Identity Markers

Posted on December 22, 2009 by David Creech

Van Gogh's Good SamaritanI read an interesting article in the NYT Magazine this last Sunday about Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and leading thinker in conservative Christian circles.  One particular paragraph caught my attention.  Professor George was advising Catholic bishops against talking about the various “social justice” policy issues they had been advocating for.  Instead, “They should concentrate their authority on ‘the moral social’ issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and same sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear.”

Now, I don’t want to touch any of those divisive topics, but I must say that I was troubled by the suggestion. First, if we as the church were particularly effective and unified in our concern (and our expression of that concern) for those who are poor, maybe we could direct our attention to other “moral social” issues (and I think there is room for debate for just how clear the Gospel teaching is on the issues he identified).  The problem is, as reported in the article, after his speech to the bishops, they abandoned their push for universal health care and focused on making sure the abortion provisions in the bill were to their liking. Second, I find the clearest Gospel teaching (I mean this in the broadest sense, including the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Christian tradition) to be related to issues of justice for those who are poor and vulnerable.

Which brings me to the issue of Christian identity.  For any of you who have been following Hunger Rumblings for the last year or so, you know that I would like to see the church’s identity be located in its concern and care for those who are poorest and most vulnerable (I’ve written about it here and here).  I see this as faithful to God’s activity throughout history, beginning with Israel, continuing through Jesus’ mission and ministry, moving into the early church and on into the present day.   To be sure, the church must find its voice in other relevant “moral social” discussions (for the ELCA’s stance on the issues mentioned by George, see this and this and this).  That said, what will we speak loudest about?

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