Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

Some readers may recall that one of my brothers responded during the family discussion by mention of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society.  In the next preceding post, His Spirit Is Crying Out and Yearning, the reader will hopefully recognize that the issues of homosexuality and transsexuality, when considered in the light of actual lives, aren’t so easily identified or judged.

Why do I juxtapose these two statements?   Because Niebuhr understood that one cannot do theology in the abstract.  His prayer, known as the Serenity Prayer, has been an inspiration for those confronting addictions based upon 12 Step programs.   It recognizes that when one “does theology” in the flesh, one must struggle “to know the difference” between what we can change and what we cannot change.  He has been cited by both extremes of the political and religious spectrum and all points between.  In the 2008 presidential election, he was quoted by both President Obama and Senator McCain.

For an excellent discussion of Niebuhr’s teaching and influence, particularly as relating to his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society , see  That National Public Radio website describes Niebuhr’s contribution: “We explore the ideas and present-day relevance of 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, an influential, boundary-crossing voice in American public life. Niebuhr created the term “Christian realism:” a middle path between religious idealism and arrogance.”


Next blog post: Next blog post: Foreword to Stories of Sacred Worth     

Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

3 Stuart’s Reply

Stuart’s Reply: 4-12

Hi Rob.

I am glad you shared Julian’s story, and agree it was helpful to send it in a separate letter.

There are such powerful and mixed messages that are part of the Christian church. On the one hand, as individuals we learn of love and acceptance, with judgment left for God alone. On the other hand, as an institution we have values that are judgmental and exclusionary. Reminds me in ways of Niebuhr’s “Moral Man, Immoral Society,” though not a perfect fit.

It is great that you are becoming a “storyteller,” Rob. As you note, people need to be taken seriously, to feel listened to, to tell their story.

Thank you.  Hope you and your family have a great Easter!!



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