Abiding justice requires better theology. Our sense of justice must be informed by something.
Ideologies and philosophies tend to inform by advocating concretely just ends (e.g. food, shelter, clothing) or by prescribing specific ways of thinking about justice (e.g. Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant). These, however, do not always take into account evolving contexts or changing needs. Theology, on the other hand, when done well, is self-aware enough to offer very definite ideas of how justice smells, feels and tastes, while at the same time recognizing that justice’s expressions of itself must be varied and can never be set in stone.
For the theologian, justice is a metaphor—a model, if you will—that ever seeks to approximate what it means to recognize the innate dignity of all, while knowing that even at its best it is doing so imperfectly; so it must repeatedly go through the iterative process, providing us with new prototypes to test and redesign. We need theologians to remind us of this unbreakable bond between doing justly and walking humbly, which makes me grateful for the Forum for Theological Exploration (formerly The Fund for Theological Education), which has spent the last 60 years making it possible for theologians–particularly female theologians and theologians of color undervalued by the church and the academy–to do this important work.
I’ve been familiar with the work of FTE for a few years now, yet I am grateful for the opportunity to witness it first hand at their Christian Leadership Forum in Evanston, IL, a couple weeks ago. To observe young people exploring vocation as they mingled with heads of institutions of higher education who were present in support of doctoral-level budding theologians who were there to network with church and para-church partners who were all part of the collaborative network that FTE has built in support of theological exploration was, in a word, inspiring. To see the intentionality that FTE has given to cultivating a network that broadly represents the diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and denomination that makes up the global church was itself deeply gratifying. And to take in the 8.5×8.5 foot wall of learned, distinguished, highly effective leaders who have come through FTE and are even now helping to shape the future of vocational ministry from the classroom, the board room and the pulpit was downright impressive.
As program director of the Wild Goose Festival, I was in attendance as a para-church partner in hopes of bringing a taste of the festival to the week’s proceedings. In essence, I hosted a Performance Cafe (a hallmark of the festival) at the Forum, which featured 13 unbelievable talents. These young people are indeed gifts to the church whom FTE is supporting in their endeavors to become gifts to the world. It is a unique joy to be a small part of the church that is becoming.
Stephen Lewis, head of FTE, framed the purpose of the Forum as being a recognition of vocation as God’s call to design a just future for the good of all God’s creation. And like those who understand the fundamentally paradoxical nature of reality captured in proverbs like “he that would have friends must show himself friendly, ” FTE channels their resources not directly into justice work per se, but into the theological education that informs justice work. Because, like I said, an abiding justice requires a better theology. After being a part of the FTE’s Christian Leadership Forum, I appreciate even more the time FTE has taken to understand the leadership needed to bring a better world into existence and their willingness to resource that leadership’s development.