A Report on the Davenant Trust DC Convivium

This past Friday and Saturday, the Davenant Trust made its Washington, DC debut. The third Mid-Atlantic Regional Convivium Irenicum took place at Redeeming Grace Church of Fairfax, Virginia, in an event ably organized by Dr. Brian Auten of Patrick Henry College, and co-sponsored by Patrick Henry College and Providence Magazine.

The theme of the conference– “Christian Love and National Interest: A Protestant Ethic of National Security” –was broad, and the questions examined were varied. On Friday night, Walter Russell Mead of Bard College and the Hudson Institute opened the conference with a discussion of America’s quasi-religious self-understanding and the impact that this has had on US foreign policy. He focused particularly on eschatology: whether in a Christian form or in a secular form, something like premillennial eschatology has pointed towards a sense of impending doom (or radical transformation) while postmillenial eschatology has driven an expansive sense of American destiny and mission.

Dr. Mark Thiessen Nation of Eastern Mennonite University followed with a paper titled “Eberhard Bethge and the Myth of Bonhoeffer the Assassin: Recovering a Persistently Christ-Centered Ethic in a World Full of Nazis,” which challenged the received notion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Bonhoeffer, argued Nation, never renounced (whether in principle or in attempted practice) his pacifist convictions.

On Saturday morning, a smaller group of graduate students and early-career academics gathered to present and discuss papers on various topics, and on Saturday afternoon, the event opened back up to the public with a paper by Davenant’s president, Dr. W. Bradford Littlejohn. “Caring for Religion and Protecting the Commonwealth in the Protestant Reformation” addressed a variety of approaches to the implied national security (or national self-definition) issues raised by the Reformation, and provided a window into some solutions offered into early Protestant political theology.

Andrew Fulford of McGill University followed Brad with a paper drawing on his recent Davenant Trust book, Jesus and Pacifism.  “Was Jesus a Pacifist? Yoder, Hauerwas and the Meaning of Jesus for Christian Ethics” served as something of a response to Nation’s talk of the previous night, and in the panel discussion that followed, Fulford and Nation, along with others, tackled the questions of pacifism and the just war tradition directly.  

And a lively panel it was. “The World of Surveillance, Spies, and Special Operations Forces: Is the Just War Tradition Enough for Christian Citizenship?” brought together Fulford and Nation, along with Drs. Marc Livecche and Keith Pavlischek of Providence.  Moderated by Dr. Auten, the conversation ranged widely, covering the question of whether the just war tradition was a legitimate approach at all, to more specific issues regarding its application. Brad Gregory was ritually invoked and denounced, and the conversation continued in an excellent question and answer session.

As is always the case at Davenant convivia, the conversations around the edges of the presentations– at meals, over coffee, over drinks– were as engaging and fruitful as the presentations themselves. The gathering was attended by a mix of academics, students, and pastors, along with men and women from the worlds of politics, media, and intelligence, and several who serve (or have served) in the military: the topics discussed were not abstract, not distant from the concerns of those who attended.  It became clear that there is a need- and a hunger- in the DC area for Davenant’s approach to Protestant resourcement: to considering how historical theology and ethics speak to questions of statecraft and security, to the nature and legitimate means of government, and to the challenging loyalties of Christian citizenship.  We look forward to an ongoing presence in the Capital, to continuing the conversations begun over the weekend, and to moving forward with this work of bringing scholarship and theological reflection to bear on crucial issues of the day.  

If you were unable to attend but are in the area and would like to be kept informed about future meet-ups, please sign up here.

Susannah Black received her BA from Amherst College and her MA from Boston University. She is an editor at Plough, associate editor of Providence Magazine, and an editor of The Davenant Trust’s journal Ad Fontes. She’s a founding editor of Solidarity Hall and is on the Board of the Distributist Review. Her writing has appeared in First Things, The Distributist Review, Solidarity Hall, Providence, Amherst Magazine, Front Porch Republic, Ethika Politika, The Human Life Review, The American Conservative, Mere Orthodoxy, and elsewhere. She blogs at Radio Free Thulcandra and tweets at @suzania. A native Manhattanite, she is now living in Queens.