2016 Coffeehouse

In Search of Common Ground

Conflict in varying degrees of severity has been with us seemingly forever—at least since Cain and Abel. In a polarized world, can we find common ground? This is an excerpt of a conversation with Carlow University faculty members Bill Schweers, JD, an assistant professor of justice studies in the College of Leadership and Social Change, and Maureen Crossen, PhD, an associate professor of theology from the College of Learning and Innovation. 
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Carlow University Magazine: Are we at a point where compromise has become a bad word? Certainly, in some quarters it is. 

Bill Schweers: We say we want to compromise but, rather cynically, only if it’s the other side that’s doing the compromising. People think Washington is broken because the politicians from the different parties seem unwilling to compromise, and voters don’t like that. Paradoxically, voters hate it when their politicians compromise with the other side. 

Maureen Crossen: The word discussion is based on the same root word as percussion, to make noise. An alternative is dialogue, made from the Greek root word logos: my promise to you. To enter into a dialogue, I have to recognize my pre-judgments, and not bring them to the table. 

Carlow University Magazine: It seems as though more people have a voice than ever before. Is it a problem that opinions can be equally disseminated but not necessarily equally researched? 

BS: That’s exactly right. This is the logical consequence of our commitment to unregulated and unfettered speech, which I fully support. To me, the heart of a democracy is free speech, and we should not take any measures to block the blood to the heart. The remedy for speech that seems divisive or hateful is more speech. 

Carlow University Magazine: To some segments of the population, documents such as the Bible or the Constitution are to be followed word-for-word without deviation. Is it possible to come to a consensus when it seems these bedrock principles are at stake? 

MC: What are the bedrock principles? From Jesus’ point of view, it is to love your enemy. In Judaism: slow to anger, demanding justice for the oppressed and the poor, always willing to extend mercy. So, for those folks who take a few scripture passages literally to promote their agenda, I would ask them to elucidate their bedrock principles. Look at the deeper motivation behind and ahead of God’s action in history. For people who are oppressed, such as slaves out of Egypt, that’s pretty clear. Jesus could not be more clear: Love your enemy. 

Carlow University Magazine: What’s the role of a university when we have conflict and disagreement? 

BS: Carlow is an example other colleges and universities could and should emulate. I’m very proud of our mission statement—of our role in developing leaders committed to creating a just and merciful world. This role is embedded in every faculty member’s course material. It is invaluable. And it is our duty to put it out there. 

MC: I also have to lean on Carlow, not only as Carlow, but as a Mercy institution. Very soon after the Orlando attack in June, Dr. Mellon sent us a letter, and I’ve been struggling all summer with the challenges she presented. She said, ‘we talk about a just and merciful world,’ and very poignantly and pointedly she asked, ‘what are you doing for it?’ And I thought, well, I’m teaching. But there’s probably more. 

BS: There’s always more. 

Interview by Drew Wilson