Scripture-based Deliberations on Public Policy?
I received an article from NHNE.com this morning, describing a liberal Christian response to conservative Christian political activism in the U.S. It reminded me that a number of competing visions are once again emerging within Christianity -- including evolutionary ones like Michael Dowd's Evolutionary Christianity.
However, what really struck me today was that this new group is not offering ordinary arguments for or against various policies and programs. They are doing what right-wing Christians do -- using Biblical references to defend their positions.
This raises an intriguing possibility...
There are many forms of organized public deliberation among citizens -- Deliberative Polls, Citizen Juries, National Issues Forums, Study Circles, 21st Century Town Meetings, etc. In most cases, the citizen deliberators are presented with briefing materials which present the arguments for and against various approaches to the issue they're deliberating about. These arguments cover the costs, benefits, values, etc., connected with each approach, and the deliberators are asked to familiarize themselves with all these perspectives and to weigh them conscientiously as they deliberate.
The emergence of a left-leaning Christian Alliance for Progress in a face-off with groups like the right-leaning Family Research Council suggests that very different positions can be defended by quoting the Bible. This is, of course, not news: An old adage suggests that "The Devil quotes Scripture."
What IS new, though, is the idea that public issue deliberations COULD be organized specifically for diverse (randomly selected?) Christians. In this case, THEIR briefing materials would present a full range of positions on the issue they're deliberating -- as is done in traditional deliberations -- but the arguments for and against each position would be based on Biblical quotations and scholarly interpretations of Scripture.
The deliberating Christians would consider these competing scriptural claims in light of the issue they're considering, weigh their relative importances and implications, and come up with recommendations based on their sense of the letter and spirit of the Bible. Those recommendations could conceivably include novel solutions formulated by the deliberators which, again, would be defended by Biblical sources.
The same deliberative process could be done with/by Jews using the Torah, and by/with Muslims using the Koran. A similar process could, in fact, be done with any scripture-based faith. The briefing materials and recommendations of such religious deliberations about public issues would not only serve believers, but would also be very informative to citizens who aren't familiar with the scriptures and debates within other faiths.
This would help move the debate on the moral dimensions of public policy beyond polarization and punditry, into the living heart of religion, communities of faith, and the scriptures that ordinary people ground their lives in.
I, for one, would find the results of such conversation fascinating.
posted by Tom Atlee on Saturday June 25 2005
updated on Saturday September 24 2005
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