Robert Cornwall’s latest offering, Faith in the Public Square, is a much needed reminder that faith need not be absent from the public square. Or, for that matter, that faith in the public square need not be a controlling factor, recognizing that we are in a democracy, and democracy calls for compromise. Cornwall seems to follow Allan Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness (Energion, 2011), in attempting to keep a faithful engagement alive and well in American politics, but not to the extent of what many conservatives and liberals have stretched it too.
Utilizing many of his columns he wrote while acting as an opinion editor for a newspaper in California, Cornwall makes the case through short, insightful articles that a Christian needs not be either un- or over- engaged in the public square, but can find a place to fit into. In our post-secular world, we are coming to find that black and white viewpoints have become unattractive and often unattainable. It is not either science or religion, Republican or Democrat, faith or atheism, disengagement or dominionism, but more and more, people are finding that a moderate, middle ground provides a better pulpit. People aren’t simply living either on the left or right anymore, if they ever truly did, but engaging the middle where a pluralistic society is developing. This is happening in American churches as well, but unfortunately, the more moderate churches and denominations have chosen to remain quite while the liberals and the conservatives bicker over religion and an active faith life as vultures on a carcass. Cornwall, while not drawing a road map, does posit some images that may help us found our way.
He has divided his writings into four categories which are: The Religious Landscape; Varieties of Faith, a Common Cause; Politics, Ideology, and Faith; and Justice in the Land. Something that one has to note first is that while Cornwall does take a Neiburhite view of realism, he doesn’t too often take sides on political issues as they are often presented but does maintain a constant faithful course of how to tackle such issues such as the rise in pluralism which means the demise of traditional religious institutions, how a Christian should see his or her nation among other nations in the world, violence and non-violence, racism, and even some environmentalism. One would think that with such a group of essays that the book would get rather boring, but it doesn’t. Each essay is challenging, relevant and sometimes, even a little political jarring to even those of who would first align ourselves with Cornwall’s description of his political self. His take on Kennedy’s speech even has a ring of Rick Santorum. Maybe this is a sign of what he says, that while we can remain affiliated with our political parties, our allegiance need not be solely there. We should not be afraid to let our faith guide us. Perhaps the best way to summarize Cornwall’s book is to say that his ultimate goal is to suggest that it’s okay to be a believer and political, just don’t be religiously political or politically religious.
One thing, though. I do wish that he would have written or at least alluded to the date of which he wrote the first essay. Granted, many of them have been reworked, with new ones added, but several of them I think would benefit from the reader’s perception of foresight/hindsight. For instance, in one, Cornwall introduces us to the 2008 issue of Mitt Romney’s religion. In 2012, but more, in 2013, such an essay would be more prophetic if we were allowed to put it in a time and place that is removed from our own chronotope.
A highly recommended work, especially in the current political climate.