Next Article in Journal
Exploring Religiousness and Hope: Examining the Roles of Spirituality and Social Connections among Salvadoran Youth
Previous Article in Journal
Was the Temple on Mount Gerizim Modelled after the Jerusalem Temple?
Previous Article in Special Issue
Challenge of Doing Catholic Ethics in a Pluralistic Context
Open AccessEditorial

Reenvisioning Christian Ethics: An Introduction and Invitation

Lancaster Theological Seminary, 555 West James Street, Lancaster, PA 17603, USA
Religions 2020, 11(2), 74;
Received: 20 January 2020 / Accepted: 4 February 2020 / Published: 6 February 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Reenvisioning Christian Ethics)


This article by the guest editor introduces the theme of this special issue of Religions, reveals some of his underlying convictions and assumptions regarding the task of reenvisioning Christian ethics, and introduces each of the eight articles in this collection. Rather than a discipline, Christian ethics might more accurately be described as a field of scholarly endeavor engaging a range of partner disciplines. Each contributor was invited to offer a distinct perspective on this task, contributing to a collective reenvisioning of the field. The guest editor describes his underlying convictions, that the task of reenvisioning Christian ethics is real, perspectival, dialogical, collaborative, and purposeful. Correspondingly, he sees the task as awe-filled, discerning, responsive, participatory, and hopeful. Envisioned is a confluence of intersectional, interdisciplinary, and intercultural approaches expanding beyond the academy and even beyond the Christian in order to partner with all members of global society for the common good, shared justice, and full flourishing of all of creation.
Keywords: Christian ethics; theological ethics; social ethics; ethical methodology; H. Richard Niebuhr; ecumenical ethics; Society of Christian Ethics Christian ethics; theological ethics; social ethics; ethical methodology; H. Richard Niebuhr; ecumenical ethics; Society of Christian Ethics

1. Introduction1

Christian ethics is a wide, varied field. So diverse are the methods and approaches, theological perspectives and starting points, and scopes of inquiry and purposes—dare we even call it a “discipline”?—that the field is rarely considered as a whole. Christian ethics includes historical, descriptive, critical, constructive, and applied projects on countless topics. Lending creative energy to this field of scholarly endeavor are a range of partner disciplines, including, most prominently, theology, philosophy, and sociology—each containing multiple schools themselves. The 2014 report on “The Future of Christian Ethics” by the 2020 Committee of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE) identified twenty different academic fields partnered with Christian ethics.2 To envision the entire field of Christian ethics is a difficult task; to reenvision the entire field, perhaps impossible for one person. Thus, to explore the theme “Reenvisioning Christian Ethics,” I invited papers offering a distinct perspective from their primary partner discipline, each contributing to a composite reenvisioning of the field. The purpose of this special issue of Religions is to reenvision Christian ethics by refracting our collective vision through the prisms of diverse academic and methodological perspectives in this vast field of inquiry, study, and practice. This introduction identifies my underlying convictions and assumptions, presents the articles comprising this volume, and challenges scholars of Christian ethics to reenvision the field of Christian ethics today.

2. Underlying Convictions and Assumptions

The shared endeavor to reenvision the field necessarily embraces a wide range of understandings of Christian ethics. I do not impose any normative definition of the field or its purposes, which I believe are multiple. Nevertheless, one can infer several of my underlying convictions from the way in which I have framed this task, convictions that I presently make explicit. My understanding of reenvisioning Christian ethics can be described as real, perspectival, dialogical, collaborative, and purposeful. Correspondingly, I see the task as awe-filled, discerning, responsive, participatory, and hopeful.

2.1. Real and Awe-filled

Reenvisioning necessarily presumes that there is something to see. Christianity is a religion based on the belief in one God in three persons, embodying truth and love. My understanding of Christian ethics is premised on a reality shaped by this unity—what Howard Thurman (1980) described as “the sound of the genuine” and what H. Richard Niebuhr understood as “that transcendent absolute for whom… whatever is, is good” (Niebuhr [1943] 1970, p. 112). Thus, not only do I imply some commonality, no matter how distant, between various approaches to Christian ethics, I also expect some coherency—not in the sense of coming to the same answers from different angles but in the sense of contributing to our thinking about a shared reality, despite differences in how we may experience it. “The world is an intelligible whole in which all things are related to one another and to God” (Lovin et al. 2017, p. xxiv). My ontological realism should not be confused with a strategic compromise to be “realistic” or an identification with a particular school of thought, such as Christian Realism. It is a more basic conviction, an awe-filled sense of creaturely relation to our Creator, who shapes the arc of the universe—that orienting “center of value” at the heart of H. Richard Niebuhr’s “radical monotheism” (Niebuhr [1943] 1970). Christian ethics shares this with theology: it “allows human beings to advance particular descriptions and normative claims about what is most essentially real or true” (Scharen and Vigen 2011, p. 3). Thus, I prioritize with Niebuhr the question “What is going on?” and expect a glimpse of something real in response (Niebuhr [1963] 1978, p. 60). My approach to reenvisioning the field of Christian ethics presumes an underlying reality in God, no matter our perspective.

2.2. Perspectival and Discerning

An assumption of shared reality does not necessarily imply a clear understanding or identical experience of that reality. Philosophy is filled with stories illustrating the difficulty of truth and perception, from Plato’s cave to the folktale from India about six blind men describing an elephant. Humanity’s unrelenting desire for knowledge continually chafes against the limitations of our perspectives, which are the only windows we have available to see the real, “For now we see through a glass, darkly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV). Our glimpses of the real and true are necessarily partial and incomplete. Just as all theology is contextual, all Christian ethics is perspectival.
Acknowledging the perspectival nature of moral vision does not commit me to recognizing every perspective or interpretation therefrom as equally valid or ethically binding, though. A perspectival approach does not mean that “anything goes.”3 Recognizing the validity of differing perspectives no more leads to extreme relativism than recognizing an underlying reality leads to absolutism. It does, though, raise the possibility of error. My own perspective could be wrong, misinformed, or myopic—particularly so when warped by the forces of social privilege and refracted through hegemonic power (see, for example, Block 2019). There is need for discernment. Perspective, though limiting, provides vantage for critical discernment; in fact, it is the only vantage for critique I have. There is no “view from nowhere.” To exercise critical discernment is to stand somewhere, despite the limitations of perspective.
Reenvisioning presumes that what is seen can be seen anew, in a different and perhaps more helpful way, and for this, we need assistance from others. James Gustafson describes “the fault of rationality” as misconstruals of reality based on my limited perspective, compounded by my refusal to “submit them to criticism and correction by others” (Gustafson 1981, pp. 300–1). I would add, we particularly need criticism and correctdion from persons with perspectives that differ from our own. For example, as a white, cisgender male of comfortable economic status in the U.S., I must be open to the corrective insights of black womanist ethics, which draws on moral struggles and oppressions that are not part of my own experience (Cannon 1988, pp. 5, 6). For this reason, a perspectival and discerning approach to reenvisioning Christian ethics must also be dialogical and responsive.

2.3. Dialogical and Responsive

Christian ethics is an ongoing task subject to continual revision, requiring critical dialogue and appropriate responsiveness. The nature of scholarly collaboration should lead to constructive dialogue across difference, offering mutual critique and deeper insight. Whether through communicative ethics (Benhabib 1992; Habermas 1990), cross-disciplinary intersections (Gustafson 1996), or interdisciplinary conversation (Jung et al. 2010; Lovin and Maudlin 2017), a dialogical approach open to mutual critique enables continued learning. David Hollenbach’s “dialogic universalism” is a good example of this kind of learning (Hollenbach 2003, pp. 10–16). Scholars of Christian ethics engage in dialogue and mutual critique not only with each other but also with the magisterium (Curran 2018), the lived contexts of churches and denominations (Stephens 2016, p. 195), “communities of shared practice” (Jenkins 2013, p. 99), marginalized communities (De La Torre 2014; West 2006), new realities (Lovin 2008), the earth itself (Moe-Lobeda 2013; Rasmussen 1996), or a combination thereof (Harris 2017). At their best, perspectival insights can lead, for example, to awareness of intersectionality and other social realities laden with power (Kim and Shaw 2018, p. 107) and to valuing the particularity and countermemory of marginalized groups (Townes 2006, p. 23). The task of reenvisioning Christian ethics demands that we be appropriately responsive to this mutually critical dialogue.
Responsiveness implies vitality and relationship. Unresponsiveness is an indication of death. To respond, then, is to be alive in some way. Responsiveness shows an awareness of others, a capacity to be open to their influence, and to change through that interaction.4 Responsiveness is necessary for relationship. Not all relationships are healthy, though. Appropriate responsiveness implies recognition of the other and sensitivity to context, needs, and power dynamics. Appropriate responsiveness demands different things of different persons. Recognizing my own social location, appropriate responsiveness demands of me humility (cf. Lovin et al. 2017, p. xxix; Scharen and Vigen 2011, pp. 17, 18). For others, from different social locations, the task of Christian ethics may demand boldness, courage, fortitude, and audacity. Constructive dialogue and appropriate responsiveness, especially across difference, are means by which our vision can be improved, adjusted, or otherwise clarified—even as we acknowledge the limitations inherent in our individual perspectives. To do this task well, reenvisioning Christian ethics should also be collaborative and participatory.

2.4. Collaborative and Participatory

Collaboration is at the heart of Christian ethics. I agree with Paul Marten’s assessment of the SCE’s futuring report, that, due to the complexity of ethical issues, “what is increasingly needed… is a recognition that Christian ethics necessarily is a field where collaboration is ubiquitous, both in the classroom and in research” (Marten 2014). Collaboration is not optional. This shared work, or co-laboring (colaboración), involves individuals as well as entire communities in the task of Christian ethics. Emilie Townes, for example, emphasizes that “dismantling the cultural production of evil… must be a group project” (Townes 2006, p. 160; see also Soto Albrecht and Stephens 2020). It is in our struggles for wisdom and survival, “en la lucha,” as Ada María Isasi-Díaz (2004) described it, that we encounter the real. Reenvisioning Christian ethics can be an emancipatory praxis. When Christian ethics is done in participatory community, when we partner with each other to gain perspectives unavailable to any one person, we build networks capable of transcending our limited perspectives. For this task, we need each other.
Reenvisioning Christian ethics is not just for students in the classroom or members of the scholarly guild. Our collective task requires bringing faith communities and the wider public into our discursive and scholarly spaces, not merely as subjects of research but as interlocutors defining and shaping what it means to do Christian ethics (Scharen and Vigen 2011, p. xxii). Scholars of Christian ethics need to engage churches and practitioners (clergy, social workers, community organizers, journalists, bus drivers, and many others) as essential conversation partners. Furthermore, our task also requires that, as scholars, we move out into the community, roll up our sleeves, and view everyone around us as potential collaborators in this most practical endeavor, learning to hear and live in harmony with the sound of the genuine. We might even be audacious enough to attempt “pragmatic solidarity with those who suffer” (Scharen and Vigen 2011, p. 24) as we join in the struggle. However, participatory collaboration is a means, not a guarantee, of widening perspectives and gaining greater insight into what is really real or, as Townes puts it, “the true-true” (Townes 2006, p. 161). Crowd sourcing can quickly degenerate into group think, reifying one’s own perspective through echo chambers of like-minded individuals. Both outcomes are possible. Reinhold Niebuhr’s depiction of “immoral society” (Niebuhr [1932] 1960) may be just as appropriate as Paul’s depiction of the church as a body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:12). Collaboration is a shared task that demands dialogue and critique.

2.5. Purposeful and Hopeful

Finally, the act of reenvisioning—and, indeed, Christian ethics itself—has a normative dimension. The task is purposeful. Though our individual motivations may differ widely, we do not enter this dialogue or participate in mutual critique without some aim. Whether seeking eudaimonia, rest in God, or full human flourishing, I presume that we each participate in the collaborative effort of Christian ethics for a reason. These reasons are diverse and multiple, motivating some to witness to an eschatological community of peace (Hauerwas 1983) and others to disruption (West 2006). As Traci West (2006) describes it, the task of Christian ethics is necessary “when racism and women’s lives matter”. Whether grounded in a present reality of hopelessness (De La Torre 2017) or a conviction that what we do as scholars might make some positive difference in this world (Lovin et al. 2017, p. xxxi), the ongoing work of Christian ethics entails some kind of hope for the future. Thus, reenvisioning Christian ethics is, in the end, I believe, a hopeful task.

3. Contributions to the Task of Reenvisioning the Field of Christian Ethics

This special issue of Religions represents merely one moment of collaboration and dialogue within the ongoing task of reenvisioning Christian ethics. This effort makes no attempt at comprehensiveness or systematic overview, in contrast to a recent treatment of theological ethics (Junker-Kenny 2019). There are many perspectives and voices that I tried to include in this issue, many scholars whose competing commitments prevented them from contributing an article in this particular collaboration. As a corrective to the limitations of this scholarly effort, I encourage readers to draw connections between these essays and other forums, such as Syndicate Theology (; to further these conversations through professional guilds such as the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE), and the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics (SSCE); and to participate in those uncertain, “incompetent communities” (Jenkins 2013, p. 20) that have so much to teach us about living morally in an ambiguous world.
The scope of this special issue is necessarily broad, though each individual contribution is well-focused, indicating how advances and insights from one location might effectively contribute to or prompt new developments in other locations in this field. Each author was invited to provide a vision of the field of Christian ethics from a distinct perspective, as follows: identify the primary partner discipline, method and approach, theological perspective and starting point, and scope of inquiry and purpose; name key insights developed from that perspective; describe ways in which this perspective has impacted other perspectives and approaches in the field; and suggest ways to reenvision Christian ethics through these perspectival insights. Individual authors may or may not share my underlying convictions, as described above. Readers engaging this sampling of perspectives on the task of reenvisioning the field of Christian ethics are encouraged to participate through agreement, disagreement, argument, and continued, critical dialogue.
In “Transformational Ethics: The Concept of Obedience in Post-Conciliar Jesuit Thinking,” Antje Schnoor employs conceptual history, specifically Begriffsgeschichte according to Reinhart Koselleck, to illustrate how the pursuit of social justice became a form of religious obedience within the Society of Jesus. Her analysis reveals a bidirectional flow of social and theological influences, resulting in an emphasis on responsibility and conscience within Jesuit practices of leadership and ethics more generally. The article raises awareness of historical context for shaping ethical values, thereby suggesting that the task of reenvisioning Christian ethics is itself situated within and influenced by a social history of ideas.
In “The Scales Integral to Ecology: Hierarchies in Laudato Si’ and Christian Ecological Ethics,” Kevin J. O’Brien draws upon ecological theory and environmental ethics to assess the use of scale and hierarchy in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Drawing on Bryan Norton’s attention to spatial and temporal scales in moral argument, O’Brien observes, “Pope Francis’s integral ecology is a powerful example of global environmental ethics.” However, O’Brien questions the hierarchical assumptions of the encyclical, arguing that all hierarchies are social constructions and must be interrogated and acknowledged as such. Citing Francis’s unreflective use of hierarchies ordering relationships by gender, species, and the divine, O’Brien calls for a more inquisitive integral ecology. Acknowledging the limitations of all hierarchical assumptions, O’Brien reenvisions Christian ethics as a self-critical endeavor operating at multiple scales simultaneously.
In “Taking Children’s Moral Lives Seriously: Creativity as Ethical Response Offline and Online,” Kate Ott reenvisions Christian ethics through sustained attention to child moral agency. Drawing on John Wall’s concept of childism as a methodology for social change, she engages in conversation with psychologists, child development theorists, educators, theologians, and philosophers as well as her own experience leading children’s programs to consider children as full moral agents. Childist ethics emphasizes particularity, decenters rational individualism, and upends linear moral developmental models. Children’s responses to the impact of digital technologies illustrate a reenvisioning of Christian ethics through creativity, play, and improvisation.
In “Reconstructing an Ethics of Credit in an Age of Neoliberalism,” Ilsup Ahn engages economic and social theory to expose the social and environmental costs of financialization, a global, economic process based on credit contributing to the erosion of social capital and increased inequality. Drawing on David Harvey’s scholarship on neoliberalism, Ahn observes a disturbing result: “the increasing economic inequality paradoxically destroys its own basis—social capital.” In order to reconnect social and financial capital in a just way, he lays the groundwork for a theological reconstruction of moral credit, recovering a sense of credit as “a form of gift [that] should be all-inclusive and thus available to all.” Ahn thereby reenvisions Christian ethics as a call to churches to promote financial justice by engaging in political activism to rebuild social capital.
In “Liberating Discernment: Language, Concreteness, and Naming Divine Activity in History,” Tyler B. Davis examines the criterion of objectivity for discerning God’s activity in the world, illustrated by narratives about meteorological events in history. Drawing on Alice Crary’s expansion of objectivity in ethical theory, Davis rejects any conception of objectivity that would demand abstraction over concretization. He argues, instead, for a “concrete objectivity” as the basis of discernment within liberation theology, as expressed by Beatriz Melano Couch and James Cone. Such liberating discernment claims a Christological criterion in the lives of crucified peoples and can only be articulated in language emerging from the material struggles of the oppressed. Davis, then, “re-envision[s] Christian ethics as language accountable to the God of the oppressed” discerned through the concrete praxis of liberation.
In “Challenge of Doing Catholic Ethics in a Pluralistic Context,” Shaji George Kochuthara shows the need for and possibility of constructing a pluralistic approach in Catholic ethics. The Indian context provides a richly pluralistic environment of cultures and religions for this discussion. To establish a theological grounding within the Catholic tradition, he engages documents of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent developments within Church teachings, including the International Theological Commission’s document, “In Search of a Universal Ethic: A New Look at the Natural Law.” Two issues, ecological ethics and sexual ethics, serve to illustrate potential rapprochement within both Catholic and Hindu traditions. He concludes by offering a number of basic considerations necessary for constructing a pluralistic approach to ethics, including: appreciative, non-judgmental listening; collaboration along the way; mutual study of texts and traditions; critical evaluation; humility; and solidarity. In this way, Kochuthara reenvisions Christian ethics through ongoing dialogue amidst difference in pluralistic contexts.
In “Pursuing Ethics by Building Bridges beyond the Northern Paradigm,” James Francis Keenan reenvisions Christian ethics through new and emerging forms of scholarly praxis. Specifically, he promotes collegiality among Christian ethicists across the globe, illustrated by the work of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC). He describes the development of this network as an attempt at bridge-building between scholars of the Global North and Global South, “respond[ing] to the challenge of pluralism by answering the call to dialogue from and beyond local culture.” CTEWC was created to address the problem of insularity among ethicists in the Global North, dominated by a “northern paradigm.” He narrates in detail the creation, growth, and challenges to CTEWC as this network achieved international and regional conferences, published a monthly newsletter, sponsored visiting scholars, provided PhD scholarships, and launched an international book series. Citing the long-term benefits of these cross-cultural, interdisciplinary conversations while naming the institutional realities that prioritize individual scholarship over collaboration and co-authorship in the academic job market, Keenan issues an invitation to reenvision Christian ethics as a collective endeavor requiring connection and collaboration among global scholars.
In “Christian Ethics and Ecologies of Violence”, Luke Beck Kreider seeks to combine environmental ethics with peace and conflict studies to address what he terms “ecologies of violence”. Recognizing “the deep entanglement of ecological and sociopolitical systems”, the author facilitates a more integrated moral analysis by identifying four illustrative types of ecologies of violence: ecological drivers of conflict and peace; environmental consequences of war; land conflict; and structural violence conveyed through environmental systems. He then interrogates recent works in Christian ethics addressing these topics and challenges the authors to further collaboration and deeper engagement. Recognizing both cosmological and pragmatic challenges, he calls not only for improving moral imagination and practical strategies but also for a new approach to ecologies of violence: “a dialogical method” characterized by “integration, critique, collaboration, and exchange” across boundaries of culture, politics, theology, and community. Inspired by Traci West, Krieder reenvisions Christian ethics “as dialogical negotiation over intersectional problems with the goal of ‘building more ethical communal relations.’”

4. Implications for Christian Ethicists and Our Guilds

The responsibility of Christian ethicists to join with members of global society for more rigorous ethical thought, reflection, and action is more important now than ever. We live in an age of “wicked problems,” anthropogenic climate change foremost among them (Jenkins 2013, p. 171). We also live in an age of alternative facts. As a colleague recently observed, “Who would’ve thought that in the Potter Box, the dimension labelled ‘facts’ would become the most difficult and contested part of ethical methodology?”5 When the “real” recedes from view, morality has precarious standing. We must be intentional about engaging with many disciplines and with persons inside and outside the academy (Edwards 2014). Reenvisioning Christian ethics as real, perspectival, dialogical, collaborative, and purposeful is timely and urgent work.
This special issue of Religions is one, small part of this ongoing effort. Contributors have offered a fascinating array of perspectives, engaging conceptual history, multiple spatial and temporal scales self-critical of assumed hierarchies, play and improvisation inspired by children’s moral agency, political activism to rebuild social capital, the concrete praxis of liberation as a criterion of discernment, bridge-building among global scholars, ongoing dialogue within a pluralistic context, and dialogical negotiation about intersectional problems. Each of these perspectives has enriched my own understanding of Christian ethics. These authors challenge us to consider more deeply the value of intersectional, interdisciplinary, and intercultural approaches. Yet, I believe the task of reenvisioning Christian ethics requires even more of Christian ethicists and the guilds that support us as scholars. We must look beyond academia.
Reenvisioning this field requires seeing as valid Christian ethicists who work outside the academy. The SCE’s “2020 Committee,” tasked in 2012 with investigating the current status of and future prospects for Christian ethics, raised a question about the “academic captivity” of the field: Has the field of Christian ethics become too “professionally distinct” and “disciplinarily reflexive”? (SCE 2014). This question, however, was offered as “provocation” and was not explored by the Committee. The report itself reflected the academic insularity in question. When a major report on “The Future of Christian Ethics” concerns itself mainly with the production and placement of PhD-trained scholars in U.S. academic institutions—and whether the academic job market will sustain them—our vision is indeed too narrow. Would a law school strive to train only as many graduates as are needed for future faculty needs? PhD graduates who apply their studies to work outside of the academy should be considered valid and successful placements by a PhD program. Furthermore, while labor relations with contingent faculty are an important ethical issue within higher education (Keenan 2020), the designation “non-tenure track” is an inadequate description of the many Christian ethicists who interact (or who might potentially interact) with the SCE without academic tenure. The SCE, for example, could do more to engage with and include professional Christian ethicists who work primarily in hospitals, churches, NGOs, and other social institutions. What would it look like to view these Christian ethicists not in terms of their standing (or lack thereof) within the academy but rather in terms of their standing in a larger field of Christian ethics, of which the academy is only one part? Again, provocatively but with no exploration, the SCE futuring report asked, “How ought we to understand Christian Ethics’ multiple modes of engagement with ecclesial structures?” (SCE 2014). Indeed, what about ecclesial engagement? Are we missing significant opportunities for collaboration and learning? When we restrict our vision to where academic Christians ethicists are rather than where Christian ethics could be (and in many cases, already is), we suffer from a failure of imagination.
What would it look like for a professional guild, such as SCE, to reorient itself to the wider field of Christian ethics rather than the narrow purview of academic advancement? To my academic colleagues, I offer several thoughts for consideration. Instead of defining the borders of our terrain, perhaps we should map uncharted territory—places of messy collaboration and solidarity. Instead of engaging in reconnaissance to determine the possible “negative impact” of emerging fields of study threatening the turf of Christian ethics and then sighing in relief when realizing that they “seem not to engage ethical studies very much at all” (SCE 2014), perhaps we should lament the dearth of ethical attention in other fields and seek to partner with them. Instead of worrying about PhD programs producing too many graduates for the number of academic jobs available, perhaps we should equip and encourage Christian ethicists with PhD training to embed themselves in the social fabric and institutional lives of our communities—taking on diverse roles, responsibilities, and forms of employment. Instead of scholarly guild meetings focusing almost exclusively on scholarship within the academy, perhaps we should focus guild meetings on learning from and with Christian ethicists and practitioners who work primarily outside of academic institutions. To really see “the future prospects for, the field of ‘Christian ethics’” (SCE 2014), scholars need to practice, and hear from others who practice, Christian ethics in churches, school boards, hospitals, and many other locations within the pluralistic communities in which we live.
To see beyond Christian ethics as an academic endeavor only, we must reenvision this field as contributing to every aspect of life. To put it differently, which aspects of life would we want devoid of Christian ethical thought, reflection, and practice? I believe that Christian ethics needs to expand beyond the academy and even beyond the Christian if we are truly to partner with all members of global society for the common good, shared justice, and full flourishing of all of creation. We need, always and everywhere, to engage with and reflect on the shared journey of being good neighbors in this “world house” (King 1968). As I reenvision Christian ethics, I see an awe-filled, discerning, responsive, participatory, and hopeful task. I invite you to join in!


This research received no external funding.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


  1. Benhabib, Seyla. 1992. Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics. New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
  2. Block, Elizabeth Sweeny. 2019. White Privilege and the Erroneous Conscience: Rethinking Moral Culpability and Ignorance. Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 39: 357–74. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  3. Cannon, Katie G. 1988. Black Womanist Ethics. American Academy of Religion Academy Series, no. 60; Edited by Susan Thistlethwaite. Atlanta: Scholars Press. [Google Scholar]
  4. Curran, Charles. 2018. Humanae Vitae: Fifty Years Later. Theological Studies 79: 520–42. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  5. De La Torre, Miguel A. 2014. Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins: 2nd Edition Revised and Expanded. Maryknoll: Orbis. [Google Scholar]
  6. De La Torre, Miguel A. 2017. Embracing Hopelessness. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. [Google Scholar]
  7. Edwards, Elise M. 2014. Response to SCE 2020 Committee Report on the Future of Christian Ethics. January 10. Available online: (accessed on 5 February 2020).
  8. Gustafson, James M. 1981. Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective: Volume One: Theology and Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago. [Google Scholar]
  9. Gustafson, James M. 1996. Conclusion: The Relation of Other Disciplines to Theological Ethics. In Intersections: Science, Theology, and Ethics. Cleveland: Pilgrim, pp. 126–47. [Google Scholar]
  10. Habermas, Jürgen. 1990. Moral Conciousness and Communicative Action. (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought). Translated by Christian Lenhardt, and Shierry Weber Nicholsen. Cambridge: MIT Press. [Google Scholar]
  11. Harris, Melanie L. 2017. Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth-Honoring Faiths. Ecology and Justice Series; Maryknoll: Orbis. [Google Scholar]
  12. Hauerwas, Stanley. 1983. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. [Google Scholar]
  13. Hollenbach, David S. J. 2003. The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights, and Christian Ethics. Washington: Georgetown University Press. [Google Scholar]
  14. Isasi-Díaz, Ada María. 2004. En La Lucha / In the Struggle: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology, 10th Anniversary Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress. [Google Scholar]
  15. Jenkins, Willis. 2013. The Future of Ethics: Sustainability, Social Justice, and Religious Creativity. Washington: Georgetown University Press. [Google Scholar]
  16. Jung, Patricia Beattie, Aana Marie Vigen, and John Anderson, eds. 2010. God, Science, Sex, Gender: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Christian Ethics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. [Google Scholar]
  17. Junker-Kenny, Maureen. 2019. Approaches to Theological Ethics: Sources, Traditions, Visions. New York: T & T Clark. [Google Scholar]
  18. James Keenan, S. J. 2020. Vulnerable to Contingency. Washington, DC: SCE plenary address, January 10. [Google Scholar]
  19. Kim, Grace Ji-Sun, and Susan M. Shaw. 2018. Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide. Minneapolis: Fortress. [Google Scholar]
  20. King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1968. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Boston: Beacon Press. [Google Scholar]
  21. Lovin, Robin W. 2008. Christian Realism and the New Realities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Google Scholar]
  22. Lovin, Robin W., and Joshua Maudlin, eds. 2017. Theology as Interdisciplinary Inquiry: Leaning with and from the Natural and Human Sciences. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. [Google Scholar]
  23. Lovin, Robin, Peter Danchin, Agustín Fuentes, Friederike Nüssel, and Stephen Pope. 2017. Introduction: Theology as Interdisciplinary Inquiry: The Virtues of Humility and Hope. In Theology as Interdisciplinary Inquiry: Leaning with and from the Natural and Human Sciences. Edited by Robin W. Lovin and Joshua Mauldin. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. [Google Scholar]
  24. Martens, Paul. 2014. Comments on the 2020 SCE Committee Report: The Future of Christian Ethics: Informal Reading Draft. January 10. Available online: (accessed on 5 February 2020).
  25. Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D. 2013. Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. [Google Scholar]
  26. Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1970. Radical Monotheism and Western Culture: With Supplementary Essays. New York: Harper & Row. First published 1943. [Google Scholar]
  27. Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1978. The Responsible Self: An Essay in Christian Moral Philosophy. New York: HarperSanFrancisco. First published 1963. [Google Scholar]
  28. Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1960. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. First published 1932. [Google Scholar]
  29. Rasmussen, Larry L. 1996. Earth Community, Earth Ethics. Ecology & Justice series; Maryknoll: Orbis. [Google Scholar]
  30. SCE. 2014. 2020 SCE Committee Report on ‘The Future of Christian Ethics’. Available online: (accessed on 5 February 2020).
  31. Scharen, Christian, and Aana Marie Vigen. 2011. Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics. New York: Continuum. [Google Scholar]
  32. Soto Albrecht, Elizabeth, and Darryl W. Stephens, eds. 2020. Liberating the Politics of Jesus: Renewing Peace Theology through the Wisdom of Women. T&T Clark Studies in Anabaptist Theology and Ethics. New York: T&T Clark. [Google Scholar]
  33. Stephens, Darryl W. 2016. Methodist Morals: Social Principles in the Public Church’s Witness. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. [Google Scholar]
  34. Thurman, Howard. 1980. The Sound of the Genuine. The Spelman Messenger. Edited by Jo Moore Stewart. 96, no. 4 (Summer). pp. 14–15. Available online: (accessed on 5 February 2020).
  35. Townes, Emilie M. 2006. Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil. Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice Series; Edited by Dwight N. Hopkins and Linda E. Thomas. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. [Google Scholar]
  36. West, Traci. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminster John Knox. [Google Scholar]
A word of thanks is due to Patricia Beattie Jung for her collegial encouragement and support leading to my taking on the role as guest editor; to Kevin O’Brien for his insightful, often challenging, and always encouraging conversation and feedback on the initial call for papers and this introductory essay; and to the entire staff of MDPI, all of whom exhibited the highest level of professionalism and competency, including assistant editors Bingjin He, Mamie Lu, Carrie Liang, Joy Ji, Kate Yang, Macy Zong, Angelia Wang, and Michelle Cai.
The SCE identified 20 different academic fields listed with ethics in the job title or as co-primary in the job description, based on data collected from the Chronicle of Higher Education for the years 1998–1999 and 1999–2000 and from the American Academy of Religion (AAR) Annual Meeting Jobs Listings for the years 2001–2012 (SCE 2014).
Scharen and Vigen (2011, p. 61) make a similar point addressing the fear of relativism in relation to prioritizing human experience, particularly embodied knowing, as a source for Christian theology and ethics.
These are fundamental insights of process theology and ethics.
I thank Matthew Bersagel-Braley for this insightful observation.
Back to TopTop