In an age of Trump and given the serious issues facing the country and the world, theologians are seeing the urgency of doing public theology, a term coined by Lutheran theologian Martin Marty in the 1970s.
But given the polarized political sphere, especially on social media, plus equally destabilizing controversies within the church, not to mention a lack of support from within academia, they are facing challenges in bringing their academic expertise into the public square….
Social media has been both a blessing and something of a curse for public theologians. On the one hand, it provides a broad platform for theologians to communicate with one another and with broader audiences — especially for those who have been marginalized from more traditional academic spaces.
On the other, the nastiness of Catholic Twitter and other social media can open theologians to attack and to their work being taken out of context.
“The saying that all publicity is a good thing doesn’t apply to pre-tenured faculty,” said Meghan Clark, associate professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s University in New York, who has noticed commenters are more emboldened lately to use racist and misogynistic language in personal attacks on social media.
Yet Clark maintains a strong social media presence, precisely because she sees the importance of public theology. She tries to use her position of privilege to amplify the voices of communities facing injustice and oppression, such as going to John F. Kennedy International Airport to protest the ban on immigrants from Muslim countries…
“Especially for a moral theologian, doing ethics out of an ivory tower is useless right now,” she said. “If we’re not connecting and engaging with those communities, then we’re profoundly failing in our vocation to the church and the world.”…
“Public theology is more important than ever, but it can’t just be a few niche people arguing about niche things,” said Susan Reynolds, assistant professor of Catholic studies at Emory University Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. “There’s a potential for so much more than that.”