In Praise of the Dying Art of Civil Disagreement

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Carl R. Trueman writes: I spent the first half of last week at a seminar at an Ivy League divinity school, where a friend and I gave a presentation on ministry and media. I had resolved before speaking that I would refer early on in my presentation to the fact that I belong to a denomination which does not ordain women. My discussion of ministry would be incomplete if I didn’t mention this subject, though I knew my comment would draw fire at a seminar with ordained women present.

“If we no longer have a university system which models ways of civil engagement on such matters, then the kind of civic virtues upon which a healthy democracy depends are truly a thing of the past.”

Sure enough, one of the women ministers present challenged me with some vigor on my position. For a few minutes we exchanged trenchant but civil remarks on the subject.We each spoke our minds, neither persuaded the other, and then we moved on to the larger matter in hand: The use of modern media in the church. The matter of my opposition to women’s ordination never came up again in the remaining two days of the seminar.

[Read the full text here, at First Things]

Later that evening, a young research student commented to me that it was amazing to see such a trenchant but respectful disagreement on an issue that typically arouses visceral passions. He added that he and those of his generation had “no idea” (his phrase, if I recall) how such things should be done. Later in the week, my youngest son confirmed that he too had never seen civil disagreement on a matter of importance in the university classroom. This is an ominous, if fascinating, indictment, for I had simply done what I had seen modeled when I was an undergraduate: Vigorous disagreement in the classroom followed by friendly conversation in the pub. If we no longer have a university system which models ways of civil engagement on such matters, then the kind of civic virtues upon which a healthy democracy depends are truly a thing of the past.

Why is civil disagreement so hard? It cannot simply be a matter of dogmatic certainty…(read more)

First Things

Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. His previous posts can be found here.

 



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