NASHVILLE (June 30, 2008) - Theologians and professors from 68 universities across the nation gathered with leading political figures at Lipscomb University Thursday to discuss the evolving relationship between faith and politics.
Against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential campaign and the candidates' changing approaches to sharing faith, the three-day Christian Scholars' Conference explored how Christians approach political issues of every stripe, from terrorism and poverty to health care and the environment.
Featured were some of the nation's top theological thinkers, including Shaun Casey (pictured), faith advisor to the Barack Obama campaign; activist Jim Wallis, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Ken Wales, producer of the film Amazing Grace.
"Universities are to be a center for inquiry and deliberation, so a Christian university must be a place of inquiry and deliberation about issues of Christianity," said David Fleer, chair of the Christian Scholars' Conference board and professor of religion and communication at Lipscomb. "Issues such as war, lack of health care, race or public policy are part of every Christian's daily life, and it's time we started talking about them in an open, honest and loving way."
Sixty-five sessions included more than 200 presenters exploring topics such as the 2008 presidential campaign, the relationship between church and state, the progressive Christian movement and the perceived demise of the religious right.
"The Christian Scholars' Conference signals a sea change that is going on in much of the conservative Protestant world," said Casey, a theologian at Wesley Theological Seminary. "These academicians, ministers, community activists, students, and lay people talked, debated, and reflected on an unprecedented range of issues. The old stereotype that red-state Christians care about only a narrow range of hot-button issues no longer holds true."
"The church ought to be a place where we can have these hard discussions and still have communion together on Sunday in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ," Casey said in a Saturday session that also featured Stephen V. Monsma, a political centrist and theologian at Calvin College. The discussion addressed concerns among American Christians including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the breakdown of the family, poverty and national security.
"Public policy should not be the first place we turn to when we see a problem in society," Monsma said. "First we must ask, 'What can I do as an individual, what can my church do, and what can my community do,'" he said.
Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty, addressed the philosophy that religious concerns should not be considered when making public policy, a reasoning that has "fixed the game" of politics for many years, he said.
"Government is not to be a coach or a cheerleader or a censor," he said. "The government should be an umpire, allowing everyone to make their case and help everyone live peaceably until the next discussion occurs."
The Christian Scholars Conference was established 28 years ago by the provosts of the nation's universities associated with the fellowship of the Churches of Christ. It has grown into a thriving conference that focuses on how Christian theology interacts with the many other scholarly disciplines that affect individuals. Scholars attend from universities such as Yale, Maryland, Notre Dame, Virginia and Princeton.
Lipscomb University is a Christian liberal arts institution consistently ranked in the top tier among peer institutions by U.S. News and World Report.Office of Communication
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