This was the question I was left pondering after last night’s faith and politics event, including a screening of the film An American Conscience about the life of public theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
Dr. Andrew Biro, Head of Politics at Acadia, raised the question of whether Niebuhr (or anyone of faith, by implication) has anything helpful to say to the significant and tragic issues of our time, such as environmental destruction.
Taking such a challenge seriously means first tackling the fact that the church has become largely sectarian in its approach to public issues. Moreover, a secular push to privatize faith has not been challenged, forcing political servants to hide their most basic commitments rather than finding support to work through the relationship of their faith to political life in more transparent ways. The result is that the profound resources of Christian wisdom and theology have had little to contribute to the common good in recent history. Too often, prophetic witness is exchanged for populist politics.
Niebuhr gives Christians an alternative vision. Fuelled by a belief in the limits of humanity, and the grace and love of God, Niebuhr abandoned an early idealism and sought ways to apply justice to the ironies of history. While the love of God was directly applicable to society for the Social Gospel, for Niebuhr, the love of God in the cross of Christ always exceeded that of which humans were capable. Humility results from applying love as divisible justice to the world, because it would always fall short of God’s love. Nevertheless, God’s love challenges people to pursue ever better and greater forms of justice, and to work for an ever better world. Democracy is then the best arena for pursuing justice. To paraphrase Niebuhr, humanity’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; our capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.
An open discussion followed the screening of the film. The question was raised as to whether faith and politics needs to be framed in this dialectic form to at all, given the long intertwining of the two in western history. I suggested that learning to negotiate the place of faith in a public space as democracy ferments will be crucial to the unweaving of Christian faith and politics in the west. At the same time, the dramatic and unexpected events of history can force the matter of religion to the fore of political life overnight. From the perspective of those with faith, we will need to own our responsibility to represent a long and deep wisdom for the common good, in plurality with others as part of a democratic society.
The importance of creating public spaces for conversation about these and similar issues was highlighted by many who attended, both those with faith and without; from contexts of university, town, and politics.
The MacRae Centre endeavours to forge public spaces where reasonable conversations on issues relevant to Christian faith may be held with respectful difference. If you would like to participate in future discussions, please sign up for our news and web notifications, and please consider supporting our work.
It’s what Niebuhr would do. 😉
Thursday night, 7-9 pm at the Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville, we are having a film screening and discussion about whether faith and politics should mix, and what happens when they do. The film is about Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian and influential figure in the twentieth century, who demonstrated how resources of faith and theology can nurture the common good.
Discussion before and after the film with Dr. Andrew Biro, Head of Political Science at Acadia, and Dr. Anna Robbins, Director of the MacRae Centre at Acadia Divinity College.
Come along – admission is free.
The traditional place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem lies in a grotto underneath the Church of the Nativity. It is a physically dark place, yet full of candles and centuries of incense, where women outside venerate images of Mary holding the baby Jesus in icons and paintings, and the doorposts are marked with the crosses of pilgrims from a thousand years ago.
Touching these symbols, one wonders about the darkness the world has seen, and still sees, just outside the door of this church in the West Bank. For what situations did these Christians over the years seek solace? What marked their lives, and their history? What darkness have they known? What darkness will we yet know?
Though I don’t put much stock in the designated spot of Christ’s birth, I like that it is a cave-like grotto sought out by crowds every day. I like that it is dark and yet marked with the light and shadow of flickering candles and lamps. I like that despite their differences, the diverse Christian traditions take turns holding their services in there. I even like that the little man who acts as a caretaker in there hurries you through between services, barking at you if you pause too long, linger more than is seemly. When you have waited an hour or more and are rushed through and up the stairs on the other side in a matter of seconds, you glimpse something of what it is to behold light in the darkness.
It’s a fleeting experience, of something bigger than ourselves, It’s a sense that what we see isn’t all there is. It’s a belief that Christ who came in a place and a time comes still, into our darkness. That’s how light is. It’s sometimes a brief glimpse in the darkness; sometimes passed on from one to another. It’s a thing of veneration and pilgrimage when we need to know there is hope. Which is always.
This Christmas, as we celebrate, lament, and worship, may we find ourselves holding candles of Christ’s light for others as they make their way through a dark world. The world may seem full of shadows, but it matters. It’s God’s creation, marred though it may be, and it is the living stage of God’s salvation plan for the world. The way is marked with the cross of pilgrim and martyr and beckons us to catch a glimpse of what they saw – the shadows of history marked out with the light of Christ. Only, don’t linger too long.
We are sent out to shine.
Wishing a peaceful Christmas and New Year to all on behalf of the MacRae Centre. Thank you for your support this year. We look forward to new opportunities for engaging faith and culture in 2018.
The attestation that is being required of applicants for Canada summer jobs funding looks a lot like a bogeyman. I understand that in the first instance it is designed to ferret out organizations like those that place aggressive anti-abortion agendas at the heart of their work. I understand that the actions of some groups are at times offensive and hostile. I get that you are not keen to provide federal funding for their work. However, with the addition of this required attestation, you have swallowed a camel to strain out a gnat.
Christians seem to be very excited about Israel at the moment, in light of Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But there’s also a lot of arguing going on. With Israel much in the news, I sat down on the red sofa with my colleague in Old Testament studies, Dr. Glenn Wooden, to talk about Israel in the Bible and today.
While media stars continue to fall like ash from a burning effigy as a result of their abuse of women, we wonder why some are untouchable. Others of us wonder what all the fuss is about. The reality is that even if Trump fell over his mistreatment of women, this media storm is really just a flash in the pan. His ilk will continue as they always have. Women will be groped. Abused. Molested.
I am not surprised, or disgusted, or hurt. Nor am I dismayed, angry or sad. I am not offended.
This week we have read the comments of our Governor General who is reported to have railed in a speech to fellow scientists,
Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period.
As Christians, we’re called to compassion, and we’re doing a pretty good job of it as Canadian evangelicals, according to Rick Tobias. We’re known (and needed) for our generosity, cheerfully giving our time and financial resources to help those who are in need. This is good news! Yet, it’s not good enough. In a recent interview with our friend Dr. Rick Tobias, he reminds us that compassion is not our end goal. God desires justice.
Last week we had a visit to campus from Dr. Dennis Venema, co-author with Scot McKnight of the book “Adam and the Genome”. Dr. Mike Robertson from the Acadia Science faculty had arranged for the visit with CSCA to provide a platform for Dr. Venema to talk about the genetic evidence for evolution. We grabbed a couple of minutes with him on the red sofa