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Union prof, at Vatican, participates in morality conference

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Union University professor David Gushee was one of a handful of Protestants to participate in a “Call to Justice” conference in Vatican City in March.

As it turned out, he also was in some of the last crowds to see Pope John Paul II before he died.

“I have a great deal of appreciation for his moral thinking,” said Gushee, the Graves professor of moral philosophy at Union. “His work contributed to bringing evangelicals and Catholics together on certain moral issues that we both care about –- like abortion and euthanasia.”

Gushee’s group didn’t get to meet the pope but they did get to see him in the window of his apartment.

The conference on Catholic moral teaching Gushee attended was sponsored by the Vatican and six other Catholic study centers and universities to provide reflection on the 40th anniversary of one of Roman Catholicism’s major social teaching documents, “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.”

Gushee has studied and taught the document in his classes at Union. The conference consisted of scholars who presented papers and those who responded to the presentations, and Gushee was one of the respondents.

Of the roughly 300 participants at the conference, only about 10 were Protestants -– and only four of those were Baptists, Gushee said. It is the first time a Union professor has had any role at a Vatican event.

“We felt that we were very hospitably welcome, that they were very glad to have some Protestants there,” Gushee said. “It was a very memorable experience. I continue to be impressed by the depth of Catholic moral teaching and the way in which they have developed a tradition of moral reflection.”

Gushee said the Catholic Church’s ability to release documents and then reflect on them years later allows the church to be “a living tradition.”

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every generation,” he said. “You build on what’s been done before.”

One of Gushee’s goals is to bring an evangelical witness to broader ecumenical gatherings, and the Vatican event gave him the chance to do that. Gushee said the experience also will allow him to bring insights of the broader church into his teaching and writing.

In addition to his role at the conference, Gushee had the opportunity to visit St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museum.

“We got to really take our time and look at some of the most magnificent art ever produced,” he said.

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