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.