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Where are the theologians?

Where are the theologians?

In an age where religious motivations can cause people to do great harm or great good, and where every idea–good and bad–has equal weight in a social media world, where are the theologians who can help ground us and guide our reflections?

M. Craig Barnes writes in the Christian Century.

…we no longer believe in ideas that emerge out of a coherent system of thought. We’ve read too many tweets, and believe that every idea has equal legitimacy.

When my daughter was in high school, the head of her school said to an assembly of parents, “Here we tell our students there is no such thing as a bad idea.” That went down pretty easily until I began to think about it. No bad ideas? Actually, there are some terrible ideas, and telling a bunch of teenagers that there are no bad ideas is one of the worst I’ve heard. Every brutality against humanity began as “just an idea.”

Theologians have been trained in a deep history of thought about the nature of our life with and without God. It is possible to disagree with their perspectives on our society, and they certainly disagree with each other. But we dare not dismiss the depth of their thinking by assuming religion is no longer a significant player in our life together.

Those who massacre people in clubs and hotels are religiously motivated. So are many of those who devote their lives to caring for the poor. And whether they realize it or not, so are those who find themselves in a conversation about public policy at a dinner party or in the cab of a delivery truck. Religion is a major player in our actions, for better and worse, and it makes no sense to sideline the best theological thinkers.


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Philip B. Spivey

There are many theologies that have fostered a world view that have placed the well-being of the community above the individual and that have extolled the spiritual above the material. Unfortunately, none of these ideas have sunk in over the centuries. Instead, theologies are regularly high-jacked to fit the needs of the powerful at the moment. For example, Western capitalism rationalized colonialism, white supremacy and enslavement all in the name of the Church. It’s not that there were no theologians to counter these social transgressions, it’s that the powerful are above biblical law. The Ten Commandments do not apply to them.

Today, with the social fabric of the world in tatters, it is comforting to believe that wholesome thinking will return us to sanity. But that’s a fantasy. Like Dorothy Day, faith in action is the only way through and out of our pain. Faith in action as a community is the only pathway to structural change; structural change is the only way to true justice.

Marshall Scott

My thought is a bit different. There are many theologians out there, and many are communicating regularly. From venues as formal as quarterly academic journals to those as casual as blogs and internet news aggregators, there are many voices that could be heard. And, for those attending, there is a formal theologian homilizing every Sunday, and many informal theologians with whom we can discuss (lay and ordained: anyone who has an opinion about God [theos logos] can help me learn and reflect).

So, why aren’t we listening? Or, who might capture enough of the audience to speak both with authority and broadly? Who might we raise up as worth our time, and who is not simply feeding into our individual experiences of confirmation bias, that doesn’t challenge?

Simply notoriety isn’t enough. I could maintain some respect for Billy Graham, but not for Franklin. Father Coughlin and Aimee Semple McPherson had their audiences, but I could not countenance either today. So, I’m not struck by a lack of theological voices. I’m struck by the difficulty of sorting among them and encouraging thoughtful listening.

Michael W. Murphy

All ideas are starting points, but they must be examined. The problem is that we have no common starting points (in mathematics the starting points are called axioms) . What we have successfully taught is that you cannot accept the thoughts of someone else.

For those of us who believe that the Bible is inspired by God, I suggest that we begin at Gen. 9:6-7. First, examine these commandments. What do these commandments imply? How do we turn them into a “workable foundation.”

Second, examine all other biblical commandments for their consistency with this commandment given to Noah. Modify the subsequent commandments to make them consistent with the “workable foundation.”

This is where the Episcopal Church should have started years ago so that we had a foundation to discuss the issues. This church has not erred by discussing these issues. This church has erred by failing to prepare the people in the pews to discuss these issues.

Michael W. Murphy

Correction: Gen. 9: 4-6.

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