Cultural and political realities, and doctrinal differences among faith traditions challenge unified theological and ecclesial contribution to political dialogue. Within the work of the Oxford Conference of the Universal Christian Council of Life and Work on Church, Community and State of 1937, organized by Joseph Oldham, are elements of an applied understanding of social responsibility, offering resources to enable such contribution. Here, I call this “Oxford Responsibility,” defined as a society in which its members and institutions act in accordance with human value and freedom, in obedience to the will of God, toward the achievement of justice within the limits and contingencies of human finitude, culture and history. Contributors, threatened by secularism and totalitarianism, built upon the thought of Max Weber, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Buber regarding ethics and responsibility, and were influenced by the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr. Drawing on Emil Brunner, they outlined a Christian anthropology positing dignity and freedom to the human actor. With Paul Tillich and others, the Conference countered the idea of progressive history, positing history as the location of human responsibility, where human action has consequence. These actions are judged against the suprahistorical ideal of the Kingdom of God. The Conference bounded the church’s responsibility within society to the interpretation of the Gospel and the preparation of laity for responsible work within wider spheres of society. Discernment of action proceeded through an inclusive dialogical process toward what Conference participants called “middle axioms,” defined as provisional guidelines for Christian behavior within particular societal circumstances.
Robin W. Lovin
Charles E. Curran
Gary J. Dorrien
Rebekah L. Miles
Religion, Theology/Religious Education, Humanities
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MacDonald, Gary B., "The Church and Social Responsibility: Contributions to Contemporary Social Ethics from the Ecumenical Social Method of the Oxford Conference on Church, Community, and State of 1937" (2019). Religious Studies Theses and Dissertations. 12.