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From the Rector #42

Posted by The Reverend Neil A. Willard on

There aren’t many public theologians these days in the mold of the mid-twentieth-century’s Reinhold Niebuhr. Someone who comes very close is David Brooks, who is, in fact, today’s guest preacher at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The first video below begins with his sermon from this morning. The second is his conversation with the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, Dean of the National Cathedral, beginning with a question about the role of people of faith in our national life.

Occasionally, Stephen Carter of Yale Law School steps into the role of a public theologian as he did in a thought-provoking 2012 interview with Yale Divinity School’s Reflections magazine that was entitled “Civil Thoughts on Uncivil Times.”His words then about “a morality of means” are still relevant today:

[T]he reason we’re in a decline is that we no longer are capable of being serious about public argument. Election campaigns have become opportunities for entertainment, each side declaring a jeremiad against the other, but mainly pointing to silly gaffes, and lying happily about what the opponent is up to.

Supporters of this or that candidate, when pressed about why the campaigns are so vicious, will routinely answer that their side is just matching the other, doing what’s necessary to win. As a Christian, I find this response terrifying. Christianity seeks to build a morality of means that is every bit as important as the morality of ends, and often more so. . . .

And our decline matters. I am naive enough, in the innocence of late middle age, to believe that America should still be a beacon to the world, a nation worth imitating. Plenty of countries around the globe have learned to imitate our self-seeking, our obsessions with wealth and celebrity, and our growing incivility. Before selecting our public behaviors, we should perhaps think a bit harder about what it is that we want to export.