By Stan Friedman
LIVINGSTON, NJ (February 15, 2012) – Susan Gillespie, pastor of Trinity Covenant Church, says the Clergy Corner TV program that features a panel discussion among local religious leaders of different faith traditions models how discussions over theological questions can remain civil and yet honest about differences.
Topics have included “Judgment Day: Fact or Fiction,” “Marriage Equality, Faith and Politics,” and “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” The program is broadcast multiple times each month.
The clergy have liked and respected each other, but never had theological discussions prior to participating in the program, says Gillespie, who has served at the church for 10 years. They all are committed to finding commonality, but also being open about their differing interpretations.
“I think in a community that is religiously diverse, there is a lot of pressure for people to seek the least common denominator and wind up ‘being nice,’ ” says Gillespie. Avoiding the differences actually is disrespectful to the others, she suggests.
There’s no point in my being there if I’m not going to talk about Jesus,” says Gillespie. The discussions also provide a better understanding of how traditions can interpret the same texts differently as well as what they emphasize.
Whether viewers agree with the various positions or not, “I still think it is important for them to see how we get along,” says Gillespie.
The discussions are always respectful, but still can get pretty intense. “The discussion on marriage and equality got pretty heated,” says Gillespie, who was not part of that episode.
The local Presbyterian pastor oversees the program and invites different ministers to participate on each of the panels. Gillespie has appeared in all of the other episodes.
The community is largely Jewish, but there have been several anti-Semitic incidents, including the painting of a swastika on a local high school door. The clergy hope the show will be a way of fighting prejudice.
Clergy Corner is filmed at the local high school, which has its own small television studio with a low-power broadcast signal. “Working with the students is fantastic,” says Gillespie. “They are the staff and know what they’re doing. They’re telling us what to do.”
Gillespie laughs as she adds that there have been moments when the students pay too much attention to the show. “One time, they got so involved in one of the discussions while they were in the control booth, they almost forgot to pay attention to their jobs,” she says.
Videos of past episodes are online. Gillespie cautions that neither the school nor the clergy have any control over the advertisements on the website, some of which may be offensive to viewers.