At YDS, Beatitudes Society director calls for compassion, peacemaking

By Brin Bon ’13 M.Div.

After the election of George W. Bush to a second term in office, Christians were portrayed as a new demographic of voters characterized by the media and its pundits as the moral force that delivered victory to a president with a very conservative agenda.  However, not all Christians were content to be categorized alongside those whose moral agenda they saw as one of intolerance, nationalism, and materialism. While the media touted the new power of the Christian right, some wondered, “what about the Christian left?”  Why weren’t Christians thought of as people who reach out to those in need, as people who do justice?

BeatitudesThe Santa Barbara, CA-based Beatitudes Society, taking its name from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus praises the work of compassion and peacemaking, was created as a voice for progressive Christians whose values compelled them to seek God by doing justice.  Beatitudes Society Director Rev. Anne Howard, preaching in Marquand Chapel on October 7, encouraged a new way of thinking about the familiar Beatitudes.  Howard envisions Jesus’ words as a kind of “manifesto,” that asks us to “counter the prevailing ethos.”  To live such a life, Christians must seek God out, Howard contends, in “the places of hunger and thirst and mourning and mercy.” 

Howard offers three practices that will allow Christians to live into their faith as progressive people of God—pay attention, have a subversive imagination, and go public.  These three steps are a springboard for becoming the peacemakers and justice workers that Jesus invites Christians to be, according to Howard.  They are also examples of the way in which The Beatitudes Society teaches progressive Christians to counter the belief that to be a Christian is to be socially and politically conservative.

At a discussion with Howard during her visit to YDS, students discussed how today’s media, often flooded with voices from the political right, perpetuates a climate of rage and fear, now more than ever.  One of the goals of The Beatitudes Society is to train voices on the left to articulate, in a reasonable and respectful way, their progressive Christian values.   The mission of the society is to “develop and sustain a national network of emerging Christian leaders who: advocate for justice, compassion and peace; reclaim a Christianity that welcomes all people, especially those at the margins; and articulate a Christianity that dares to speak and act for our fragile planet and our most vulnerable citizens.”

This mission is accomplished through school chapters, summer fellowships, prophetic preaching workshops, and a professional network that provides support through national social networking.  Since its inception in 2008, the YDS Beatitudes Society chapter has hosted film and book discussion series and held social networking workshops, all aimed at furthering the work of justice, while grounding it in the ministry and hope of Christ.  Rachel Duncan, a third-year M.Div. student at YDS and current chapter leader, would like to bring the Society’s highly praised media training workshop to YDS so that current students can begin to learn how to articulate their progressive values and take the first step toward “going public” with the message of justice and compassion that Christ taught. 

Quoting Camus, Howard believes the essence of the Christian life lies in the "Hope [that] remains only in the most difficult task of all: to reconsider everything from the ground up.”  The Beatitudes Society’s hope is to train leaders to become catalysts in their own communities for just that sort of reconsideration.

Another Beatitudes Society contact on campus, in addition to Duncan, is Department of External Relations Director John Lindner, who is a member of the Society’s Advisory Board.