Theologians, businessmen and politicians gathered at the Yale Divinity School Thursday and Friday for a conference on moral leadership. The conference, sponsored by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, focused on what representatives called a crisis of trust in the world today.
The conference was the first in a series dedicated to the memory of Sarah Smith DIV ’91, a Yale Divinity School graduate who traveled the country delivering speeches and seminars to promote moral leadership. The conference addressed secular and religious issues, and included speakers from around the world representing both spheres.
“It was very satisfying to see this group of interdisciplinary people come,” YCFC Executive Director David Miller said.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Philip Lader, the first keynote speaker of the conference, discussed issues of trust in politics, economics and the media. Lader is also a former senior advisor to Morgan Stanley.
“Let me simply observe from my own experience that trust in the public square is indispensable,” Lader said, adding that he thinks trust is more often associated with government and economics than religion.
“The word ‘trust’ is more commonly used with issues of the pocketbook or of the heart,” he said.
At the end of his speech, Lader posed a challenge to the audience, saying people must work to rebuild trust in the public sphere.
John Allaire, who came to the conference from a Boston suburb, said he appreciated Lader’s comments directed at the secular sphere. Allaire works in a real estate company, where trust is always important, he said. He said he felt that although the focus of the speech was on the secular sphere, religion was definitely present throughout Lader’s remarks.
“I felt religion was present, but wasn’t overbearing,” he said.
Elaine Baker DIV ’07 said she also appreciated the link between secular and religious issues of trust.
“It seems like the point of connection between theology and the people is not going to be the lofty ideas, but more issues like, ‘Do they trust their church?,’” she said.
Baker said she enjoyed Lader’s outside perspective, even though it might clash with theology.
“I think theory would often conflict with his pragmatism, but I think it’s a good thing to bring into the Divinity School,” Baker said. “It’s not something we hear often.”
Miller said the Yale Center for Faith and Culture was formed in order to provide a more public forum for religious issues than recently had been offered at the school.
“One area in which [the Divinity School] was deemed not as strong, as well as many other divinity schools across the country, was in having a public voice,” Miller said.
Other conference events included workshops, seminars and lectures focused on issues including bioethics, economics and business.
Miller said the YCFC has already begun discussing future Sarah Smith conferences on moral leadership. In keeping with the YCFC mission, Miller said the general focus will continue to be on “how one speaks and acts and thinks theologically in this public sphere.”