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New Lecture Series Highlights Animal Compassion
January 7, 2008

Dr. Stephen H. Webb will give the inaugural address of the Animals and the Kingdom of God Lecture Series, held at 7:30 pm on Friday January 18th, 2008, at the Bytwerk Theater in the DeVos Communication Center at Calvin College.

Annual lectures in this new series will engage questions concerning the just and merciful treatment of animals from a faith perspective.

“We think Stephen Webb is an excellent choice for the inaugural lecture of this series,” said Matt Halteman, Calvin philosophy professor and administrator of the interdisciplinary committee that selected the speaker. “He is one of the leading voices for animal compassion in contemporary Christian theology.”

Webb, a conservative Christian theologian and professor at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, is the author of On God and Dogs and Good Eating—a volume in the Christian Practice of Everyday Life series from Grand Rapids-based Brazos Press. His lecture is titled “A Christian Case for Compassion for Animals.”

“Webb articulates the importance of compassion for animals as a crucial element of God’s broader call to care for creation, and that holistic message fits well with our outlook here at Calvin,” Halteman said.

That idea was the founding principle of the Animals and the Kingdom of God Lecture Series, which was funded by a friend of the college for 10 years to bring concern for animals under the larger tent of creation care that already exists at Calvin.

“Animals are a very important part of creation, but their interests are generally underrepresented in discussions of creation care,” said Halteman. “Our donor was interested in the creation care work that’s already underway at Calvin College and intrigued that there was already a lot of conversation about animal compassion going on among Calvin students and faculty. The donor’s intent for this gift is to support the broader initiatives already going on at Calvin by enabling us to bring in high-profile speakers to address the question of how animals fit into the picture.”

While he is at Calvin, Webb will also participate in Wake Up Weekend, a yearly Grand Rapids gathering of animal advocacy organizations—Grand Rapids for Animals; VegMichigan; Animals and Society Institute and the Calvin organization Students for Compassionate Living, among them—which is organized by Halteman and Calvin professor of art Adam Wolpa.

Wake Up Weekend, billed as a “two-day celebration of animal compassion, advocacy and education in Michigan and beyond,” will feature sessions on animal advocacy, an art auction, a vegan chili cook-off and a vegan potluck. “The weekend features vegan food since that’s the easiest way to insure that all participants can eat freely at events where omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans are working side by side,” Halteman explained. “Everyone is welcome.”

The participating organizations, he emphasized, advocate a variety of perspectives on animal advocacy. “Wake Up Weekend is an intentionally ecumenical event,” Halteman said. “The organizations represented are groups that seek to engage the mainstream public. These aren’t fringe organizations. The desire is to engage and educate the broader community.”

While Wake Up Weekend is not a Calvin-sponsored event, it does have a strong Calvin connection, Halteman said. “The weekend grew out of courses taught at Calvin, and now we’ve cultivated relationships with acclaimed regional and national advocacy organizations.” The art auction, which will benefit several of these groups, will feature the work of local and national artists and also Calvin art students.

Also for sale will be a special commemorative edition of the booklet Living Toward the Peaceable Kingdom: Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation. The text of the booklet was authored by Halteman for a series published by the new Animals and Religion division of the Humane Society of the United States. The commemorative edition of the booklet is illustrated with 15 collages created by Wolpa.

There’s a further Calvin connection involving the vegan chili cook-off, Halteman acknowledged, smiling:  “Calvin faculty spouses are going to have to defend their title.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson


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