I just returned from the CTSA’s Sixty-Eighth Annual Convention in Miami Florida.  It was my first.  Since my days in graduate school (over a decade ago), I had long labored under the impression that the organization was exclusive, mainly for established scholars and only for certain schools of thought.

While this perception was partly my own biases, it was not a complete fabrication.  The conference organizers and society members emphasized and reemphasized the changes the organization was making to be more inclusive.  Moreover, they backed this up in practice.  The president-elect, Richard Gaillardetz, greeted me and expressed gladness that I was there.  The 2006-2007 President Dan Finn also welcomed me to the conference as did Jim Keenan, a board member.  At the banquet, I sat at a designated table for new members and enjoyed a conversation with Joe Zalot, the treasurer, about the Big Red Machine.

The papers themselves also expressed this attempt to build bridges across ideological boundaries.  In “Conversion of Heart and Home: Expanding the Marital Vocation to be Fruitful and Multiply”, Kari-Shane Davis Zimmerman and Kent Lasnoski came from two different sides of the theological spectrum to see what they could mutually affirm about the Church’s sexual ethics, finding common ground by expanding the notion of marital fecundity.

There was also the section “Conversion and Catholicity within the Guild of Theologians: Overcoming Barriers to Dialogue and Communion” where Christopher Ruddy and Christine Firer-Hinze explored in distinct but complementary ways to overcome divisions.  Ruddy’s paper was an exploration of Henri de Lubac’s thoughts on being a “truly ecclesiastic” theologian.  Set against the backdrop of de Lubac’s silencing, Ruddy explored how a theologian thinks with the Church.  It requires “a spirituality of communion and dialogue [that] is as demanding in its asceticism as a spirituality of the desert”.  It is also fraught with temptations.  Ruddy noted six set out by de Lubac:  self-centeredness, destructive criticism, superficial adaptation, “successful” adaptation, and elitism, spiritual worldliness.

Firer-Hinze’s paper provided a communal approach to addressing division.  Drawing on political science, she examined the importance of bonding and bridging types of social capital.  Bonding capital—social connections that foster cohesion—is the default mode for most of us. It is a necessary good as it provides security and comfort and prevents overwhelming anxiety and fear.  Bridging capital—social connections that link between groups—is also necessary.  It not only provides communication and peace between groups but also increases resources for each. Firer-Hinze then applied these concepts to the theological community noting that we have bonding groups—like the CTSA—but need to build more bridging capital between these groups.  As she concluded her paper she gave a shout out to this blog as an example of fostering bridging capital, especially noting our policy on comments.

We were grateful for the shout out, but it also forced those of us at the conference to reflect a bit on our own practices.  Were we as irenic and capaciously Catholic as we hoped? To be honest, we realized we struggle to live up to our goal to “avoid the standard ‘liberal /conservative’ divide that often characterizes contemporary conversation, as well as the bitterly divisive tone of so much ethical discussion”.  We’ve invited a diversity of people to be members of the blog, but it is hard to participate given time and previous commitments.  Then, as the blog progresses, it inevitably takes on its own perspective that might discourage some to participate.  Moreover, in attempting to build bridges, it becomes difficult to engage certain topics.  Same-sex marriage is perhaps the best example of this.

This was a moment of self-reflection, but one brought about by the CTSA and their attempts to reflect on their own boundaries.  I am happy that the conference and organization was much more than what my biases had led me to believe.  I hope to be there next year in San Diego.