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McDonald lecture draws renowned theologians
By Patti Ghezzi | Emory Law | Mar 29, 2014 12:03:00 AM








The first of five annual McDonald Distinguished Scholar Lectures on Christian Scholarship brought six theological giants to Emory Law on March 26 to discuss Christianity and human rights.

Hosted by the McDonald Agape Foundation and the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, the event provided a forum for scholars, students and community members to wrestle with what John Witte, Jr., a McDonald Distinguished Professor and CSLR’s director, called the “subtleties that go around the hard questions of Christianity and human rights.”

Stanley Hauerwas, McDonald Distinguished Professor and Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics Emeritus at Duke Divinity School, presented a nuanced view of why the idea of rights challenges Christians. “If you need a theory of rights to know torture is wrong, something has gone wrong with your moral sensibilities,” he said.

Still, he added: “Christians should celebrate advances in international human rights law.”

Nigel Biggar, McDonald Distinguished Professor and Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Christ Church at Oxford University, discussed the dangers of viewing human rights without ambiguity. “Lawyers, or at least human rights advocates, do tend to regard rights as absolute at all cost,” he said, adding that such a philosophy could lead to imprudent jurisprudence.

Robert M. Franklin, newly named James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Emory’s Candler School of Theology and President Emeritus of Morehouse College, called upon American congregations to create a “coalition of conscience” to protest the mass incarceration of African-American men.

A panel of Catholic scholars then discussed the role of the Catholic Church in the human rights debate.

Jean Porter, McDonald Senior Fellow in Christian Jurisprudence and John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, lectured on Thomas Aquinas’ conception of natural rights, developed within the context of an overall theory of nature.

F. Russell Hittinger, McDonald Senior Fellow in Christian Jurisprudence, William K. Warren Professor of Catholic Studies and Research Professor in the School of Law at the University of Tulsa, is also an Aquinas expert. He addressed the profound significance of the Second Vatican Council for the cultivation of human rights.

Closing out the lecture series, Helen Alvaré, Professor of Law at Georgia Mason University School of Law and Consultor on Women with the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said that although the Catholic Church is a leader in human rights, “today, it is often classified as a threat to human rights.”
Yet groups “asking the Catholic Church to leave the public square” present an incomplete view of the Catholic Church’s position on marriage and family.

The provocative and complex views presented by all panelists proved the need for continuing a robust debate on Christianity and human rights, Witte said.

CSLR and the McDonald Agape Foundation will host this series of lectures annually for the next four years at Emory University School of Law. Videos of the McDonald Lecture series will soon be available through CSLR’s website.