Social Gospel 2.0: Public Theology and #StandingWithStandingRock 

Social Gospel 2.0: Public Theology and #StandingWithStandingRock  November 3, 2016

#MoralMonday, #MoralRevival, and #StandingWithStandingRock have ushered in a new day for public theology. Religions can easily lead to navel gazing—all about me and my issues and problems. Public theology is about directing our attention outward into such areas as politics and economics. Public theology necessarily takes into account sociology, anthropology, psychology, and on and on. The currant iteration of #Moralrevival is recreating the Social Gospel movement of a century and more ago and might bring mainline Protestantism back into the national consciousness.

Unitarian Universalism and Humanism are necessarily public theologies because we agree up front to take our commitments to each other more seriously than commitments to the supernatural. We agree to disagree about personal theologies so that we can get down to the nitty-gritty of public theology. We do that because we understand that humans are social animals, and we need to practice certain behaviors in order to be together—hence our propensity toward covenants.

If you have spent much time with the Christian tradition, you know the story about the enemies of Jesus trying to trick him into saying something political so that they could turn him in to the Roman occupiers. The famous retort is, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars’ and unto God what is God’s.”

As a kid going up, I was taught to be very cynical about Caesar. But Pentecostalism is very inner-directed—you’ve got to get right with God and save your eternal soul from hell. Caesar is of this world, and this world is controlled by Satan. Very clear worldview.

Unitarian Universalism (for some practitioners) and Humanism (completely) shifts the perspective. Caesar is human. Caesar’s government is a human creation. As a matter of fact, many of us value the words of one of the Caesars, Marcus Aurelius, who said,

Some people, when they have done something for another, see it as a favor. Others don’t go so far as this, but still see the person they have helped as a debtor who knows of the debt. The third sort of people don’t even know they have done something. Rather they are like vines that have produced grapes and look for nothing more than having done a proper thing. Like a horse after a run; like a dog after a hunt; like a bee that has made honey, so are people who have done a good act. They don’t call for others to see, but rather go on to do another good act, just as the vine goes back to producing grapes in season.

Seriously, must we be like that vine, doing good without kudos? Yes! This is exactly what is required because this is what social animals do. A social animal must work in a social manner. (Meditations V. 6)

Social Gospel 2.0 may bring a long fading mainline Protestantism back into the national conversation. It may reveal the growing cooperation among secular people in Humanist organizations. A lot of people have spent a long time acting like Marcus’ grapevine, doing good as social animals without the headlines garnered by the reactionary right wing of Christianity. We see it at Standing Rock. It might be.IMG_0231 2

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