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.
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.
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.