This past Thursday and Friday (September 13-14), the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, with generous funding from the Knights of Columbus, hosted a conference for young theologians with the theme of “Teaching Undergraduate Theology: Connecting the Disconnects.” Although I speak for myself alone here, this conference was a great experience.
Given the tension in the Church right now, and particularly the criticism directed at bishops generally and the USCCB specifically, it would not have been surprising if the organizers had considered canceling this conference altogether. What bishops would willingly want to face a crowd of potentially angry theologians? And might not theologians disdain meeting the representatives of the Committee on Doctrine of the USCCB in the midst of the scandals revealed in the Church this past summer?
Courage, however, prevailed, even as Washington, D.C. declared a state of emergency as a precaution for the oncoming Hurricane Florence. The format of the conference involved presentations by senior scholars (one of whom was Bishop Daniel Flores), followed by brief responses from younger scholars, as well as ample time for discussion. The food was delicious, but the atmosphere was not completely comfortable, even cool at times…as one might expect given the current situation.
Throughout the two days, the conference seemed to illustrate both the continued need for collaboration between theologians and bishops, as well as the obvious benefits of such a meeting. After many wonderful presentations and much fruitful conversation, there was time to give voice to both worries and hopes for moving forward. Far from seeming ancillary to such a conversation, the topic of teaching undergraduates seemed to bring into focus the importance of the role of the theologian during times of scandal. There is work to be done in connecting the disconnects, and, for one, left the conference feeling motivated to do this work.
Maria, thanks for the reflection! As a teacher of undergraduates, I’d be curious to know what were they five best ideas you heard at the conference on helping to connect the disconnected?
Great question, Jason! I’d say the following: 1. The Lord speaks in Scripture, and we should have confidence that can happen with undergraduates. 2. A time of scandal is a great time to dig down deep in ecclesiology with students. 3. Students are adept at realizing current contraceptive climate, including things like sexual assault, hook-up culture, and the Catholic teachings can provide a helpful perspective. 4. The truth claim of Christianity does not prevent, but rather requires maximum respect for other traditions and a real encounter with them. 5. We need the propositions of Christianity, but we also need personal relationship with Christ; theology cannot be disconnected from Christ but must always have a Chriwstocentric basis. (Note that the conference was on connecting disconnects, not “the disconnected.”)