Background Report

History. The Committee for the Twenty-First Century was initiated by President Ronald M. Green as communicated in a letter to the members of the Society of Christian Ethics, dated October 16, 1998. The stated purpose of the committee was to think about the current status and future directions of the Society as its members approached the beginning of a new millennium and the fortieth anniversary of the Society. The committee was charged by President Green to address the evolving needs of our scholarly field by considering the following and related issues: the Society’s mission, likely changes in size and membership base, format of the annual meeting, governance structure, and access to new communication technologies to enhance the work of the Society. President Green invited all members of the Society to nominate Society members for service on this committee and to send nominations to him or to Dennis McCann, Executive Director. The Committee was asked to express its work in the form of recommendations.

Membership. The members of the committee, approved by the Board of Directors at the 1999 Annual Meeting, are these: June O’Connor, Chair; Timothy Beach-Verhey, Frederick Bird, Audrey Chapman, Miguel De La Torre, Ronald M. Green, Christine Gudorf, Simeon Ilesanmi, Timothy Jackson, John Langan, Dennis McCann, Gene Outka, William Schweiker, Ruth Smith, Emilie Townes, Cristina Traina, Darryl Trimiew, Sumner Twiss, Louke Van Wensveen, Allen Verhey, and Sondra Wheeler.

Committee Work. The Committee for the Twenty-First Century had its first meeting September 24-26, 1999 at the Illinois Conference Center in Zion, Illinois, using this time to raise questions and brainstorm possibilities. At June O’Connor’s request, Dennis McCann reported on the makeup of the Society, given the limited data base of information then available, and Ronald Green presented a report on the history of the Society. As a result of the brainstorming processes, four subcommittees emerged. One (Louke Van Wensveen, Chair, John Langan, Vice Chair) had as its task to think about the ways in which the SCE has been effective and productive in the course of its life and what it might do to sustain and improve its efficacy. A second (Emilie Townes, Chair, Frederick Bird, Vice Chair) focused on ways in which the SCE might extend and enhance its work by fostering formal and informal relationships with other individuals, societies, and agencies that do work in the fields of ethics. A third (Ruth Smith, Chair, Cristina Traina, Vice Chair) sought to articulate the questions that are evoking moral thought in our time. A fourth (Christine Gudorf, Chair) had as its task the design of a survey instrument that would poll the members and provide a data base of information useful to the committee and to the future. The survey was sent to Society members in November, 1999, and the results tabulated in March, 2000.

The Committee for the Twenty-First Century met again at the Society’s Annual Meeting in Arlington, Virginia, January 7-9, 2000. A meeting of the committee was held Saturday night, January 8, 2000 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel. A Closing Plenary Session on Sunday, January 9, provided a forum for informing the SCE members of the committee’s work to date and inviting participation in further brainstorming procedures relevant to the committee’s charge. Interim subcommittee reports were presented to those assembled, followed by “breakout” discussion sessions designed to encourage wide participation of Society members. Notes were taken, reports were submitted to the Chair, and suggestions were considered during committee deliberations that led to the final recommendations. A similar brainstorming session had been conducted with the Pacific Section of the SCE when that section had its annual meeting in Pasadena at Fuller Theological Seminary on February 19, 1999.

The committee conducted its final meeting September 22-24, 2000 at the Harrington Conference Center of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. The chief agenda item was to formulate recommendations to be sent to the Board of Directors and Society members for attention at the annual meeting, 2001.

Throughout its brainstorming processes and deliberations, the Committee addressed a wide variety of questions and concerns. One of these pertained to the name of the Society of Christian Ethics. Some members of the Society at large had expressed to individual committee members an interest in retaining the name as is, while others advised a change to the “Society of Christian and Comparative Ethics” and still others recommended the “Society of Religious Ethics.” It was also suggested that the Society of Christian Ethics foster the establishment of a sister society, The Society of Religious Ethics, that the annual meetings of these two societies overlap, and that ethicists doing work in the ethics of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and other traditions be recruited for membership in the new sister society. In the end, the Committee for the Twenty-First Century chose to place its attention on the practices of the Society rather than on the name of the Society and to foster the particular practice of expanding our ethical conversations with ethicists in other cultures, traditions, and institutional settings. Our thinking in this regard is reflected in section five of the Report of Recommendations. Since the majority of our membership does research in “Christian ethics and in the relation of Christian ethics to other traditions of ethics and to social, economic, political, and cultural problems” (By-Laws, Article II), as is evident in the findings of the 1999-2000 poll, it was clear to our committee that as a Society we are, in fact, a community of scholars with a preeminent expertise and focus on Christian ethics and its relations to various problems and other traditions. If these interests and our members’ range of expertise should alter significantly over time, our identity would thereby change, and a name change would more appropriately be considered at that time.

With the submission of this Background Report and the Report of Recommendations, the work of the Committee for the Twenty-First Century is completed.

Reports submitted by June O’Connor, Chair
on behalf of the Members of the Committee for the Twenty-First Century
October 10, 2000