Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Faith in the Public Square -- It's Super Tuesday



Yes, it's Super Tuesday, and in ten states across the country primary voters are making decisions about candidates.  But, how are they making their choices?  Is religion influencing their votes?  Is it influencing the way candidates see the world?

It appears that religion continues to make itself felt in public life. It certainly has been part of the current presidential campaigns, with questions raised about theology and one’s allegiance to a particular faith. Religious liberty has been a topic of conversation, though I for one believe that the issue has more to do with civil rights than religious liberty. 

 The question that continually get’s raised is this: Does religion or faith belong in the public square? Some people say religion is private and should be kept out of the public square. Others enter forcefully enter the public square, seeking to dominate public life. Are these the only two options? Is there room for people of faith to engage public life in a way that seeks the common good, speaks prophetically, but respects the rights and views of others? Is there, a middle road? 

 I have been engaging in this conversation for a very long time. Partly this is due to the fact that I grew up in a politically active family, so politics is in my blood (so to speak). It’s also due to my faith commitment, which includes my profession. As readers of my essays on this site may have realized, I believe that my faith has public implications. But, I also believe that there is a way to be faithful in the public arena without seeking to dominate that arena. The public square hasn’t been denuded of religious dimensions (there is a very vibrant civil religion), but the diversity present in that square has changed the dynamics.

 For several years prior to my move to Michigan I wrote a weekly column for the Lompoc Record. The column appeared on the Sunday op-ed page and with that venue I sought to model a way of conversing that honored faith and public life. A selection of those essays have been revised and updated, and will appear in a new book that was set to be released today (Super Tuesday).  That's going to be delayed, but it will come out later this week.

Entitled Faith in the Public Square: Living Faithfully in 21st Century America, (Energion Publications, 2012), my book includes a lengthy introduction and then about fifty-five concise discussions of faith and public life. They represent the perspective of one who identifies with progressive Christianity, and offers a look at the way in which interaction with the public square influences the spiritual life of a Christian living in contemporary America. So, can a person of faith be involved in the public square with integrity? Is public policy made better by this action? Can faith remain whole and genuine following the encounter?

 Read these essays to discover the answers, and perhaps find a new optimism for the future as you do. I’ll leave you with a few comments made by readers of the manuscript: 

 In this illuminating book, Bob Cornwall demonstrates the kind of thoughtfulness that should be the model for Christian engagement in American public life. Cornwall tackles a wide variety of topics, always intelligently but also accessibly, with evident conviction but also with humility and generosity. All Americans who care about matters of faith should read this book, and we Christians owe Cornwall a debt of gratitude for representing us so well. 
 Melissa Rogers
 Director, Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School
 Non-resident Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution 

 Faith in the Public Square is a must-read for anyone and everyone concerned about the continuing role of religion in public life. Cautioning against both a religiously naked public square and public space dominated by a particular religion, the insightful essays in this important book invite readers to carefully reflect upon and then publicly act upon their faith--and to do so with authenticity, humility and effectiveness in an increasingly pluralistic society.
 Ken Brooker Langston
 Director, Disciples Justice Action Network

 Bob Cornwall has accurately gauged the pulse of the nation with his excellent analysis of the role of faith in the public sphere. This timely contribution will greatly advance both scholarly and popular treatments of one of the most important movements in contemporary culture. Both accessible and insightful, Faith in the Public Square is a must read for anyone seeking greater understanding of societal trends in 21st century America.  
 Saeed A. Khan
Lecturer,  Wayne State University
Fellow, Institute of Social Policy and Understanding 

 Faith in the Public Square is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and through the publisher -- Energion Publications.  You should also be able to order it through your local bookstores.

 I hope you don’t find this self-serving to announce the book, but I believe it offers a model of conversation that can help change the climate, which at this moment is making it difficult for us to work together for the common good.


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