Res Publica Lectures

Dr. John Inazu addresses the campus community during one of his chapel lectures. (Photo by Daniel Fremen.)

Dr. John Inazu addresses the campus community during one of his chapel lectures. (Photo by Daniel Fremen.)

This year, the W.I.C. Lectures were renamed the Res Publica Lectures, but their mission to challenge the Covenant community remains the same.

Dr. John Inazu taught three four-hour-long sessions (January 25-27) on confident pluralism, the idea that “we can and must live together peaceably in spite of deep and sometimes irresolvable differences.”

Inazu teaches law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The one-credit hour class followed the format of Inazu’s book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.

Confident pluralism, according to Inazu, allows us to maintain without suppressing or minimizing our firmly held convictions while coexisting with others who hold different beliefs. Inazu writes not just for Christians, but also for readers who hold other beliefs.

Anna Rohl (‘18) said she enjoyed the book, but also appreciated hearing directly from Inazu, who provided a Christian perspective that was not explicit in the book.

Inazu’s book first examines the constitutional commitments essential to making confident pluralism possible. These commitments are part of the First Amendment and include the right of association, the importance of public forums, and fairness in government funding. Even in the midst of differences, we must have some agreement about our society, seeking for “those within our boundaries to be part of the political community,” and allowing a certain extent of dissension from the norms of that community.

The second half of the book introduces “three civic aspirations” that make confident pluralism possible. Tolerance does not mean embracing all beliefs, but “a willingness to accent genuine difference,” even when we believe it to be wrong. Humility is recognizing we are limited and cannot prove even our most deeply held beliefs. Patience encourages restraint and endurance through listening to others instead of immediately dismissing them.

    These aspirations encourage speech that does not stigmatize and stop conversation, as well as exercising collective action and efforts responsibly to reach common ground with others who differ from us. Rohl was struck by the book’s example of a Catholic woman who worked with the director of an abortion clinic to increase adoptions.

“Working with people who have different opinions to change things for good — obviously that’s messy, but a really interesting call to think about,” Rohl said.

The annual lectures were originally made possible by a gift from Women In the Church (W.I.C.), an agency of the Presbyterian Church in America (P.C.A.), the denomination with which Covenant is affiliated were called the W.I.C. Lectures in honor of that gift. As the agency is no longer known as W.I.C., coordinator Dr. Jay Green said it made sense to change the name and was an opportunity to more accurately describe the nature of the lectures.

The phrase “res publica” refers to public affairs or concerns about the public. The lectures, Green said, were meant “to challenge us to think about how we can become more aware of what’s going on in the world and prepared to engage the world faithfully.”

The lecture topics are different every year. Green looks for Christian speakers who examine “contemporary issues that our students, as thoughtful people, need to grapple with and address as they move into adulthood.”

About a year and a half ago, Green and a few other professors read and discussed “Confident Pluralism.” “We learned a lot and benefited from the discussion,” Green said. “I knew [Inazu] was kind of a rising star and wanted to connect students with him.”

Green likes the format of the lectures because the three four-hour sessions provide longer and more intense engagement than a few thirty-five minute chapel periods.

“It’s the next best thing to having someone on the faculty,” Green said.

Green appreciates Inazu’s approach to interacting with society.

“Christians need all the help we can get with being faithful to God’s Word and understanding our place. It comes well short of demanding our way or forcing people into our mold,” Green said. “Inazu helps us do it in a way that’s faithful, both compassionate and civil, and loving to our neighbor. That doesn’t mean that I agree with him about every point, but I’m supportive of his overall vision.”

Though the divides in our society are difficult to deal with, Rohl was encouraged by Inazu’s thoughts.

“There are sincere, thoughtful believers [like Inazu] who are working out ways of engaging with the world as Christians,” Rohl said.