On Tuesday afternoon at the Emergent Theological Conversation, there were several breakout sessions. I attended the one on bringing justice to the world.
It was, for the most part, wonderful, and great to hear from so many voices and perspectives. But it was also one of those environments where a few too many intelligent, inspired, and verbally gifted people squeeze into a room and let fly. To put it a little differently, we did more talking than listening.
For myself, it was one of those days when you can’t express yourself clearly, get defensive at being misunderstood (which you are bound to be, since you can’t talk right), and spend the rest of the day thinking of smart things you should have said.
So here goes:
I’m a virtue ethicist, not only a social ethicist. And personal piety ain’t egoism– it’s anything but selfish– but it is unavoidable if we’re engaged in bringing any kind of justice in the world. And Bono deserves to be Man of The Year– I love Bono more than my coffee grinder, and he’s doing as much as anyone with regard to world poverty– but he (intentionally?) underestimates the scale and complexity of the issue(s). I think we need to read Volf again, and be more like my friend Matt.
But seriously, it was a great chance to feed off of the passion of people, borrow some of their great ideas, and to do some careful thinking about the interrelationship between politics/power and poverty. How do we go about eliminating some of the simple and basic needs in the world (like 90-cent doses of drugs to save HIV babies, etc.) when there are some powerful people with an obvious disinterest in seeing those needs met? How do we move forward when US farm subsidies simultaneously deprive the world of food and drive the prices so low that it isn’t productive for Third-World farmers to grow crops? How can we engage in enough personal transformation that we can work these things through, without getting waylaid in caring more about our self than our neighbor? How can we cooperate with one another (small church, house church, city-sized church, post-church, no church) to avoid making multiple iterations of the same wheel? And why is it so hard for us to bless other churches and traditions, and so easy to be so freaking critical?