The Academy was to have two goals: to train the laity for service to society; and to be a place for free and open discussion about problems facing the society, especially between groups (such as management and labor) which did not normally meet under such conditions. This second goal was the most innovative. The Academy was not to be a place for evangelism. Nor was it to take positions of its own. That was its most interesting aspect. Mueller summed it up in the phrase describing the Academy as “forum, not factor.”
Mueller’s vision for the Academy is one that needs to be embraced by the Church today. This vision is one of the Church as a place where issues of social justice and economic policy are framed by a Christian moral vision and anthropology but where questions of prudential policy are left open. Sadly churches have often abandoned their role in preserving Christian liberty in favor of prophetic grandstanding. Berger rightly complains that, “The ascription of prophetic status to statements put out by committees of church bureaucrats is not very persuasive, to say the least. More troublesome is the simple fact that many of these statements are very far from any ‘truth’ that can be empirically assessed. The monotonous flirtation with leftist illusions by denominational and ecumenical organizations is a depressing case in point.”
Jordan Ballor’s recent book Ecumenical Babel documents and critiques this failure within the ecumenical movement and would be a great place to start this discussion.
A social witness grounded in a Christian anthropology while simultaneously soliciting a broad range of perspectives in economics might bring the church once again to the center of a broader discussion of a just society. Too often it is reduced to being simply a shrill voice unwilling to be challenged, learn, or dialogue. Such a voice earns itself a place at the margins.