In a previous Patheos post, “Resentment and Compassion 4: American Christian Nationalism,” I cited the new book by Anthea Butler, White Evangelical Racism. Butler contends that racial prejudice is the chassis on which the equivalent of American Christian nationalism rolls.
“Evangelicalism is not simply a religious group at all. Rather, it is a nationalistic political movement whose purpose is to support the hegemony of white Christian men over and against the flourishing of others” (Butler 2021, 137).
Let me congratulate Anthea Deidra Butler , Geraldine R. Segal Professor of Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania, for receiving the 2023 Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. The award was presented during the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in Denver, November 19-22, 2023. My wife, Karen, and I attended the event.
What did Dr. Butler say at the AAR? With force and vehemence she said that theologians should engage both church and public on social media. Social media provide the public theologian with access to the public.
Oh yes, thoroughly researched articles published in scholarly journals with innumerable footnotes are important. But, so is a threaded discussion on Twitter.
Public Theology, Social Media, and Anthea Butler
My own approach to public theology builds a superstructure on the foundation laid by two of my University of Chicago mentors, Martin Marty and David Tracy.
Public theology, I say often, is conceived in the church, critically reasoned in the academy, and offered to the wider culture for the sake of the global common good. This is how I carry on the legacy of David Tracy, for whom: “Theology is distinctive among the disciplines for speaking to and from three distinct publics: academy, church, and the general culture” (Tracy, The Role of Theology in Public Life: Some Reflections 1984, 230). In short, theology is public discourse on the implications of the faith which takes place where the entire world can overhear. Does social media provide a medium for the public theologian? You betcha! At least according to Anthea Butler, who engages thousands on Twitter.
Conclusion: Patheos as Social Media for Public Theology
“Christians for a Better Christianity.” That’s the watchword for progressives at Patheos, an interfaith social media platform. Patheos is perhaps the premier presence of public theologians in social media. Keep clicking.
Ted Peters pursues Public Theology at the intersection of science, religion, ethics, and public policy. Peters is an emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union, where he co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. His book, God in Cosmic History, traces the rise of the Axial religions 2500 years ago. He previously authored Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom? (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2002) as well as Science, Theology, and Ethics (Ashgate 2003). He is editor of AI and IA: Utopia or Extinction? (ATF 2019). Along with Arvin Gouw and Brian Patrick Green, he co-edited the new book, Religious Transhumanism and Its Critics hot off the press (Roman and Littlefield/Lexington, 2022). Soon he will publish The Voice of Public Theology (ATF 2023). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com. His fictional spy thriller, Cyrus Twelve, follows the twists and turns of a transhumanist plot.
Butler, Anthea, 2021. White Evangelical Racism. Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Tracy, David, 1984. “The Role of Theology in Public Life: Some Reflections,” Word and World 4:3: 230-239.