Christian Ethicists Respond to the Inauguration of President Donald Trump

This post includes responses from several of our featured contributors to questions regarding the newly appointed president and what it means for Christians to exist in light of what he’s said and done since he announced his candidacy for the presidency. Many have noted that there are aspects of Donald Trump as an individual, businessperson, and politician that are peculiar if not unprecedented. In this series of questions and responses several Christian ethicists help us to think about what it means to be a moral agent and political actor in the era of President Trump.

1. There have been many explanations for the election of Donald Trump. Some of them are: populism, frustration with ruling elites, the rise of a forgotten white working class, racism, misogyny, the electoral college, Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy, segregation by race and class, the proliferation of fake news, a global shift toward ethno-nationalist politics, Trump’s campaign strategy, political polarization, and many more. There is probably some truth in many of these explanations. Which ones do you find most convincing and how should they help us understand American politics going forward?

Jermaine McDonald: It seems pretty clear that Hillary Clinton lost because she could not secure the Obama coalition of Blacks (who did not show up in the same numbers, particularly in North Carolina, Florida, and majority Black precincts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan—all states Clinton lost) and working-class Whites (whom she lost by a considerable margin—62 to 30 vs. 50 to 45 for Obama vs. Romney). If either of these breaks differently, Hillary Clinton wins the electoral college. For a detailed account of these findings, see Nate Cohn’s article in the New York Times, “How the Obama Coalition Crumbled, Leaving an Opening for Trump”.

I am fearful that the Democratic party will look at these results and decide that their way forward is to make the White working class #feeltheprivilege again, at the expense of the more faithful members of its multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious constituency. That would be a terrible mistake. The demographics of this nation are changing. It is rapidly becoming less White, and the nation ought to lean in to the idea that the primary face of its elected leaders should no longer be White, straight, and male. In fact, I hope that this becomes President Obama’s post-presidential mission: to cultivate and curate a true melting pot of left-leaning leaders who will steer the nation towards becoming a more just union.

Nikki Young: For the last several weeks, I have found it curious that many Americans – mostly liberal white ones – are in such a severe search for an election explanation. The suggestion underneath this need is that something is amiss, that something went awry. The need further suggests that the election of DT is out of sync with the country’s trajectory.

For me, DT’s election is a reasonable outcome in a country that consistently invests in white supremacist cis-heteropatriarchal capitalism. Of course, such an investment is a moral enterprise – one that is based on neoliberal ideals masked as American democracy. I have argued in other work that the protection of the moral norm of white supremacy becomes a goal for the maintenance of an American liberal democracy. The potential loss of this supremacy (and the political stability it represents) is anchored by the instability of white racial purity. Even more, a hierarchical subjective structure that positions whiteness at the top of our shared social order generates fear about the demise of the “collective good.” The protection of white racial purity, then, is situated within an ethical framework of panic, which subsequently justifies the politicization of social constructions of race.

The processes of social construction – and racialization – are always political, taking place within relations of power and privilege. They are always ethical, pointing to a system of morality that aims toward some ultimate good. Also, the construction of these categories are central to our idea of what it means to be human, so when we attach these constructions to our notions of humanity, we “justify” and reproduce oppressive matrices of human difference. We produce subjects through the construction of categories and then regulate them into normativity. Such norm regulation, within our political framework, is not without the larger goal of manifesting American liberal democratic ideals.

In his explication of political ideals, Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that “the social consequences of an action or policy should be regarded as more adequate tests of its morality than the hidden motives.” The good motive, for him, is judged by its social goal. If Niebuhr is right that “each action is judged with reference to its relation to the ultimate goal,” then we might consider the ultimate goal that moral pragmatism and the social-political justification of racial hierarchies support. Niebuhr attributes social injustice to human pride and self-love and articulates clearly that institutional and national propensities for evil cannot be controlled by humanity. Of course, he also maintains that a representative democracy is a crucial means of improving social ills. But this is not true if the social and moral ends produce and perpetuate such ills in the first place.

That subjective possibility of American liberty is linked to white supremacy is a political ideology. Therefore, when I say that American liberalism is white supremacy, I am pointing to this undeniable connection between white supremacy and the notions of freedom and free will, which drives this country’s sense of prerogative. As long as liberty is attached to subjective moral worth, the mapping of race onto the idea of freedom does not allow us to escape what Niebuhr would call “political policy [that]… prove[s] to be an efficacious instrument for the achievement of a morally approved end.” Even more, we cannot deny that freedom is specifically a subjective reality, not an ontological possibility – at least not in the framework of American liberalism.

But EVEN IF Niebuhr leads us in the right direction of critiquing – or at least questioning – the conceptual and practical exceptionalism that American liberal democratic ideals boast, we are still not finished. What we have NOT done, and what Niebuhr did not do, was name as an ETHICAL problem, the fact that the securing of American liberty and equality is made possible through the subjugation and violent policing of some bodies and lives. And this is what the election illustrates: a collective willingness to sacrifice the good of many for the sake of the (supreme) few.

James McCarty: It is always important to me to remember that the United States is not an isolated nation. Rather, we are part of a global order and our actions both influence and are influenced by that order. Thus, it seems clear that there’s presently a spread of populism, nationalism, and “big man” politics in parts of the world where such movements have been marginalized in recent history. In this, then, the United States or Donald Trump are not special or unique but merely reflecting a global sentiment. Global capitalism, international politics and law, climate change, and secularization and its reactions are all impacting countries, whether wealthy or poor, in ways that feel stunning and uncontrollable. It seems to me that one cannot understand the election of Donald Trump without recognizing his populist-ish message as one manifestation of this global phenomenon.

Having said that, I must be clear that recognizing that economic anxiety, nationalist fervor, anti-globalism, and the peculiar charisma of The Donald does not diminish the racialized nature of Mr. Trump’s campaign, the way it energized explicitly white supremacist organizations, or the ways that American nationalism was expressed in many ways as Whiteness. Race was a centrifugal force around which many of these other concerns moved. That there are Americans unhappy with international trade agreements doesn’t surprise me. That increased global migration is met with insularity and restrictive sentiment doesn’t surprise me. That someone as gifted at provoking emotions as Mr. Trump was able to mobilize once apathetic political actors doesn’t surprise me. And, sadly, that “everyday” voters were willing to overlook the racialized rhetoric and the ways that Trump empowered white supremacists to pursue their political goals in this area doesn’t surprise me.

The United States rests on three firm foundations: democratic politics and ideals, capitalist economics, and race. Race, as a social construction, almost always will be accompanied by racism as it has in the US. While the merits of the capitalist foundation of the American project is (in my opinion justly) debated, it seems clear that it is when the US embodies its democratic ideals that it is at its best and when it embraces its racism that it is at its worst. Sadly, the racist history of the electoral college (created to give slaveholders disproportionate representation) trumped its highest democratic ideals (and capitalism, at its worst, has appeared in the construction of Mr. Trump’s cabinet).

2. The 2008 election led many to posit the idea that the United States was entering a post-racial era. The 2016 election has led some to posit a new era of racism and/or racial strife and conflict. How should we understand this dramatic shift in public perception? Are either narratives true? Why or why not?

McDonald: The idea that the 2008 election of Barak Obama signaled the beginning of a post-racial era was a fairy tale from the very beginning. Obama himself invited such dreams with his soaring rhetoric and idealism about the ability to transcend demographic divides to do what is best for the entire country. That illusion was shattered as soon as he began to govern and the Republican party became the self-proclaimed party of “No”. Likewise, the idea that the nation has entered into a new era of racism is equally imaginary. Racism in its institutional, individual, explicit, and implicit variations has always been with us. Indeed, it is etched into the very foundation of this nation. It reminds me of Aesop’s fable about the frog and the scorpion:

A frog and a scorpion meet on the bank of a stream. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him on his back across the stream. The frog says, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “If I do, I will die too.” The frog carries the scorpion, but halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog starts to sink, but before they drown, he asks the scorpion “Why did you sting me?” The scorpion replies, “It’s in my nature.”

So many people are shocked that the Donald Trump won by running a racist, sexist, misogynist, xenophobic, and narcissistic campaign. Meanwhile, people of color are the unnamed frog who pulled the foolish frog aside before he tried to carry the scorpion across the stream and said, “You know that’s a scorpion, right?”

Young: There has been no dramatic shift between 2008 and 2016. In fact, racism is the moral foundation upon which this country was built. This is what I tried to argue, in answer to the previous question. Our country is seeing the manifestation of its teleological investment.

The election of President Obama did not signal a new era of post-racialism; instead, it opened space for people to racialize the highest office in the land. Since the general public did not read whiteness as a race and thus missed the ways that the Presidency has always been racialized, it only became clear to them that the President of the United States has a race when a black man occupied the office. Such a realization spurred new, more direct conversation about race, but it also let to backlash. I would not say that the 2016 election has led to a new kind of racism, but I would say that it has illustrated for a broader audience what some people have not had the luxury to ignore.

McCarty: I’ll start by saying we can understand this shift in public perception because, to our detriment, we Americans typically think and speak about racism in individualized terms that have to do with how one “feels” about people of another race. Working out of this formulation, many people are now surprised that people who once voted for Barack Obama have now voted for Donald Trump.

However, from a sociological perspective that understands that race is primarily about social structures which shape our world and intentions we understand the “America” and “post-racial” are contradictory terms. As I mentioned earlier, race and racism is one of the three core pillars of the American project. There is, then, no surprise for me that the election of the first black president would be a part of the exposure of America’s racism in a new way. The prevalence of racism (in police violence, in housing and education segregation and inequality, in incarceration rates, etc) is not a phenomenon attributed to Barack Obama being willing to say that Trayvon Martin resembled Mr. Obama’s imaginary son or to Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. Rather, it is the battle that America will be fighting as long as it exists as a country.

Ben Sanders: The 2008 and 2012 elections of President Barack Obama led many to declare the arrival or coming of a post-racial America. That is, some believed Obama’s election marked a racial eschaton for American society; with Obama came a new heaven and a new earth, the fulfillment of America’s racial dream. Do you remember the theatre of it all? Millions of people—not just in America, but also all over the world—danced, cried tears of joy, and celebrated the monumental change Obama symbolized. Oprah and Jesse Jackson stood among “the people” weeping, their tears reflecting decades—even centuries—of prayerful hope. This hope had yearned for the day America would outgrow its racist past, be absolved of its original sin and, thereby, be freed of a perpetually pained existence rooted in contradiction: the land of the free, haunted by a legacy of colonial violence, slavery, racism.

President Obama was a powerful opiate, and his effect caused many of us to believe in the dangerous myths of post-racialism and American progress. The danger of these myths is that they separate us from the everyday realities of the most vulnerable in our country. The fact of the matter is that even after 8 years of poised, dignified, and imperfect presidential leadership from this nation’s first African American president, poor black people still face the same structural challenges they faced before Obama was sworn-in. The myth of post-racial progress is a privilege set-aside for those of us who live beyond the confines of over-policed neighborhoods and empty stomachs. I don’t mean to imply that Obama didn’t matter to poor blacks – he did, because symbols matter. But as Obama prepares to leave the White House and take his rightful place on the walls of black kitchens alongside Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr., poor blacks will still struggle to put food in their refrigerators. And now, on top of all of this, we also face the specter of Trump.

On his way to being elected president on November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump shrugged off media depictions of him as a racist, sexist, xenophobe and was unmoved by those within his campaign who warned that his lack of political correctness would cost him the election. Trump stuck to his guns, and what many thought was his biggest weakness—his “unpolished” rhetoric—proved to be his greatest strength. In a mode eerily reminiscent of Obama’s 2008 run, Trump won the election by pitching a vision of an America transformed by a radically different president. This time, though, instead of electing a candidate who symbolized historic progress, Trump represents a yearning for an imagined past when America was “great” without being racist. Many of the same people who cried tears of joy and danced in the street to celebrate the change Obama had promised in ’08 and ’12 found themselves crying tears of pained disbelief as the reality of president-elect Trump set in.

In light of the 2016 election, any notion of a post-racial America wrought by American racial progress has been tempered, if not destroyed. In so many ways, Trump represents what America wants to believe it has outgrown and left behind: an unpolished, illiberal, white supremacist bully who uses hyper-masculine behavior to avoid facing hard questions about his past. But, as hard as it is to stomach, the 2016 election and the president-elect it yielded are true reflections of who we are. To be sure, we can (and should) analyze how Trump won the election; we should examine exit polls, the impact of James Comey’s letter to Congress, and the impact of Russian hackers. We should also rethink the (hi)stories we tell ourselves about how far we’ve come on race, because even after all our analysis, Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States and the ongoing composition of his cabinet leaves no doubt that white supremacy is alive and well in the highest offices of this country.

And so – as was the case before president-elect Trump – we who are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God have work to do. In most ways, our work is the same. But those of us brave enough to stare the largely unchanged realities of poor black people in the face are now equipped with deepened (though not new) wisdom. We now know – and perhaps better now than ever – that no single leader, regardless of office should ever be confused with the change we believe in. This change is not (and can never be!) the product of high offices and institutional power; instead, it is the product of poor peoples’ resilient determination to never allow injustice to speak definitively. We will need this wisdom for the days ahead.

3. There has been a public debate about the degree to which people should collaborate with, wait-and-see, or begin resisting the presidency of Donald Trump. As a Christian ethicist, how do you think Christian citizens should think about their political engagement over the next four years?

McDonald: Resistance. Mr. Trump has already shown us enough and made enough tangible decisions for protest and resistance. His insistence on keeping his business ties while in office, his appointment of industry leaders and politicians who have actively sought to limit or eliminate the power and oversight of the very departments they are being tapped to head, his admiration of Vladimir Putin in the face of growing evidence that the Russians manipulated the election, and the lack of preparedness from his entire administration thus far reveals that resistance is the only way forward.

Young: One of the most salient features of Christian responsibility is a willingness to create a counter-public. Such creative activity is predicated upon the notion that resisting dominant and oppressive structures is sacred work. I believe that Christians ought to continue to engage in this process, not simply because DT is in office, but because this is the work of a conscientized community of Jesus-followers.

Bradley Burroughs: For Christians like myself and the majority of those who frequent Symposium Ethics—that is Christians deeply shaped by the conviction that the Gospel calls us to seek justice for all and promote the flourishing of God’s creation—January 20, 2017 is a day of harsh truth. In weeks past one could pin their hopes on recounts, faithless electors, or other scenarios that might forestall the ascension of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States. Today, those illusory hopes are shattered, giving way to the undeniable reality of his inauguration.

Not only that, but Trump brings in his train a bevy of appointees and nominees whose proposed policies threaten the justice for which we hunger and thirst and the liberation of creation which we await with eager longing. Some have counseled that we must give President Trump a chance. In selecting Cabinet nominees, however, he has had a huge chance. And in a number of his choices—including Jeff Sessions for Attorney General despite his history of racial hostility, Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State despite his relentless advocacy for the expanded use of fossil fuels, and Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education despite her repeated undermining of public schools—President Trump has indicated that his will be an administration that promises to threaten many of the goods we hold dear and the policies that have protected the most vulnerable among us.

In the light of such discomfiting realities, what is it that we should hope for? And what is it that we should do?

Perhaps a necessary first step to answering such questions is to acknowledge where our hopes and actions are unlikely to produce significant positive change in the near term—that is, in the arena of the federal government. This does not mean that all hope is lost. Indeed, the popular uproar created when the House of Representatives sought to reduce the Office of Congressional Ethics to a mere vassal of the House—an uproar that ultimately led Republicans to reverse course—shows that significant steps can be taken to reduce harm. Our determination to call the powerful to account must not wane. Nevertheless, the realistic possibilities of forging a coalition to pass significant legislation that would reduce income inequality, extend affordable healthcare to the most needy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or make similar efforts to promote justice and the flourishing of creation are vanishingly slim.

Such an acknowledgement may not come easily. After all, Christians seeking a more just and verdant world have routinely placed their hopes centrally upon national governments and particularly upon the national government of the United States. For instance, over a century ago, in 1912, Walter Rauschenbusch wrote, “Against the doctrine that the best State governs least, I set the assertion that the finest public life will exist in a community which has learned to combine its citizens in the largest number of cooperative functions for the common good.” (Christianizing the Social Order, 431) Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that those functions are properly administered by a State strikingly similar to the US federal government.

But what if such large-scale cooperation in the service of the common good is unachievable at least for a time? In such cases, Christians must remember that their faith first and foremost aims not to change the policies of national governments but to change the shape of our lives and our communities.

While it may be desired, it is not our government that is called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirst, welcome the foreigner, clothe the naked, and care for the sick (Matthew 25:34-46). No, it is us who are called to do so as an outgrowth of our love of and devotion to Christ. And we are called to nurture communities that teach us act in love, justice, and mercy and to worship God in all things.

To put this point in a different way, the primary aim of the Christian faith is not to create a particular regime of statecraft but a particular regime of soulcraft. Through communities that teach us to worship, pray, serve others, love our neighbor, prize the truth, and care for the people and world whom God so loves, it changes who we are, shaping our very souls.

And if we are to be honest, we must admit that Christians’ devotion to this kind of soulcraft has not always lived up to our own standards. The 2016 election offers plentiful evidence of this, most of all in the fact that white Christians so predominantly cast their ballots for a candidate who traded upon racialized tropes, mocked the disabled, proclaimed he had no need to be forgiven, and treated the truth with callous disregard. Whatever the shortcomings of his major competitor, the failure to recognize Trump’s incommensurability with the Gospel betrays a failure to develop the virtues that should define the Christian life; it reveals a deficiency in the characteristics that should empower us to prioritize love of neighbor over the politics of dread and dog-whistles.

Refocusing upon the task of soulcraft, upon the need to create communities that will nurture us and others in the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love, we might also find unexpected and yet unsurpassed resources for statecraft. In 1958, as he was indefatigably seeking to change the deeply entrenched racism of America, Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed: “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” (King, “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom” in Testament of Hope, 58.) But King, his associates in the Civil Rights Movement, and organizers throughout the South not only professed the need to change our souls and our lives. They enfleshed it. They took action through innumerable service projects, strategy sessions, trainings in nonviolence, organizing campaigns, and, yes, church services. And through such soulcraft they produced one of the most monumental changes in American statecraft. For those of us who, like King, wish to see justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, we must rededicate ourselves not simply to the task of changing policies but of changing persons.

King exposes the misguided conceit that lies at the heart of modern political theory, which is the belief that we can have a virtuous polity without having virtuous people. Only by crafting souls deeply shaped by virtues like justice, courage, wisdom, and moderation will we be able to have a government capable of true justice. In a world where rising authoritarianism seeks to convince us that might makes right, it will require such virtues to sustain us in the risks necessary to cultivate justice—to advocate for the oppressed, to stand up against those who would malign the stranger, to demand the just distribution of resources, to unstintingly commit ourselves to maintain the dignity of all people, and in all of this to speak truth to power.

We stand on the verge of a time that promises to try our souls. If we as individuals and as a people are to withstand the trial, we must dedicate ourselves to cultivating the resources that will increase our faith, sustain our hope, and expand our love.

McCarty: The Age of Trump reminds those of us who are Christian and committed to social justice as an imperative of the gospel in the modern world that are work is often not to be found at national or federal levels. Rather, we are called to do justice for particular places and people and times. The focus of much of our energy, then, should be at the local and state levels. It is here that we can build relationships of solidarity, contribute to projects that impact the common good, and have “skin in the game” in ways that national politics often don’t allow.

In addition, we must resist the temptation to play the game of social media one-upmanship by pursuing the best memes or sarcastic lines. We must resist having our work and witness devolve into partisan talking points. We have a robust moral language and we must use it to speak truth to power in a way that brings a diverse assembly of people on board a common project for justice rather than pushing them away because of other partisan commitments or polarization. I believe that Rev. William Barber II explains this approach well. We must make our homes just, our neighborhoods just, our churches just, and our states just. It is when we do that work well that we will be able to be heard by others about what it means for our nation to be just.

4. What theologians or ethicists are helping you to think about Christian and political ethics in the age of Trump? How are they influencing your thought?

McDonald: First, I am returning to Reinhold Niebuhr. A revitalization of Christian realism should help political liberals dispel the notion that there is a such thing as a “right side of history.” Every inch of progress must be fought for and defended without hubris. I’m also revisiting Cornel West, particularly in Democracy Matters; this version of Cornel West understands that radical democracy must have a broad, multiethnic, multiracial, multigender, and multireligious coalition and cannot afford to make enemies out of its allies. Finally, I’m reminded of Delores Williams. The next four years will feature a regressive politics in all branches of governance. Womanist ethics and theology have cornered the market in survival against overwhelming odds. I have chosen Williams because of her explication of the Hagar narrative in Sisters in the Wilderness. If both parties insist on favoring Isaac at the expense of Ishmael in response to this election, we will need to channel Hagar’s assertiveness, audacity, and defiance.

Young: 1. Marcella Althaus-Reid – Her work calls us to think of our own agential capacity as individuals in the everyday context.
2. Paul Tillich – His work points to conversations about what courage means in the moment. How can we be courageous when our bodies are always already a disruption, a problem?
3. Traci West – Her work reminds us to focus on the stories of resilience and survival from people who are laboring under the oppressive systems of racism, sexism, capitalism, and more.
4. Womanists – They help us consider ways of approaching the world by emphasizing community and loving relations. They help me pay attention to the ethical example and theological creativity embedded in the lives of my people.

McCarty: First, I’m reminded of Martin Luther King Jr. I’m particularly reminded that the Movement began with a bus boycott in Montgomery and only became a national and international movement because it was able to build upon the moral power and political success of that local movement. Second, I’m again faced with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about the nature of Christian responsibility and guilt in the face of grave injustice. Bonhoeffer is a thinker who is easy to admire from a distance, but is a hard teacher when his moment in history feels closer than one might like. I’m also reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr. Reinhold’s ability to take seriously both power and love, even if I don’t always agree with the way he understands the latter, is a challenge to me in times of political struggle. Christian theologians have recently often written of politics in ways that make it seem like all we have to do is talk with one another. But this story is incomplete. We must also understand and use power in a way that is consistent with Christian love.

Beyond this trio of “go-to” names in Christian ethics, I’ve been thinking a lot about risk and, thus, Sharon Welch’s work has renewed importance to me. I believe that Christian faith often entails risks and I am in a constant state of examining myself and the risks I take to love my neighbors and enemies in the pursuit of justice. Ellen Ott Marshall’s work on responsible hope and the virtues necessary for “a faith that transforms politics” seem especially appropriate for thinking through the ways one holds faith, hope, and love in a time of conflict. Finally, I am constantly reminded that in this age of globalization Thich Nhat Hanh’s thoughts on “interbeing” and Desmond Tutu’s explanation of ubuntu as a lens to understand interdependence and liberation are the kinds of lenses required to address the interconnected injustices of global racism, inequality, and violence.

5. Please suggest 1-3 things to read in 2017 to help our readers interpret the times we are living in.

McDonald: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones. Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance by Reggie L. Williams

1. Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip. This text makes us accountable to the future that we are creating. It forces us to ask what happens in our present, when we eliminate abnormal (and abject) bodies and lives from our future.
2. Simone Brown’s Dark Matters. It is discourse about being hyper-surveilled. We need to pay attention to how we establish personas in light of such surveillance, since we create ethical frames based on those personas.
3. Nikki Young’s Black Queer Ethics, Family, and Philosophical Imagination. I lift up my own work here to point to the frames of confrontation, resistance, and imagination that marginalized communities employ in a context that renders their existence non-essential.

McCarty: First, I am having Public Administration students read Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society for the reasons cited above. I believe we must wrestle with the way power works and the nature of social change as a non-linear process. Niebuhr is as good as anyone at getting at these dynamics.

Second, I recommend King’s Why We Can’t Wait and Where Do We Go From Here? In reading these two texts, alongside (at least) “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence” we can both get a sense of the ways King achieved success in his social justice work and the challenges he faced that still face us today.

Finally, I suggest that folks revisit Dorothy Day’s essays to fire the moral imagination for creative ways one might act locally to resist injustice, create community, and love one’s marginalized and oppressed neighbors. We are not all called to be Catholic Workers, but we are all called to be, in the words of King, maladjusted to injustice so we can be creative agents of change. Dorothy Day is one of the most compelling example of what such a maladjusted life might look like in our world.

James McCarty III

James McCarty III

Dr. James W. McCarty III is co-founder and editor of Symposium Ethics. He is Campus Minister for Social Justice and an adjunct professor at Seattle University. He has published widely on the ethics of reconciliation, peacebuilding, transitional justice, and racial justice.

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