During the weekend of June 10-12, over 170 students and professors from 53 colleges and universities gathered in Washington, DC to engage in a series of conversations about pertinent issues facing our nation today—particularly focusing on how to approach these issues from a Christian worldview. Attendees heard presentations from a number of scholars and practitioners, but the conference also spurred conversation and networking amongst students and professors from a variety of ideological backgrounds, putting into practice AEI’s conviction that a competition of ideas is essential to a free society.
Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, began the conference on Friday night by encouraging the audience to “go where you aren’t invited and say what you aren’t expected to say.” It was a plea to bring our country together again by engaging in meaningful conversation with those across the political aisle, for the good of the most vulnerable among us.
The conference continued on Saturday morning with a lecture from AEI research fellow Gerard Robinson on how faith has had a significant impact on educational reform in three major cities. Next, AEI’s Robert Doar drew on his career as a welfare program administrator in New York City to lay out a comprehensive plan for poverty alleviation: require work, reward work, strengthen the family, and promote a strong economy. Ending the morning session, Ambassador Roger Noriega spoke on the importance of common sense societal rules in international development, and how grassroots capitalism might be able to succeed in Latin America.
After lunch, the audience heard from a panel of experts about what we can expect in the 2016 election. Panelists included AEI fellows Karlyn Bowman and Michael Barone, as well as Henry Olsen of the Ethics & Public Policy Center. The discussion drew on lessons from past elections, analyzed how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton came to be the Republican and Democratic nominees, and explained what might happen in the coming months. The panel was followed by a conversation between AEI scholar Michael Strain and Michael Hendrix of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation about technology, automation, and the future of work. They explored the extent to which human labor could be replaced by artificial intelligence, and discussed the political, social, and spiritual implications of such a reality. Immediately following, students and professors formed small groups to engage in a conversation about the same topic, drawing from a collection of essays entitled “A World without Work?” After a networking reception and dinner, Gregory Thornbury, president of The King’s College, offered a charge for Christian cultural engagement in a contemporary, post-Christian society. He urged students to “take a seat at the table”—in the fields of business, politics, entertainment, etc. And yet, while encouraging involvement in these sectors, Dr. Thornbury explained that the most important task for this generation is to “keep the ball in play” by strengthening the Christian community.
The conference concluded on Sunday morning with a few reflections on faith. Steven Harris of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, gave students and professors practical wisdom on how to engage people with different ideologies and perspectives in discussions of contentious issues. Drawing on Scripture, he explained why how you say something is nearly as important as what you say. The final session provided tips on how to begin a career, as well as thoughts on how to work faithfully. The conversation featured John Cusey, director of government relations at AEI, Sarah Moore, director of development at Americans for Prosperity, and Andrea McDaniel Smith of Carter Baldwin. Among many other pieces of advice, the panelists argued that humility, integrity, and grit will go far in starting and succeeding in your career. This panel, specifically, and the conference, in general, encouraged students to use their knowledge, abilities, and Christian convictions—in collaboration with their peers—to improve our country’s public discourse and make a difference in the various sectors of society that they will soon be entering.
Following the conference, students and professors gave the following feedback:
“This conference allowed me to learn more about how to engage in conversation in a loving way with people who disagree.”
“I now feel better prepared to give reasons for my beliefs and articulate them. Because of this, I am also inspired to take action and be bold in engaging in this competition of ideas.”
“I am fervently inspired to be more involved with AEI and to use my involvement with AEI to make a positive different in the world.”
“This conference has really stimulated my interests, specifically in the areas of future technology, poverty, and law.”