This Essay, which was written for a Law and Contemporary Problems symposium on Stanley Hauerwas, tries to develop an account of public engagement in Hauerwas’ theology. The Essay distinguishes between two kinds of public engagement, "prophetic" and "participatory." Christian engagement is prophetic when it criticizes or condemns the state, often by urging the state to honor or alter its true principles. In participatory engagement, by contrast, the church intervenes more directly in the political process, as when it works with lawmakers or mobilizes grass roots action. Prophetic engagement is often one-off; participatory engagement is more sustained. Because they worry intensely about the integrity of the church, Hauerwasians are more comfortable with prophetic engagement than the participatory alternative, a tendency the Essay calls the "prophetic temptation." Hauerwasians also struggle to explain what can or should participatory engagement look like.
After first comparing Hauerwas’s understanding of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount with that of his two twentieth century predecessors, Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Neibuhr, the Essay turns to Hauerwasian public engagement and the prophetic temptation. The Essay then considers the implications of Hauerwas’s theology for three very different social issues, the Civil Rights Movement, abortion, and debt and bankruptcy.
While primarily an Essay interpreting theologian Stanley Hauerwas’ engagement in public policy questions, this paper is of interest to bankruptcy attorneys as it shows a strong basis for debt relief and bankruptcy protection in Christianity and a means to engage policy makers on such issues on a Christian basis, by reminding them "of the peculiar history of debt relief in this country, and its links to the Christian story." The structure of bankruptcy relief could closely parallel the narrative structure of the church, with its emphasis on forgiveness and the need for reconciliation and reinstatement. Instead, American bankruptcy laws but do not fully embody Biblical values, as the there is little room made for repentance by the debtors or forgiveness by creditors.
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