Grad and Faculty Roundtables that Explore the Intersection of Faith, Science, and Philosophy

I recently added an icon to the top bar of my website, titled “Other Models,” which identifies excellent initiatives that seek to foster loving and respectful conversations among persons having strong disagreements that nicely complement the approach that is modeled on this website. One of these complementary initiatives is the “Grad & Faculty Roundtable” program, led by David Thom, the president of The Leadership Connection. I asked David to write a “Guest Musing” for my website, focusing on five topics that I posed for his consideration, as follows:

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Other Models of Respectful Conversation

There are other excellent initiatives that seek to foster loving and respectful conversations among persons who have strong disagreements that complement the approach that is modeled on this website.

To read a brief description of some of these initiatives, go to a new icon on the top of my Home page, titled “Other Models.

David Thom, who is providing leadership for the “Grad & Faculty Roundtables” model will be posting a “guest Musing” on April 12 in which he will describe in greater detail the contours of his model.

A Dynamic View of Following Jesus

As teenagers at Fifty-Ninth Street church in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn who had made a commitment to following Jesus, we used to flock to Saturday night church rallies, particularly attracted to announced sermon topics like “How to Find the Will of God for Your Life.” An underlying assumption behind such sermons seemed to be that there was a static blueprint for each of our lives, and we needed all the help we could get to discern what that blueprint was as soon as possible, before we make irrevocable blunders.

I now believe that the idea of there being a blueprint for working out my aspiration to follow Jesus does not bear up under biblical scrutiny. For example, Isaiah 58:10-11 reads, “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then … the Lord will guide you continually.” This passage suggests that it is in the very process of helping others that you gain greater discernment as to how to continue helping others.

This suggests a dynamism in my attempts to follow Jesus. At any given time, I decide on a course of action that reflects my present understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. The results that emerge from this course of action help me to refine my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. This refined understanding, in turn, informs my decision as to a subsequent course of action. This cycle then continues for the rest of my life.

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Some Concrete, Practical Suggestions for Churches Wishing to Discuss Contentious Issues

The following Musing presents an adaptation of the highlights of chapter 8 on my “Let’s Talk” book, titled “Followers of Jesus Creating Inclusive Conversations Within Churches.”

What follows is informed by both my successes and colossal failures in my attempts for more than a decade to orchestrate loving and respectful conversations among persons who have strong disagreements about some contentious issues.

I will focus on possible conversations in Christian churches. My recommendations can be adapted to other organizations, Christian or otherwise.

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Weak and Strong Views of Acceptance and Peace

The following Musing is drawn from the beginning of chapter 8 of my “Let’s Talk” book titled “Followers of Jesus Creating Inclusive Conversations Within Churches.”

As I gather with friends for coffee and cookies after the Sunday morning worship service at my home church we often talk about the Cubs or the Twins (with me trying to slip in a few good words about my Cardinals) or the upcoming snowstorm or the latest happenings in our small town.

But we judiciously avoid talking about some hot-button issues about which we know there is significant disagreement within our diverse congregation—issues like same-sex marriage or political affiliation/engagement.

Of course, such lighthearted banter among friends is good. But it is problematic if at our church we never talk about our strong disagreements concerning difficult issues because we have embraced weak views of the Christian values of acceptance and peace instead of stronger views that have the potential to lead to deeper acceptance and more meaningful peace.

I applaud those church congregations who have made a commitment to the core Christian value of acceptance. One such church that I know well has been criticized as the church where “anyone can go.” That should be taken as a compliment. But I present two challenges for such churches.

First, it is too easy for the word acceptance to be interpreted in a very weak sense as mere tolerance. To illustrate this caution more concretely: A church may accept both gay and straight members and yet harbor sentiments among some of its members such as, “It is OK if those gay Christians worship with us, but once they are given positions of church leadership, I’m leaving for another church.” (This is an actual quote from a member of a church that has admirably committed itself to the core value of acceptance).

Secondly, it is too easy for a church that is committed to a core value of acceptance to interpret a related admirable commitment to the value of peace in the weak sense of absence of conflict, with the effect that those who worship at that church keep the peace by not talking to each other about their disagreements.

So, while I applaud Christian churches that claim commitment to the Christian values of acceptance and peace, I want to challenge these gatherings of Christ-followers to aspire to stronger manifestations of acceptance and peace, as follows:

First, I believe that the word acceptance is too weak since it is too easily interpreted as only coexistence, sometimes in the extremely anemic sense of just putting up with someone. I prefer to think in terms of belonging.

As a Christian, I should help every other follower of Jesus in our group of believers to experience a strong sense of belonging. By this I mean that the other is received as one who is beloved. We should love everyone because everyone is loved by God. Therefore, the idea of just putting up with the married lesbian couple who attend our church is pernicious. Rather, out of love, we should get to know them, which starts by empathetically listening to their stories of the ways in which they have attempted to be followers of Jesus and the enormous obstacles they have faced during that quest.

Secondly, in a related way, all Christian churches need to move beyond a weak negative view of peace as absence of conflict to a strong view of peace as shalom: a state of affairs where everyone in the church community is flourishing in the midst of their diversity. Such flourishing precludes silencing anyone. Rather, it understands that we will flourish together only if we listen respectfully to each other’s stories of the ways in which we aspire to be faithful followers of Jesus and the differing challenges that we have faced. In other words, we do not flourish when we suppress our disagreements. Rather, we flourish when we get our disagreements out on the table and talk respectfully about them, thereby opening up the possibility of learning from one another.

As you should expect by now from my previous Musings, there is a foundational premise that underlies my challenge to Christian churches to move from weak to strong views of acceptance and peace. All Christians agree that Jesus calls those who claim to be his followers to love others (Mark 12:31). But too many Christians ignore or violate a particular deep expression of such neighbor-love. As already stated, my foundational premise is that to create a safe and welcoming space for someone who disagrees with you to express that disagreement and to then talk respectfully about your disagreement is a deep expression of love.

But how can Christian churches put into practice a commitment to strong views of acceptance and peace? My proposal for your consideration will be presented in my next and final Musing in this series.

Exposing Myself to “Theological Otherness”

The following Musing presents the bulk of chapter 2 of my book “Let’s Talk” that is titled “Feeling, Thinking, and Doing.”

After I committed my life to Christ at the age of 13, I was discipled in a rather insulated, pietistic Lutheran church community. This left me with a view of personhood that was, for the most part, one-dimensional—my believing that the most important aspect of my commitment to the Christian faith was  deeply felt religious experience.

This focus on “feeling” is best understood in light of my church being a congregation of the pietistic Lutheran denomination in America known as the Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB).

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Dig Down Deep to Christian Values

The following Musing is an edited version of one section of chapter 6 of my “Let’s Talk” book that is titled “Lessons Learned and Questions for Conversation.”

You will have noticed by now that I place great importance on posing questions about values (what philosophers call “axiological questions”). This is based on my belief that if you dig beneath the surface of any decision, you will uncover one or more value commitments.

This suggests that when a Christian is contemplating any decision, including choosing a position on an issue, he or she should dig deep down to identify the Christian values that are at stake. My experience suggests that all too often we Christians base our decisions, including taking positions on contentious issues, on values we have absorbed from our broader culture, which may be antithetical to fundamental Christian values. I will offer one concrete example.

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Political Conversation as an Alternative to Domination or Withdrawal

This Musing is a much abbreviated variation of chapter 4 of my book “Let’s Talk,” titled “Political Domination, Withdrawal, or Conversation.”

Should followers of Jesus become involved in the political process? If so, how?

I will present, and reject two common responses to these questions, the Domination and Withdrawal approaches. I will then build a case for followers of Jesus to do politics and to take a conversational approach to the political realm.

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Changing Your Views About Those Who Disagree With You

OOPS! I apologize for a mistake in the title for my February 15 posting. It should have been “A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath,” not “A Soft Answer Turns Away Truth.”

Harold Heie


This Musing draws on sections of chapter 7 in my book “Let’s Talk,” titled “Planting Tiny Seeds of Redemption” and a second addendum in my book titled “America After Donald Trump.”

Since I often have more nerve than brains, I decided to orchestrate a small-group local conversation on the topic “President Trump and Visions for America.” Sparing you an account of the difficulties I had in recruiting conversation partners (CPs), which you can read about on pp. 76-77 of my Let’s Talk book, I eventually managed to recruit a balanced cohort of 8 CPs, 4 of whom self-designated as “General Supporters of Donald Trump” and 4 of whom were “General Non-Supporters of Donald Trump.”

To say that this conversation was interesting is gross understatement (for all the details, I refer you to the “Trump Conversation” item under the “Previous Conversation” icon at the top of the Home Page on my website


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A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath

The following Musing is one section of chapter 1 of my book “Let’s Talk,” titled “Major Obstacles to Inclusive and Respectful Conversations, With the Essential First Step.”

Those Christians who believe that their Christian tribe has singular insight into all of God’s truth will have little incentive to combine strong commitment with an openness to respectfully engage in conversation with those who disagree with them. Richard Mouw points to the rarity of this combination among Christians in a fascinating (and disturbing) reflection on the many sermons he heard on the last two sentences in 1 Peter 3:15 during his boyhood days in a Christian Reformed Church in New Jersey.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV).

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