Call for Courage in Contemporary U.S. Public Discourse
By Rosemary Carbine.
The Workgroup on Constructive Theology recently produced a video titled Fear Not!, which encourages Christians to respond in faith to the dangerous public discourse of the current U.S. political season, which has featured prominent public figures who endorse Islamophobia, racism, anti-immigration policies against refugees, and so forth on religious grounds. Inciting a politics of fear and hate of those who do not meet the de facto patriarchal/kyriarchal norms of U.S. citizenship – Muslims, people of color, immigrants, the poor – must also be countered, politically and religiously. For example, in December 2015, Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow and others from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice disrupted a political fundraiser for Donald Trump in New York by singing in protest against a politics of hate.
In this same vein of a politics of prophetic protest, Fear Not! – the first video created by the Workgroup – is intended to speak directly to these present-day political realities. “This is a moment of particular urgency when thoughtful Christian voices are needed in our public discourse,” said Workgroup member Shannon Craigo-Snell, a professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In particular, this video addresses dangerous trends in current public discourse, in which religion is summoned as a “sacred canopy” to justify all sorts of hate speech and crimes against “others” – people of color, Muslims, LGBTQI people, immigrants and refugees, poor people, and so on. Through the video, the group intends to inject an alternative voice into U.S. public discourse about religion as a basis for social-justice making politics.
Shaped in part by feminist theological convictions, the group’s statement both invokes Galatians 3:28 to emphasize egalitarianism rather than racial, sexual, social, and religious stratification, and foregrounds love as a central characteristic of Christian freedom in opposition to still-pending nationwide religious liberty bills that discriminate against LGBTQI peoples. Of particular interest to FSR Blog readers, the video and the signatories on it forefront many feminist, womanist, and Latina voices in theology concerned about pressing pubic issues related to religion in this U.S. presidential election season – Ellen Armour, Rosemary Carbine, Teresa Delgado, Karen Baker-Fletcher, M. Shawn Copeland, Wendy Farley, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Stephanie Mitchem, Amy Plantinga Pauw, Kwok Pui-lan, Shelly Rambo, Kathleen Sands, Laurel Schneider, and Sharon Welch, among others.
The Workgroup, which was established in 1976, consists of an intentionally diverse membership of Ph.D. theologians from leading U.S. colleges, universities, and seminaries whose work focuses on Christian theology and practice in relation to contemporary social justice issues. Representing a broad range of Christian traditions and perspectives, the Workgroup is an ecumenical community of scholars who bring the resources of theology to bear on the pressing issues of our time.
Over the past forty years, successive generations of Workgroup members have published a dozen books together, including Christian Theology: An Introduction to Its Traditions and Tasks (Fortress, 1982), Reconstructing Christian Theology (Augsburg Fortress, 1994), and Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes (Augsburg Fortress, 2005). The latest publication, Awake to the Moment (Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), will be released in September.
Up to this point, the group has published books to be used as course texts for teaching and learning theology mainly in graduate programs. The group’s latest book is designed specifically for teaching and learning theology in undergraduate and master’s programs. It represents the culmination of a multi-year effort to collectively author a book, and consequently communicate that doing theology – reflecting and acting on the links between religious beliefs and practices for a better world – involves community-based, justice-oriented work.
As a member of the Workgroup and of the Feminist Studies in Religion Forum, I invite readers of the FSR Blog to view the video and transcript as a pedagogical and/or liturgical resource to consider the roles of religion in current public discourse, especially surrounding the upcoming U.S. political party conventions leading up to the U.S. presidential election later this year. The video can be viewed in its entirety here. It was produced by Rev. Landon Whitsitt who serves the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as Executive of the Synod of Mid-America.
Rosemary P. Carbine (M.A. and Ph.D., University of Chicago Divinity School) is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Whittier College. She specializes in constructive Christian theologies, focusing on comparative feminist, womanist, and Latina/mujerista theologies, theological anthropology, public/political theologies, and teaching and learning in theology and religion. She has co-edited and contributed chapters to The Gift of Theology (Fortress, 2015), Theological Perspectives for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and Women, Wisdom, and Witness (Liturgical, 2012). And, she published numerous articles in leading scholarly journals and in anthologies, including Questioning the Human (Fordham, 2014), Frontiers in Catholic Feminist Theology (Fortress, 2009), and Prophetic Witness (Crossroad, 2009).