Thursday, June 19, 2008

Envision declaration on the common good

The panel of scholars at the Envision Conference met and dialogued from June 2-11 in order to draft a declaration. The document, “Envision the Future: A Declaration on the Common Good,” seeks “to reclaim the common good; to enact a robust vision of a common life that moves away from a world where resources and responsibilities – whether economic, political, or social – are held in the hands of a few to a global community in which they are held by all and all are benefited.” The entire document is available online here. If you wish, you can add your name to the distinguished list of endorsers.

The document charts a positive and ecumenical vision. They speak of being racially and ethnically diverse, as well as uniting “Evangelicals, Pentecostals, mainline Protestants, Anabaptists, emerging church members, and others who profess that the call of Jesus includes struggling for peace, social, economic, and racial justice, and a flourishing creation.” I commend them for their efforts in this regard, though I have doubts about the ability of orthopraxis to unite people who disagree about orthodoxy. I am deeply uncomfortable with the notion that “theology divides, but practice unites.” While the Envision leaders do not come out and say this directly, this is certainly the impression I got after the conference.

All in all, I heartily support what Envision is trying to accomplish. The declaration is rather vague, but that is to be expected from an ecumenically oriented document. Envision, they say, “inaugurates a new relation between our faith and our politics. In a spirit of humility and hospitality, we seek to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God and each other.” All of that is well and good, but it can tend toward the platitudinous. What does it mean to “do justice” or “love mercy”? These are hotly contested terms. While I realize that such a document has to remain at the level of generality in order to embrace the widest possible constituency, does this not, in the end, only delay the hard work of defining these terms and working toward concrete solutions?

I am being picky, of course, but only because I want to see some real progress here, particularly among Evangelicals. I look forward in hope to a time when Christians are no longer led around by various political parties, but instead are themselves, as the church, the leaders and visionaries for social justice in the world. In any case, despite the generalities and potential overemphasis on ecumenism, the end of the Envision document is worth quoting:

We acknowledge that we do not agree on all things. We acknowledge that we do not have all the answers, but we will seek them together. In the midst of our differences we are committed to remain together at the table that God sets for us and not demonize each other, but to talk, reason, and work together for a brighter and better future. We affirm our desire to work together and with others in a shared commitment to justice, equality, and peace. We invite all who share such a commitment and vision to sign this declaration and join the Envision movement.

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