M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, teaches a course on conflict. He found himself in the midst of one recently, when the school’s Kuyper Center announced that the Rev. Tim Keller was being honored with its annual award and would be keynote lecturer at the annual Kuyper Conference.
Some students protested these decisions, noting that Keller is a prominent pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination that ordains only straight men to the ministry -- not women or gay men. On the other side of the controversy, Keller was criticized by some in his denomination for agreeing to speak at Princeton.
In a post titled “What I learned from our seminary’s conflict about hosting Tim Keller,” published in the Faith Matters column on The Christian Century website, Barnes describes the process he and Keller used to work with students, alumni, trustees and other leaders to “thread the needle of maintaining freedom of speech on campus without appearing to endorse views that diverge from the seminary’s position about the important issues involving ordination in the Reformed churches.”
Together everyone arrived at a solution that resulted in a successful campus event, in which attendees were able to listen respectfully to those with whom they had differences. Barnes sees the ability to host meaningful dialogue as a strength of theological schools, and one of the many ways schools serve the church.
How does your school deal with conflict? What lessons could be learned from President Barnes's experience?