The associate director of the Louisville Institute is the guest on ‘Leading Theologically’
March 16, 2023 by Mike Ferguson
The Rev. Dr. Aimee Moiso, associate director of the Louisville Institute, clearly derives great joy just by showing up for work each morning.
“Our main mission is giving grants and fellowships to people doing research in religion, especially North American Christianity,” Moiso explained Wednesday to the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director for Theological Education Funds Development with the Presbyterian Foundation during the “Leading Theologically” broadcast, which can be heard here or here. Applications come to the Louisville Institute from scholars and pastors, “people very passionate about the church and its future and how it can be more just and equitable,” Moiso said. “I get to read all those proposals and hear all their passion.”
“We don’t always hear that. We often hear sad stories about churches closing,” Moiso told Hinson-Hasty. “I get to see where the life is.”
Based on the campus of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the Louisville Institute in 2022 awarded 93 grants and fellowships totaling $2.45 million. Funded by the Religion Division of Lilly Endowment Inc., Louisville Institute’s mission “is to bridge church and academy through awarding grants and fellowships to those who lead and study North American religious institutions, practices and movements, and thereby promoting scholarship that strengthens Church, academy and society, and ultimately contributes to the flourishing of the Church,” according to its website.
But that’s not why Moiso appeared Wednesday along with Hinson-Hasty. She was there to discuss the topic “Our Faith in Conflict,” going back from work Moiso did for her dissertation by drawing on the Mennonite tradition. When Moiso speaks to churches or groups, she usually hears conflict described as bad or even sinful. “It represents something gone wrong and God doesn’t want it,” she said of what she hears.
Moiso thinks of conflict as “the tension we feel when we encounter something different,” such as “you use a fork and I use chopsticks. You’re a little different from me. It doesn’t mean anything except we’re different, and we affirm that in the church. God created us different.”
Conflict can be destructive, but it can also be constructive. It can get parties “to places of deeper engagement,” Moiso said, citing specifically the anti-slavery and civil rights movements, both of which “led to change for the better.” That kind of conflict “is constructive, and it can lead to changes more in line with what God wants.”
Moiso shared this quote from Dr. Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, a professor of conflict studies: “Imagine how different our conflicts would be if we could move from an ‘Oh, dear, how terrible,’ to ‘What is God trying to say to us?’”
“To be clear, not all difference is equally good. If someone is a white supremacist, it’s fine to say, ‘We’re not going to have that conversation,’” Moiso said. “We don’t engage in healthy differences if someone is doing harm.”
Another tenet of conflict is that its resolution isn’t as a high a priority as the relationships between parties. “It’s a person in front of us, not an issue,” Moiso said. “Polarization comes when you stop seeing the other person as a human. We have a lot of that in our political life right now.”
“We minister types like to smooth things out if we can,” Hinson-Hasty said, “but that’s the way relationships are.”
Moiso focused her dissertation on what relational preaching looks like, describing it this way: “How do we talk in our sermons in a way we want people to talk to each other? How do we bring the voices of the congregation into the sermon? Voices of the congregation matter.”
Turning back to conflict, Moiso said it’s helpful to remember that “we can choose how we want to respond. We can take a pause” or choose curiosity, humility, vulnerability or imagination. We can say, “I see we have two options in front of us. Can we think of a third?”
She also mentioned the “saving the other’s proposition” that comes from the Jesuit tradition, which involves “doing your best to understand within their viewpoint what they’re trying to say.”
The best dialogues can come when everyone is willing to be changed by the conversation, but “we aren’t good at that in our religious traditions,” Moiso said. “In a time of deep polarization, this is the hardest part. We aren’t willing to enter those conversations with mutuality. This is really hard stuff. It’s deep theological and spiritual work, but it’s the only way forward. There’s one planet and we’re all on it.”
Moiso had two book recommendations for people who want to learn more: John Paul Lederach’s “Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians” and Ellen Ott Marshall’s “Introduction to Christian Ethics: Conflict, Faith and Human Life.”
She also had a blessing to end the half-hour conversation: “Friends, as we go from this place, remember that life is short. We have but little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel this way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind. May the love of God — Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer — be with us all now and forever. And all God’s people say, ‘Amen.’”
The Rev. Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, will be the guest on the next edition of Leading Theologically. Watch his conversation with the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on March 29 here or here.