Falling into decades—it is a modest version of the archaic practice in European elementary schools of dividing great epochs into convenient categories: the Middle Ages came to an end and then began the Renaissance. In reality, history moves in uneven waves, not by the clock. Yet it is roughly true that the new engagement of American religion with pressing political, economic, and social issues stems from developments that happened to move to a time frame of every-ten-years. To chart the proximate future of our religious social conscience as the seventies unfold, we need to understand that “the will to enter the social arena in force,” as Daniel Callahan calls it, the religious impulse to lean more directly on secular institutions in pursuit of social justice and a decent society was in retreat during the fifties and came to full, if chaotic, expression during the sixties. Nor will it be muted in the seventies.
The principal themes remain what they have been—peace, racial justice, the reduction of poverty, the break-out from wornout bureaucratic structures (churches included). But the new exuberant commitment, the flood of proposals, programs, and sometimes simply cries of anguish, the “bearing witness” on religion and social activism requires sober analysis even at the risk of being considered morally insensitive....
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