Miscommunication about food communication

Lydia Marcus-Staff Writer

Any seasoned Dordt College student should be able to tell you that worship is not restricted to hymn-singing and Scripture-reading. We can worship while we work, learn, socialize and eat. So, a chapel message that addresses a Christian’s relationship with land and livestock is not necessarily out of place at a college like Dordt. Yet, many members of the Dordt community felt that the presentation Kevin Murphy gave in chapel on March 22, “The Food Morality Movement,” was inappropriate.

Murphy was invited to Dordt for the annual Agriculture Summit. This event is organized by the Western Iowa Farmer’s Alliance, a group of local producers and agribusiness people. Dordt began hosting the Summit three years ago so that its students and faculty could be more actively involved in the events.

On the morning of March 22, Murphy addressed local agronomists, Dordt agriculture students and faculty, high school students interested in agriculture and agribusiness people at a breakfast. Afterwards, Murphy participated in a panel discussion with a local vet, meat department manager and the chief operating officer of Center Fresh Group. Because he was one of the most prominent Summit guests, the Alliance members organizing the Summit asked Dordt chaplain Aaron Baart if he would be interested in having Murphy deliver a chapel message. Baart agreed.

In his chapel message, Murphy cautioned against the “Food Morality Movement,” explaining the dangers of allowing uneducated or misinformed non-farmers to manipulate how consumers think about food. He emphasized the importance of food systems and the distinction between humans, who are made in God’s image, and animals, who are not. He warned that blurring the lines between the amounts of respect owed to humans and to animals is sinful.

Following the chapel message, Baart emailed the campus community, stating “our guest tapped into an important conversation for us to have on campus about food morality, but in hindsight, chapel was not the right venue for this topic as it was presented. I sincerely apologize.”

“I appreciated [Murphy’s] passion; he clearly was passionate about his topic,” said senior agriculture: plant science major Dalton Webster.

“My biggest issue with his talk was that his use of the words ‘dominion’ and ‘subdue’ was quite different from Dordt’s and my personal definition.” To Webster, Murphy seemed to say that “creation was here for us to do whatever we want with it,” whereas Webster believes that our use of creation should not be done without regard to creation and sustaining its beauty and productivity for future generations.

Agriculture Department Chair Gary De Vries believes that much of the uneasiness about Murphy’s message stemmed from a lack of information and context. “Kevin pared his 9 o’clock breakfast talk, which was an hour long, to 20 minutes. The people who just attended chapel missed the context of the talk which was covered in the hour-long talk,” said De Vries.

“He wasn’t really trying to express a certain view, and because he didn’t state his view, people assumed what it was. His message was that it is up to you to apply your faith to how you do agriculture and talk about food systems.” Murphy warned that, if Christian producers do not discuss how their ethics, logic and science inform their agricultural choices, the most prominent voices in food systems will be the ones who do not hold a Christian view of the world.

“Our organic chemistry class had a long discussion after Mr. Murphy’s presentation,” said sophomore agriculture: animal science major Jessica Cheney. “We decided the main reason we had a problem with the presentation was that Mr. Murphy told us what to think, rather than how to think about the issue. …He did not offer pros and cons of each argument, and despite the chapel setting of his message, he barely quoted scripture. His talk was merely based on raw emotion—pathos—rather than encouraging intelligent and respectful conversation, which we seemed to have at Doubt Night anyway.”

The March 29 Doubt Night about the topics Murphy discussed was well attended—all five rows of CL 1144 were filled, even the front row. As is evidenced by the Doubt Night turnout and discussions on campus regarding Murphy’s talk, food systems and Christian agriculture are topics that the Dordt community cares deeply about.

“We need dissonance in order to grow,” said Baart. “If you came to Dordt and your time here only reaffirmed what you already know, that’d be a colossal waste of money. Education is tension, and discipleship is tension. Hopefully, it’s a tactful tension.”

The Doubt Night was an attempt to provide opportunity for a tactful tension that was not evident in the chapel presentation.

De Vries concurs, stating “the Doubt Night helps us to be thinkers teaching us how to have a conversation even if we don’t all agree—civil discourse.”

“Mr. Murphy wanted to start conversation on this topic, which he certainly succeeded in doing,” said Cheney. “I thoroughly enjoyed the Doubt Night and the ideas that were expressed. I appreciated the redirection on this issue that emphasized a foundational understanding of ethics and the purpose of creation. …I hope the Dordt community has learned from this experience about the sanctity of what a chapel presentation should be, and the sanctity of the simple food that they eat.”

Baart said he hopes that “we can recapture people’s trust.”

“I hope that, when people come to future chapels, they can trust that Scripture will be opened. We’ll guard very carefully against doing this again.”

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