Conversation in the Bronx (Update)
This past weekend, a glorious one weather-wise, I had the pleasure and privilege of being present at a gathering sponsored by the “Fordham Conversation Project.”
The initiative brought together young professors of theology to discuss their emerging role in the Church and university at a time of evident polarization. In this regard the undertaking bears resemblance to the Common Ground Initiative launched by the late Cardinal Bernardin and Monsignor Philip Murnion.
“Keynotes” were given by Peter Steinfels and John Allen — with their accustomed clarity, elan and insight. And then, the “elders” having been dismissed, the seventeen or so young theologians withdrew in conclave for spirited dialogue and discernment.
Here is how one participant describes their intense two days together:
Seeing divisions in the Church through the ideological lens of left/right, red/blue, liberal/conservative, etc. was seen by practically everyone at the FCP as totally inadequate: both for the complexity of the issues which face us and for the tradition in which we work. They also seem to becoming more and more inadequate for our students…and (especially in light of John Allen’s talk) for those who hold the future energy of the Church: the people of the global south.
Despite many of us clearly having differing views on hot button issues like authority, sexuality, women in the Church, liturgy, and more…the natural friendship produced by the weekend (which, because many of us didn’t know each other, started with the presumption of good will required by intellectual solidarity) created a safe space to express some of these ideas. The concept of friendship, which obviously has a long theological history, was perhaps the central idea of the weekend. If those who disagree actually make conscious choices to engage in practices to create the space to be friends then the disagreement is far less likely to fracture the relationship. And sometimes understanding grows in such a way that the disagreement fades away…or at least is much better understood.
I think the focus on junior people allowed both of these ideas to flourish in our discussions because ‘our generation’ (1) hasn’t been formed by the culture wars of the 60s and by Vatican II and its aftermath and (2) generally haven’t yet fought the battles that define one’s self in opposition to another person or idea. This allows friendships to flourish across divides.
Further reflections (and pictures) here.
Those who have expressed interest in the Fordham undertaking might be interested in John Allen’s report and further thoughts:
it’s important to concede that the Fordham Conversation Project – and the broader post-ideological instinct it represents among many younger Catholics – is swimming against two powerful cultural tides, one in American society and one inside the academy. First, many Americans today are addicted to ideology the way some people get hooked on booze or pills, and they’ll have to “bottom out” before they’ll be ready to think differently. Second, especially as tenure reviews start to roll around, these younger theologians will be propelled towards thinking more about their obligations to their discipline than to the broader church.
For at least two compelling reasons, therefore, the Fordham Conversation Project may be a long shot to actually change the culture of the American church. Yet at least for one gorgeous weekend in the Bronx, it still felt a lot like hope.
The rest of Allen’s post is here.