Dennis Voskuil Installed as Hope’s New President, Highlights Virtues of Public Discourse
Drawing from a guiding Hope College-created document that extols five virtues of civility in public discourse, new President Rev. Dr. Dennis N. Voskuil called constituents to come together as a community of trust to accomplish astonishing works in his installation address titled “The Virtuous College” on Thursday, Aug. 24.
Voskuil will serve as interim president of the college for a two-year term. He replaces Dr. John C. Knapp, who took on the presidency at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania this summer. The installation ceremony took place as a campus event, primarily for faculty and staff, in conjunction with Hope’s Pre-College Conference.
Setting before the Hope community the five “spare but arresting” virtues — humility to listen, hospitality to welcome, patience to understand, courage to challenge, and honesty to speak the truth in love — Voskuil recognized that each virtue provides “biblically-rooted parameters for the manner in which a Christian academic community should engage each other.” Their simple yet deep wisdom impressed him so much, he explained, that he wrote about them in his application letter to the Board of Trustees, commenting that not only would he strive to model them daily but he’d encourage his new colleagues to do the same.
“And to underscore and remind you of these virtues, you should have received a writing tablet which lists them,” he said, holding up an example of the gift attendees were given upon their arrival for his address at the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.
Voskuil proceeded to present before the audience of faculty, staff, students, trustees and friends of the college reasons for each virtue’s necessity and reality. By weaving personal story-telling and examples of biblical scripture, the pastor-president showed his audience both humor and solemnity in the process.
Humility to Listen
“We have our primary example of utter humility in Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, who, according to the Apostle Paul, ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross.’ The first, and perhaps most important then, virtue for meaningful community discussion and decision-making is humility. Humility to listen to others and to respect what they have to say.”
Hospitality to Welcome
“This summer I attended several weekly presentations for the Faith and Scholarship Discussion Series. Free breakfast and an opportunity to learn about vocation from members of our community proved to be a strong attraction…. In (Prof. Tori Pelz’s) presentation she quoted Henri Nouwen who described hospitality as ‘the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy… not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place.’ I love this idea of hospitality… True hospitality is not a matter of winning someone to our point of view but of providing space to grow and learn.”
Patience to Understand
“I am too often guilty of jumping into a fray with my own perspective before really hearing what is being argued. I am so impatient. I so desperately desire to resolve differences that I fail to learn what they are. True hospitality requires us to be patient… And sometimes we must have the patience to invite silence — a time of reflection. May God grant us the patience to understand.”
Courage to Challenge
“Over the years I have heard a great deal about ‘West-Michigan-nice,’ and how the posture of nice tends to perpetuate the status quo which is hollow and artificial. Now as someone who has been captive to the West-Michigan-nice culture, and who highly values graciousness and politeness, I confess that there are times when I fail to have the courage to challenge the status quo when it produces stagnation and artificiality. To be a healthy community, we must have the courage to challenge, but also the grace to allow challenges to be offered about our assumptions. Challenging assumptions does not run counter to humility, or hospitality to welcome, but takes a great deal of intellectual courage.”
Honesty to Speak the Truth in Love
“Honesty is at a premium in our society today. I cannot think of a time in our history when honesty has been more fully devalued. And for an academic institution, especially a Christian academic institution, the value of academic and moral honesty must be cherished. It is our responsibility to seek and speak the truth… It is my sincere hope and prayer that the students who are nurtured at Hope College develop such a deep and probing faith that they will leave the college as maturing heroic Christians… But here is the key to fruitful engagement over important issues: It must be done in an atmosphere of trust — rooted in love.”
In his conclusion, Voskuil remarked how he and his wife, Betty, counted it a privilege to return to Hope. “To be honest, we are falling in love with this community all over again,” he said.
Voskuil was a member of Hope’s religion faculty from 1977 to 1994 and then moved on to neighboring Western Theological Seminary, where he was president from 1994 to 2008. He continued to teach at the seminary until 2014, when he became a senior research fellow at the college’s A.C. Van Raalte Institute. He subsequently served as the institute’s director from 2015 until becoming Hope’s president.