Tag Archives: confident pluralism

Princeton Seminary, Presbyterian Pastors, and Purpose

Princeton Theological Seminary library.  Billy via Flickr.

Princeton Theological Seminary library. Billy via Flickr.

Last week, Princeton Theological Seminary announced it was rescinding its decision to bestow an award upon Presbyterian pastor and author Tim Keller. The seminary’s president explained that Keller’s leadership role in the conservative Presbyterian Church in America was at odds with the school’s mission. Keller’s denomination, unlike the seminary’s own Presbyterian Church (USA), “prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.” He also emphasized that the school’s reversal in no way undermined its commitment to open dialogue—the award comes with a lecture, which Keller was still invited to to deliver: “We are a school that can welcome a church leader to address one of its centers about his subject, even if we strongly disagree with his theology on ordination to ministry.”

Keller is in some ways an unlikely candidate for headline-generating controversy. He’s more known for writing readable books, ministering to Millennials in New York City, and engaging in dialogues with atheists on college campuses. Last year, he and I coauthored an article that argues, among other things, that we can and must figure out a way to live peaceably in the midst of our deep differences, and that we can treat each other charitably across those differences. Those ideas emerge out of the intersection of Keller’s approach to pluralism as a pastor and my academic framework of confident pluralism.

One of the core commitments of confident pluralism is that the First Amendment should permit private associations—including private institutions of higher education—to follow their own norms absent extraordinarily compelling governmental interests. Since interests of such magnitude are not implicated here, Princeton Seminary can do whatever it wants. It could give or not give the award to Keller. It could—as it did—offer and then rescind the award for just about any reason. It could—as it did not—disinvite Keller to deliver his lecture. Still, this whole episode raises questions, not only about the purpose of Princeton Theological Seminary, but whether or not the school has adequately articulated its sense of purpose. Continue reading

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Law, Religion, and Confident Pluralism in the University

UVA chapel. Bill McChesney via Flickr.

UVA chapel. Bill McChesney via Flickr.

Law and religion point to the deepest questions of our existence, but they exist in the world only in their particulars: not “law” as such, but a liberal understanding of constitutional reasoning, or a conservative view of statutory interpretation. Not “religion” as such, but Roman Catholicism, or Sunni Islam. There are no such things as beliefs, rituals, or adherents in “law” or “religion” in general.

The particularized forms of law and religion are sustained by tradition-dependent practices—communities of people and institutions with histories that shape their purposes and values. These practices are constantly renegotiating both their internal norms and their relationships to the world around them.

The interaction between people who hold different and particularized beliefs leads to the challenge of pluralism—the fact of deep and incommensurable difference around us. We don’t choose pluralism; rather, we encounter it in the world as we find it—a world of competing religious and legal claims and practices.

I see three responses to the challenge of pluralism: chaos, control, or coexistence. Chaos is not sustainable in the long-term. It falls flat as a political possibility. It leads ultimately to a violence that destroys lives. Fifteen years ago, I sat in the Pentagon as people who saw only the possibility of chaos smashed a plane into that building. Avoiding chaos is a matter of survival. Continue reading

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