- Hope for Common Ground: Mediating the Personal and the Political in a Divided Church by Julie Hanlon Rubio
Julie Hanlon Rubio wrote Hope for Common Ground to address divisions over ethical and political issues within the Catholic Church. Rubio writes in a spirit of hope, affirming that it is possible for Catholics to find common ground by drawing on resources within their tradition and within themselves. She proposes that "the potential for seeing and developing common ground is particularly strong if we focus on what can be done in the 'local' sphere—that is, in the space between" the personal and the political (xvii). Localized focus is recommended by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which means working on social problems from the bottom up through the small- and medium-sized [End Page 195] groups that matter greatly for people's well-being, such as families, churches, and neighborhoods.
Rubio's project is vital because civic spaces have become so fraught. Although this book was published early in 2016, these words are even more apt in 2017: "In both popular and academic Catholic circles, politics has become a very uncomfortable space. … Catholics are more divided than at any point in their history, and in this they mirror society rather than providing an alternative to it" (xiv–xv). If Catholic Christians, claiming a common life and common Lord, are as divided as society itself, they testify poorly to their values. By contrast, if they redirect some of their energies from the personal and the political to the local, then "instead of fighting each other, Catholics can participate more, agree on more, and, consequently, build up more" (229).
Part 1 of the book draws on Church tradition and ethics texts to articulate a vision of what it means to be a faithful citizen. Divisions within the Catholic community are shaped in part by interpretations of Church teaching that discourage Catholics from thinking they should cooperate with others who think differently. In recent years, the American bishops have pushed Catholic citizens to consider some political issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, as more important than others. Rubio aims to right such imbalances by showing that Catholic teaching supports pluralism, appreciates the pragmatic side of politics, and holds a nuanced account of how people can act conscientiously in an imperfect world. She offers "a social ethic for ordinary Christians" (58), equally focused on faithfulness and effectiveness.
The payoff in part 2 of the book is excellent. Rubio enters the culture-war debates over the family, poverty, abortion, and end-of-life care; elsewhere she briefly but insightfully examines white privilege, sweatshop clothing, and police violence. In each of these cases, Rubio describes the current divide, provides background analysis that cuts through misconceptions and slanted data, and suggests ways that Catholics can find common ground and build up the common good in church and society. Here is one small example of the kind of applications she makes: "A Catholic Charities center in my city included a conversation on advance directives in the agenda for a weekly meeting of mothers in a poor neighborhood. Though the instruction was quite simple, it gave the women a chance to talk about their faith, experiences, fears, and hopes in relation to death and dying. … These women are now better equipped than many for the tough conversations that are surely ahead" (218).
Rubio practices what she preaches, exhibiting a conversational tone and capacious vision throughout. While focused on Catholic sources and issues, Hope for Common Ground is by no means narrow. Not only other Christians but also all [End Page 196] people have to face the social issues discussed here, and it matters to all citizens how religious communities are addressing them. Therefore, this book is a great launching point for honest conversations in college courses, while scholars in the field will do well to engage with Rubio's theory of local action. The book deserves a wide readership within and outside Catholic circles.