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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 24, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2004

Timothy A. Beach-Verhey
Pages 115-136

Exemplifying Public Discourse
Christian Faith, American Democracy, and Martin Luther King Jr.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. IS UNIVERSALLY REGARDED AS ONE OF THE most important figures in twentieth-century American public life. Yet his subtle integration of Christian faith and democratic values runs afoul of many current theories concerning faith, liberal democracy, and public discourse. Putting John Rawls's secular liberalism and Stanley Hauerwas's Christian traditionalism in conversation with Martin Luther King's words and deeds reveals the weaknesses inherent in both Rawls's and Hauerwas's approaches. Furthermore, the exemplary model of public discourse that King embodied provides clues to a way out of the impasse between secular liberalism and Christian traditionalism. Ultimately, this examination of Martin Luther King Jr. points toward a theocentric model of public engagement that is appropriate (and necessary) for public discourse in a pluralistic, democratic context.

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