Harvard Law Students Probe Sociologist's Acclaimed Bookby Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer
Christians are called to reflect their faith in all spheres of life.
That was one of the themes explored by students involved with Christian Union's ministry at Harvard Law School as they gathered online during the summer to explore and debate sociologist James Davison Hunter's To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.
"We have an opportunity to bring the Church to a place of impact, and we should think long and hard about the ways we can best do that," said Austin Steelman, Harvard Law '16.
In his 2010 book, Hunter, a professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, wrote about "faithful presence"—an ideal for Christian practice that plays out in relationships, social life, and work. The practice emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions to serve the common welfare, according to Christianity Today.
More than 40 students participated in the summer reading group, which began June 22 and finished with a series of lunch gatherings in Cambridge.
"Hunter's book was selected because it frustrates, challenges, and encourages – all in the best of ways – students to think about their ability to be transformative leaders and faithful cultural voices," said Jared Wortman, Christian Union ministry fellow at Harvard Law School.
Hunter, who also serves as executive director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote worldly engagement is "an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God's command to love our neighbor."
Likewise, earlier expressions of faithful presence in church history "manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care – again, not only for the household of faith, but for everyone," Hunter wrote.
In addition to providing opportunities for students to discuss the cultural issues they are likely to encounter in their future careers, the study allowed second-year law students to stay connected over the summer months.
"It was a great opportunity to deepen their friendships and provide intellectual stimulation in between semesters," said Jim Garretson, Christian Union's ministry director at Harvard Law School.
Steelman echoed those comments. The summer study provided an opportunity to "really engage critically with our faith and ask some tough questions," he said.
"Hunter's book calls for Christians to be present in all spheres of life, especially in positions of cultural formation, i.e. academia, where the Church is more or less absent right now."
In related news, Christian Union's ministry to Harvard law students was off to a busy start as it entered its second year of service. Among the activity, nearly 30 students signed up for Bible courses focused on Hebrews.
Likewise, 16 students enjoyed an afternoon of solidarity with a Labor Day barbecue at a nearby park.
"Because classes started the next day, students were at the height of anticipation," said Wortman. "It was wonderful to observe conversations and friendships flourishing – conversations and friendships that, we hope, will only be augmented over the course of the next three years at HLS and beyond."
On September 5, a group of 28 law students watched the Boston Red Sox defeat the Toronto Blue Jays, 9-8, at historic Fenway Park.
"This was a fantastic outing, not just because the Red Sox won the game in extra innings, but, moreover, because it served as a common and extended time for students to connect with one another," said Wortman.
As a whole, the ministry's second year is proving "incredibly rich and rewarding," Wortman noted.
Returning students are encouraging prayer and trumpeting the importance of the seeking-God lifestyle. Such practices are "reflective of a Christian community rightly operating with care and intentionality," Wortman said.