“Agreeing to Disagree” — Introduction to "Perspectives on the Anthem" convocation
By Dr. James E. Brenneman, Goshen College President
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 — Goshen College Church-Chapel
Thank you for coming out this morning. Well, you may or may not know the names of the husband-wife duo, television commentators and political consultants, Mary Matalin and James Carville. Mary was former President Bush’s senior advisor. James was former President Clinton’s senior adviser. One is an ardent Republican; the other a rabid Democrat. They argue with each other in front of millions of television viewers daily. In a recent Valentine’s column, they co wrote, they tease each other: Mary affectionately calls James “my little serpent head.” He teases that she’s more like Attila the Hun, so says he, simply “I capitulate, retreat and surrender.” Not! She says, he’s a hopeless romantic; he says, “I look at my wife and I think, darn, I don't deserve this woman. There's hope for all the rest of you bald-headed, squinty-eyed guys out there!” In spite of their deep philosophical differences, differences they say they will never get the other to change from, they are deeply in love and have the greatest respect for each other.
In my own family, my mother and I grew up in very different contexts, she on an Amish farm in Iowa, going to a one-room school until she was in 8th grade. I grew up in a multicultural urban center of Tampa, Fla. where my high school, grades 10-12, was 3,300 students. She and I have never voted for the same candidate, we have quite different theological points of view, she is no longer part of the Mennonite Church; I am. During World War II, my father served four years in the Civilian Public Service as a Conscientious Objector digging latrines, privies, toilets, for the Florida State Department of Health rather than go to war. His brother was a career military officer serving in Korea and Vietnam. My point in this roundup of our family differences, is to say, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in spite of our differences, each of us would lay down our lives for the other without hesitation, without question. Our love for each other was and is as strong as ever, hands down.
In a convocation at the beginning of this semester, I described Goshen College as having two dominant “schools of thought,” one on the prophetic side of the continuum that challenges things as they are, often times, but not always, from outside the mainstream. The other school focuses on sustaining systems or changing systems from within. What I said then and mean even more today is this: That I long for a synthesis or at least accommodation where both schools of thought – indeed, other schools of thought that are reflected in our body politic, as well — are given voice here at Goshen College.
It would have been far easier to maintain the status quo and to avoid the discussion and decision regarding the playing of the national anthem on campus than not to do so. However, at Goshen College our whole learning process is framed by commitment to address complex issues, no matter the discipline or subject with academic rigor and civility. Indeed, at the heart and soul of any great liberal arts education is a commitment to dialogue with others of differing viewpoints.
I believe we also have a theological imperative to engage each other in dialogue, because at the source of all conflict is the temptation to believe that our particular point of view is divine, divinely inspired or nearly so. In a world where we have been so acculturated to disagree with each other in increasingly disagreeable ways, we have a moral imperative to model civil dialogue as the first principle of a Christ-centered peacemaking option.
Today, I am delighted that Dr. Kathy Meyer Reimer, Professor of Education and Chair of the Department and Dr. Joe Liechty, Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies have agreed to enjoin each other in a conversation about the decision to play the anthem at select sports. The common ground between them far outweighs any disagreements they might have. We are hearing only two perspectives on a continuum where rightfully could be many other points of view, some of which include yours. I have no doubt that each loves Goshen College deeply and shares his or her perspective in a spirit of heartfelt learning, in a spirit of honest to God dialogue, and in the spirit of civil engagement. I have no doubt that either one would lay down his or her life for the other in spite of differences they may have. So without further ado, we’ll listen to Dr. Kathy followed by Dr. Joe and I’ll have a few closing remarks.
Concluding comments after remarks by Dr. Meyer Reimer and Dr. Liechty
Thank you, Kathy and Joe. You’ve modeled for us passionate learning and compassionate peacemaking at its best. I know I, for one, heard both of you and experienced living in the tension of the truth that both of you have spoken to us. We are truly grateful for your willingness to “go the second mile” in graciousness and Christian charity.
Surely, I think on behalf of all of us, we can say we leave here today wiser in thought. Let us now also leave more able to put into practice peaceful dialogue with those with whom we differ. And I will close by reciting the fourth stanza of a wonderful hymn written by the Iona community, which I think expresses for all of us today, however, we place ourselves on the continuum of this conversation.
“Praise the maker, Christ and Spirit,
One God in community,
Calling Christians to embody
Oneness and diversity
This the world shall see reflected.
God is one and one in three.”
Go in peace.