Christian Faith and Social Justice: Five Views
Publication Year: 2014
James McCarty: You make this statement in the introduction: “Christians agree that being advocates for justice is critical to the Christian witness, but once we have agreed about the importance of justice, it quickly becomes apparent that Christians vary widely in their beliefs about what this commitment entails.” Why do you think this is and why is it important to explore it in this format?
Vic McCracken: Christianity itself is a living tradition, so some of our disagreements stem from the Christian story itself. Christian pacifism and the just war tradition, for example, arise from the mutual effort of Christians to describe the moral import of the Christian story. Furthermore, diverse perspectives from outside the Christian tradition–Marxism and political liberalism, for example–influence how Christians today conceive of social justice. Our disagreements reflect broader disagreements about how to reconcile competing moral values that all of us deem important but that sometimes pull us in different directions. Finally, the questions that we ask about justice and the answers offer also reflect our social, cultural, ethnic, and gender diversity. There is no “view from nowhere” that allows any of us to speak for the Christian tradition in toto.
As for the importance of this project, my feeling is that in spite of our disagreements about the meaning of social justice, we all agree that a more just society is worth striving for. As long as we agree about the importance of justice, seeking common ground on what social justice is remains critical. Debates about justice are not mere academic games; these debates play themselves out in the concreteness of debates about healthcare reform, tax policy, racial profiling, gender equality, same sex marriage, and other issues that affect our common life. If you care about any of these topics, then you care about social justice. And if you don’t care about any of these topics, well you should.
This book is structured as an extended conversation between five scholars with differing normative commitments (Libertarian, Liberal, Liberationist, Feminist, and Virtue Ethics), and your voice is limited to the introduction. Why did you choose to arrange the book in this way rather than as a traditional single-authored monograph?
It certainly would have been possible to write a monograph that introduced readers to five approaches, but I was drawn to this dialogical format for two reasons. First, I am well aware that there are gifted scholars in the field of Christian ethics who are in much better positions than me to offer introductions to some of the theories that this volume explores. I love collaboration, and I value the opportunity this book offered me to learn some things from peers whom I respect. My introduction offers a sort of frame for the conversation among the scholars. In the end, I want their voices to stand out to readers.
Second, I wanted a book that I would be proud to have my undergraduate students read. In my ethics courses I want my students exposed to a higher level of intellectual exchange than what they get from cable news outlets, where talking heads offer up sound-bite diatribes targeted toward an audience that already agrees with them. The contributors to this book pull no punches in their disagreements, but they all remain committed to modeling substantive exchange. I am pleased in the ways that the book is helping my students to grapple with their own convictions about social justice.
What inspired you to pursue this project?
When I was pursuing my MDiv a number of years ago I was introduced to a series of books exploring a variety of topics in Christian theology using a dialogical format. As a student I found many of these volumes quite helpful. When I began work on my first book-length project, I started thinking about how this format might be used to introduce students to conversations in the field of Christian ethics. Because so many of our current public policy debates emerge out of rival conceptions of justice, making this the focus of the book seemed appropriate. Undoubtedly, this is a format that could work quite well in exploring other topics in the field.
Why should the general public be interested in this book?
So many of our current social and political debates today are at their heart debates about the meaning of a just society. I like to think that this book will be appealing to anyone who is interested in these debates.
How do you envision this book being helpful in a classroom setting?
I’ve used this book over the last two semesters for one of my university’s general education courses that explores human identity and community. I use this book to frame for students different visions of just communities. After reading each author’s foundational essay, students consider the practical import of the author’s approach. If this author is correct, then what does this entail for Christian advocacy and practice? I want students to consider what they find persuasive about each other’s position, or, conversely, what they find problematic. The responses that the contributors write to one another further illuminate areas of similarity and difference. I’ve found the book to be helpful in broadening my students’ understanding of Christian community, and it is a pleasure to watch my students find their own voices as they dialogue with the authors.