Prophetic and Public

Prophetic and Public: The Social Witness of U.S. Catholicism

Kristin E. Heyer
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cg8xw
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    Prophetic and Public
    Book Description:

    The United States was founded on a commitment to religious tolerance. Based on this commitment, it has become one of the most religiously diverse and religiously observant liberal democracies in the world. Inherent in this political reality is the question, "What is the appropriate relationship between religious beliefs and public life?" This is not a new question, but in contemporary U.S. politics it has become a particularly insistent one. In this intelligent, wide-ranging book, Kristin Heyer provides new and nuanced answers. Prophetic and Public employs the discourse of public theology to consider what constitutes appropriate religio-political engagement. According to Heyer, public theology connects religious faith, concepts, and practices to their public relevance for the wider society. Her use of public theology concepts to address the appropriate possibilities and limits for religio-political engagement in the United States is both useful and enlightening. Heyer approaches the relationship between public morality and religious commitment through the example of the Catholic Church. She looks at two prominent Catholics—Michael Baxter and Bryan Hehir—as a way of discussing norms for practice of public theology. Heyer also analyzes case studies of three U.S. Catholic advocacy groups: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, NETWORK, and Pax Christi USA. Through her analysis she shows the various ways that the organizations' Catholic identity impacts their social and political efforts. From her investigations come norms that define possibilities and limits for political actions based on religious conviction. This deeply thoughtful book examines what is truly fundamental and inescapable about public life and private religious belief in the United States. In doing so, it makes skillful use of the tools of theology, philosophy, law, and advocacy to demonstrate that the Catholic Church reveals great diversity in its public theology, providing legitimate options for a faithful response to urgent political issues.The United States was founded on a commitment to religious tolerance. Based on this commitment, it has become one of the most religiously diverse and religiously observant liberal democracies in the world. Inherent in this political reality is the question, "What is the appropriate relationship between religious beliefs and public life?" This is not a new question, but in contemporary U.S. politics it has become a particularly insistent one. In this intelligent, wide-ranging book, Kristin Heyer provides new and nuanced answers. Prophetic and Public employs the discourse of public theology to consider what constitutes appropriate religio-political engagement. According to Heyer, public theology connects religious faith, concepts, and practices to their public relevance for the wider society. Her use of public theology concepts to address the appropriate possibilities and limits for religio-political engagement in the United States is both useful and enlightening. Heyer approaches the relationship between public morality and religious commitment through the example of the Catholic Church. She looks at two prominent Catholics—Michael Baxter and Bryan Hehir—as a way of discussing norms for practice of public theology. Heyer also analyzes case studies of three U.S. Catholic advocacy groups: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, NETWORK, and Pax Christi USA. Through her analysis she shows the various ways that the organizations' Catholic identity impacts their social and political efforts. From her investigations come norms that define possibilities and limits for political actions based on religious conviction. This deeply thoughtful book examines what is truly fundamental and inescapable about public life and private religious belief in the United States. In doing so, it makes skillful use of the tools of theology, philosophy, law, and advocacy to demonstrate that the Catholic Church reveals great diversity in its public theology, providing legitimate options for a faithful response to urgent political issues.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-397-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xx)

    In a nation founded on religious tolerance that has become one of the most religiously diverse and religiously observant liberal democracies in the world, it is no surprise that the proper relationship between religion and public life has remained an open question. An even longer history of debate surrounds church-society and church-world questions from a Christian perspective. From the early Christian communities onward, believers have struggled with what Jerusalem has to say to Athens, as well as how, when, and under what circumstances. Today the question remains no less relevant, and in the U.S. context it has taken on renewed...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Public Theology in Contemporary U.S. Civil Society
    (pp. 1-26)

    Given the origins of the United States and the religious diversity that continues to characterize the nation, it is no surprise that the proper relationship between religion and public life in the United States has remained an open question. Despite evidence of the involvement of religion in public life and recent theological and sociological literature on public theology, many Americans oppose any attempts to integrate religion into the public square. Thus, the legitimacy of public theology, or the effort to discover and communicate the socially significant meanings of religious symbols, language, and traditions, is often called into question by believers...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Catholic Foundations of Public Theology and Political Participation
    (pp. 27-58)

    We have encountered an array of objections to public religious engagement on various secular grounds—yet secularists are not alone in avoiding public religious engagement. Many Christians protest that such engagement risks diminishing religious purity, and that the churchʹs primary task is to preach the gospel, not to become entangled in politics. The fact that political power can serve as a force for manipulation and violent coercion leads such Christians to question whether gospel ideals can ever be compatible with participation in public policy-related activities. Yet others believe that social action and public engagement—even on a political level—are...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Divergences within American Catholic Social Ethics: J. Bryan Hehir and Michael J. Baxter, C.S.C.
    (pp. 59-118)

    The conciliar and episcopal statements surveyed demonstrate that the official stance of the Catholic magisterium, as it has developed post–Vatican II, is one of church engaged with state and society. We have also encountered a certain ambivalence in such documents and the broader tradition, exhibiting a tension between the call to such collaboration and a more evangelical ethic. J. Bryan Hehir notes that, overall, the Catholic Church understands itself as a public church, in the sense that its basic understanding of pastoral responsibility includes participation in the wider civil society.¹ He locates his own view in this vein, yet,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Catholic Political Advocacy in the Contemporary U.S. Context
    (pp. 119-176)

    The Catholic Church in the United States has maintained a presence in Washington since the National Catholic Welfare Conference was established just after World War I. Today, its successor, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), works in part to advocate for the vulnerable and apply Catholic teaching to major social and political issues. Yet the Catholic lobby extends beyond this official arm of the U.S. church, including a variety of membership organizations, religious orders, and other associations. Although these groups, in most cases, do not directly oppose the work of the bishopsʹ conference, there are a range of...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Catholic Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 177-214)

    We have already alluded to some of the ways in which these case studies of Catholic political advocacy organizations shed light upon the theological foundations and theoretical distinctions that have emerged. In some instances, the cases serve to exemplify theological conceptions of church-society engagement, and in other instances the organizationʹs practices pose challenges to the classic typological divisions we have explored. Putting theory and praxis into conversation will help to determine what finally constitute the possibilities for and limits to public theology and political advocacy in the U.S. Catholic context. The normative conclusions that result highlight the ways in which...

  11. Bibliography of Primary Sources
    (pp. 215-218)
  12. Index
    (pp. 219-228)