, with Geneva Campus Church. What are you looking forward to hearing from Vincent about?
JK: First, we’re welcoming Vincent as a preacher in our Sunday morning worship service. For the season of Lent, we’re starting a new preaching series on contemporary cultural “idols” — idols that can be just as attractive to people in the church as they are to anyone else. Oftentimes these are good things that become twisted when they are made ultimate. In our series, we will cover freedom, religion, wealth, and power. Vincent will kick it off with a message about idolatry from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.
Then, on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., Vincent will teach an Adult Education class about the legacy of the 19th century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper is an important figure in our own Christian Reformed tradition and remains an inspiration for ways that we engage our culture, even through something like the Geneva Forum. But he also believed in the superiority of white people, which is a huge problem! Vincent is an expert on Abraham Kuyper, and he brings a unique and valuable perspective to this topic. At Geneva, we are forthright about confessing the sin of racism, and intentional about pursuing racial justice, so we must grapple with this history. By the way, we welcome guests to join us either on Sunday morning or on Sunday afternoon! Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DH: Finally, Jim, the lecture Vincent is giving on the evening of Feb. 22 is titled “Faithful Politics in a Divided World.” We both had the privilege of working with Vincent to think through the focus and theme of this lecture. From your perspective, what excites you about hearing from Vincent on this topic?
JK: When we planned this talk with Vincent, we knew that political polarization was a huge problem, but we didn’t know just how bad things were going to get. Since the riot at the Capitol on January 6, the divisions in our country have become even more stark. What’s more, it’s clear that Christians today have a tremendous amount of work to do in order to confront and overcome the spirit of Christian Nationalism. One way we can do this is by being really clear about what we believe faithful politics should look like and equipping people to pursue it. I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity to learn from Vincent, and we hope that it will be helpful not just to Geneva folks but something that will encourage and inspire others in Madison. Thank you, Dan, for all the work that you have done to help us prepare!
DH: Thanks, Jim. It was really a team effort and will be a unique offering for our community. Vincent’s rootedness in the Reformed tradition gives a sort of coherence and shape to what he has to say, which is exactly the type of deep Christian thinking we hope the Geneva Forum at Upper House will offer.
Join us and sign up for “Faithful Politics in a Divided World” (Feb. 22, 7:00pm CT) here.