The issue of politics and Christian engagement will take center stage during tonight’s Worldview Forum, “Can a Christian be a Democrat? Can a Christian be a Republican?,” in the Johnson Center at 7 p.m. Tonight’s panel discussion is just another chapter in the ongoing Worldview Forum Series, which are held four times a year. The series dates back to 1998, and the story of its humble beginnings is outlined in the following article that was initially published in the spring 2006 issue of Malone Magazine.
The Day of Small Beginnings
In 1998, Ann Yoder McConnell (’99), a resident advisor for College Hill (now DeVol), asked her New Testament professor Dr. John Geib (then-assistant professor of Biblical studies at Malone) if he could participate in a dialogue with local Jehovah’s Witnesses for a resident hall activity.
Geib agreed on the condition that the event be kept a small one. However, word traveled quickly and by the night of the discussion, the group was forced to move from a college lounge to a large
classroom. Soon, even the classroom was not large enough to handle the mass of students waiting to attend.
In attendance was Rhonda Aiello, alumna of ’99, also a student in Geib’s Faith and Personal Ethics (Becoming a Deliberately Conscious Thinker and Practitioner) course. Her colleagues said she was a woman extraordinarily gifted at administration. Aiello was fascinated by the idea of the dialogue and as a part of a Malone Ministries Association, had been looking for a continuous, significant event to foster spiritual and academic growth among her classmates.
“I loved this whole idea of dialogue,” Aiello said. “We certainly can’t lead others to Christ if we can’t have civil conversation with them. And so many people showed up at that one event, just by word of mouth, that I thought was something like this might really be helpful in modeling Christian behavior, and the civility of what ‘Christian’ was demonstrated that night among people of two different belief systems.”
Kevin Rohr (’99) was also a student in Geib’s Faith and Personal ethics class, where students discussed how to develop a worldview.
“That class helped me tremendously,” Rohr said. “I’d grown up being told what to think, not how to think. Dr. Geib gave me permission and freedom to explore and grow in my faith. I came away with the thought that if the things in the New Testament were true, how would that change my life?
“It changed my life dramatically, and I wanted to do something with that, which leads me to want to have these kinds of worldview discussions on a regular basis. I began discussing some ideas with Dr. Geib, and we all began collaborating together.”
Rohr and Aiello were two the students students who the Lord inspired to see if we could not enlarge the discussions they’d had in class, Geib recalled.
“Both were outstanding students … and both were extremely persuaded that what they had learned should beshared with a larger audience,” Geib said.
Aiello and Rohr went to work developing a proposal, creating a charter, meeting with deans, attempting to find funding and going through all appropriate channels to make the Worldview Forums an officially sponsored college organizations, complete with constitutional documents, a committee and more.
“We thought it was really important to develop the forums in such a way the they never became debates, but that they modeled dialogue — that proponents could come and present their points of view, not necessarily have to be on the defense all evening,” Rohr said.
Official approval was greeted in the spring of 1999 and the first forum was scheduled for September. The topic was “Are Baha’i and Christian Faiths Compatible?” and was discussed by proponents Veronica Dickey, a Baha’i follower from Canton, and Geib, who represented Christianity to an audience of nearly 200 students. Professor of Theology Dr. Stephen Moroney served as moderator.
The forums were well-attended and grew quickly. With growth came a multitude of details.
In November of 1999, Geib asked Sandy Johnson, department assistant in the Office of Student Development, to serve as the administrative leader for the committee, ensuring that the program would remain successful long after Rohr and Aiello had graduated.
“If ever the Lord led me to make a decision, this was certainly one of those times,” Geib said. “Sandy immediately organized in a brilliant manner, but at the same time nurtured and empowered the students to the degree they were capable of ‘owning’ the forums. Sandy is a superb administrator and the students needed her expertise and nurturing style of leadership…[She] has done a brilliant job.”
Under Johnson’s leadership, the committee began planning the forums two years in advance.
The Worldview Forum committee of today includes staff and faculty, students demonstrate leadership deciding what topics will be presented, contacting speakers, introducing proponents and involving themselves down to the minutest details.
Significant to the success of the Worldview Forum is Dr. Bill Quigley, instructor of youth ministry at Malone since 1998, and a charter committee member.
Quigley, known around campus as a “big picture” type of guy is deeply involved in the Canton community.
“I’ve lived in Canton for a number of years, and I am connected to people, foundations, and business,” Quigley said. “I’ve always been a person to network a community to make different things happen, and I’ve been blessed to be a part of some wonderful things.”
Quigley enjoys what the forums bring to the Canton community as a whole — and Malone’s part in it.
“We were asked to be the light for this city and part of what we do as professors and academians is to study issues from a number of perspectives,” Quigley said. “These forums bring a valuable resource to the community.”
A Turning Point
“In my view, the single event that initially propelled the Malone College Forum into prominence on the campus and even within the Northeast Ohio community was the Worldview Forum dialogue on April 5, 2000,” Geib said. “The Forum was titled ‘The Christian and Atheistic Worldviews in Context: A Dialogue,’ with Frank R. Zindler, director, Central Ohio Chapter of American Atheists and Editor of American Atheist representing atheism. I represented Mere Christianity.
“Without extensive advertisement, the Centennial Center was completely packed (estimated attendance was 800 plus). I was told that perhaps two hundred were turned away. The ‘numerical success’ of this event, and the outstanding response on the part of the students I think persuaded most that the Worldview Forum was a worthwhile and promising endeavor.
Rohr, too, recalls that forum as a turning point.
“For me, the biggest success was Frank Zindler, a man who is a very active atheist, saying to me, ‘This is the most cordial experience I have ever had with Christians,’” Rohr said. “God loves us — He sent His son to demonstrate Agape (unconditional) love, and we should demonstrate that same kind of love. I want all of our proponents to experience that kind of love from us—especially those who aren’t Christians. That is one of the main points of these dialogues — for us to talk about our beliefs with others in a civil way. If we don’t — what’s the point?”
In addition to the Worldview Forums offering dialogues between those of other faiths, Malone also hosts what are called by the committee “intramural” dialogues, or dialogues between Christians of differing viewpoints. Such topics include just war and pacifism, the role of women in the church and the Christian’s role in politics.
The program has grown to become a staple of college events and—along with being highly anticipated among members of the Malone community — is well attended by students from other colleges (including the University of Akron, Kent State University, Walsh University, Mount Union College and Case Western Reserve University), as well as the Stark County community at large.
“Part of our work,” Quigley said, “is bringing our ideas together to form a kind of Jordanian knot — the idea that if we can get wonderful believers together, we just might be able to get together to make the world a better place.”
Amber Balash is content manager for publications & website in the Department of University Relations at Malone University.