Lessons in Civil Discourse

To counter the previous “downer” post, I thought today I would share a more hopeful story.

Trinity Lutheran Seminary has a unique ecumenical relationship. While it is joined with the Methodist Theological School (“Methesco”), the Pontifical College Josephinum, and Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary in the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus, it is its relationship with Bexley Hall that has opened the door to some amazing ecumenical opportunities.

TLS and Bexley Hall share more than just an interest in working together academically. We share our professors, our classes, our worship, our buildings, our campus, and our community; two seminaries, one community. I have had the privilege to experience regular (and diverse) Anglican worship, classes, and of course, the famous hospitality of Common Meal at Bexley House every Thursday night.

Classes with my Anglican brothers and sisters has given me the chance to engage in some pretty intense debates. Too often, debates among Christians deteriorate until both sides resort to shouting their party lines at each other, as if by being LOUDER they will make themselves more CORRECT. But it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) this way.

One of my classmates and I can almost always be counted on to take opposite sides in a debate. Some of these debates have been over the involvement of laity in worship, the historic episcopate, “Called to Common Mission” (the full communion agreement between the ELCA and the ECUSA), inclusive language, Bible translations, and I’m sure a number of others that I cannot remember. Most recently, I disagreed with an author because of his views of Protestant Theology, while he agreed with the author for the same reason.

In some Christian circles, these disagreements would probably lead to shouting matches, mutual disdain, scheming, conniving, conspiracies, and sabotage. Yet we have managed to find a way to speak civilly with one another in our disagreements (with the occasional impassioned outburst to keep things interesting), and we try to see the issue from the other’s point of view. I admit that he is so good at forming his arguments that I often find myself bested in these debates, even when I bring the Book of Concord along to help me out. Another day, perhaps, another day! Best of all, the disagreements don’t affect our social interactions. Work is work, not-work is not-worth fighting over.

The wider catholic (universal) church could learn a lot from the relationship TLS and Bexley Hall (and their community) have. We live out the full communion agreement between our two traditions every day. It is an enlightening experiment 13 years running, and with God’s luck, will be an example to other Christians for at least that many to come.

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

One thought on “Lessons in Civil Discourse”

  1. Please sing this song to your Lutheran and Episcopal colleagues in ministry out beyond the seminary walls! Thanks, Ken! Great piece.

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