God’s work never stops. Churchwide office staff are still hard at work – from our homes. Hours and lines of communication remain the same.

October/November 2019 The Ethics of Dialogue and Debate Editor's Introduction

 

[1] In an age of conflict and division between political parties and within political parties, between churches and within churches, American Christians often mourn disagreement, regret the diversity of opinion, and sigh for unity. This issue looks into the reality of disagreement in our nation and in our churches without rebuke. Disagreement, even radical and even uncivil disagreement, is a part of human social life, including church life. Thus, this issue is dedicated to answering the following question both theologically and practically: How do we have dialogue and debate on social and political issues with our neighbors?    

[2] This question has been a major focus of my own personal and academic thinking. Like most philosophers trained in the West, I began my philosophical study by reading Plato, whose works suggest that dialogue is the best way to search for truth because truth is larger and more vibrant than any one person’s shadowy opinion. Only through the process of dialogue, through the wrestling match of debate, can human beings hope to learn and grow beyond their own biases.

[3] I clung to this view as an undergraduate in philosophy and still introduce my students to the importance of dialogue in every class. But when I was in graduate school, I had a professor of Plato who denied that dialogue was a path to truth. He was certain that Plato’s point was in demonstrating the fruitlessness of dialogue. My professor believed that Plato must have known what we all learn at family dinners and cocktail parties: people who agree create an echo chamber; people who disagree angrily shout until someone leaves.  

[4] I was crushed by this interpretation of Plato’s dialogues and this view of human relationships. There had to be more to conversation than confirmation bias or despair. While I had certainly experienced both those effects in conversation, I had also experienced conversations where mutual understanding grew, where recognition of each other and each other’s ideas occurred.  While my professor’s view of dialogue is common today, I find it inadequate to explaining my own human experiences of good conversations. 

[5] Luckily, I took more classes in graduate school than just his. By reading Irenaeas, Augustine of Hippo, Hildegard of Bingen, Martin Luther, Edith Stein, and Marcia Colish, I discovered that Christian theology about the incarnation of the Word provided a rich philosophy of language which justified the possibility of learning truth through dialogue. In short, these authors explained how God’s Word, in becoming flesh, redeems our words. Christians need not fear conversation.

[6] The possibility of fruitful dialogue is demonstrated everyday in conversations between people who learn from each other. These everyday experiences can inspire our hope in the Word that redeems our broken words and renew our faith in the Spirit that dwells between every speaker and listener, even those who markedly disagree with each other.

[7] I see this passionate hope in fruitful dialogue growing among teachers, pastors, and community leaders. Centers for dialogue are opening across the United States, seminars for teaching constructive dialogue are well-funded, and theologians and philosophers around the world are participating and leading seminars that explain not only the theology but also the mechanics of productive listening and speaking.  

[8] This issue of JLE is dedicated to dialogue and debate. Professors Amy Carr and Christine Helmer in “Theological Touchstones for Disagreeing in the Body of Christ” explain why Christian communities can and must hold disagreement between members. Beginning with a story familiar to many readers who have worked to move a congregation towards social action, they articulate how the heavy burden of disagreement which can feel like “an ecclesial drag on proclaiming a prophetic Word is the weight of the body of Christ itself. Their essay provides an important perspective from the heart of Lutheran theology: Christ is not found in easy agreement among members who are convinced they are right but in the depths of difficult conversations that tear at Christ’s body. There in the broken conversations and debates of the Beloved Community, Christ reveals himself.

[9] In “A Different Way of Talking,” Gregg Kaufmann, a retired pastor and university instructor, gives practical advice on how to hold conversations between people who disagree.  He begins by noting that the ELCA has a long history of engaging in social issues through social statements. He insists that these social statements are not “right propositions” that come from the top down, but rather thoughtful statements formed by people together in dialogue at the grassroots level. His article looks specifically on how to help congregations and classrooms make use of these social statements and other church teachings on social issues through a process of deliberative dialogue.  He gives both theological reasons for such dialogue as well as practical advice on how to talk and listen constructively.

[10] Seminary professor and author Leah Schade, in her article “Preaching across the Political Divide,” gives both a diagnosis and a solution to the current lack of engagement in social issues at the congregational level. Using the research of Leonora Tubbs Tisdale as well as her own data collected for her recent book Preaching in the Purple Zone, Schade gives reasons why many clergy avoid discussion of social issues with their congregations. Schade then provides scriptural arguments for engagement and gives a practical method for pastors to engage congregations through sermons and dialogue.   

[11] Also, included in this issue of JLE, is a new section titled “For Congregational Discussion.”  It is my hope that this section will provide an avenue for congregations to make more use of the articles. Because this issue focuses on discussion as an ethical activity, this section provides quotes and questions to spark conversation about conversation itself in small groups in churches. 

[12] It has been a pleasure to work on my first issue as editor with these particular authors.  Their work has inspired me to seek Christ in disagreement as well as agreement and to work for right relationship rather than personal righteousness. I look forward to many more issues on ethical topics throughout my tenure. To that end, I hope readers will look closely at the following topics scheduled for 2020 and consider submitting articles.

[13] The following is a preview of topics to be featured in JLE in 2020.  Those interested in submitting articles for issues on scheduled topics should send a 250 word abstract and a brief CV to the editor by the due dates listed below.    

  

*February, 2020: The Role of Science in Resolving Contemporary Ethical Dilemmas.   Submission of abstracts due November 15, 2019. Notification of acceptance given by November 22, 2019.  Full article due January 1, 2020.

*April, 2020: Proceedings from the Lutheran Ethicists Gathering: Government and Civic Engagement in These Times: Lutheran Reflections

*June, 2020: Book Review Issue

*August, 2020:  Women’s Leadership in Church and State: 100 years of women’s suffrage and 50 years of women’s ordination.  Submission of abstracts due May 15, 2020. Notification of acceptance given by May 22, 2020.  Full article due by July 1, 2020.

* October, 2020: Gun Violence and Childhood Trauma in the United States. Submission of abstracts due July 15, 2020. Notification of acceptance given by July 22, 2020.  Full article due by September 1, 2020.

* December, 2020: 25th Anniversary of For Peace in God's World.  Submission of abstracts due September 15, 2020.  Notification of acceptance given by September 22, 2020.  Full article due by November 1, 2020.


Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at Mount Mary University. She is a member of Lake Park Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI.




Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​



 

 
© October/November 2019
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 19, Issue 5