Hope for Common Ground

Mediating the Personal and the Political in a Divided Church

Julie Hanlon Rubio

"Useful reminder that Christians have reason to engage in public life confident of the ever-present (if somewhat elusive) possibility of enhancing the common good together."
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Much like the rest of the country, American Catholics are politically divided, perhaps more so now than at any point in their history. In this learned but accessible work for scholars, students, and religious and lay readers, ethicist Julie Hanlon Rubio suggests that there is a way beyond red versus blue for orthodox and progressive Catholics. In a call for believers on both sides of the liberal-conservative divide to put aside labels and rhetoric, Rubio, a leading scholar in marriage and family for more than twenty years, demonstrates that common ground does exist in the local sphere between the personal and the political.

In Hope for Common Ground, Rubio draws on Catholic Social Thought to explore ways to bring Catholics together. Despite their differences, Catholics across the political spectrum can share responsibility for social sin and work within communities to contribute to social progress. Rubio expands this common space into in-depth discussions on family fragility, poverty, abortion, and end-of-life care. These four issues, though divisive, are part of a seamless worldview that holds all human life as sacred. Rubio argues that if those on different sides focus on what can be done to solve social problems in “the space between” or local communities, opposing sides will see they are not so far apart as they think. The common ground thus created can then lead to far-reaching progress on even the most divisive issues—and help quiet the discord tearing apart the Church.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Reasons for Hope in a Divided Church

1. Faithful Citizenship: Is There Hope for Politics?
Moving from Faith to Politics
The Contemporary Context: Three Reasons for Skepticism
Public Faith in "the Space Between": Realism and Humility
"Be the Church"?

2. Cooperation with Evil: Personal Responsibility
for Social Problems
Cooperation in the Manuals of Moral Theology
Cooperation and the Contemporary Political Scene
A Deepening Awareness of Social Sin
White Privilege
The Case of Sweatshop Clothing

3. Why Bother to Act Locally? The Potential
of the “Space Between”
A Social Ethic for Ordinary Christians
Faithful and Effective
Politics: Necessary but Insufficient
Personal Transformation through Local Action
Possibilities of Social Change from Below


4. Family: What Does It Mean to Be Promarriage?
A Theological Vision of Marriage
Marriage and Relationship Education
Jobs and Just Wages
Helping Married Couples Avoid Divorce and Providing Support after Divorce
Common Ground and Progress

5. Poverty Reduction: A Social Virtue Ethic
New Problems, New Possibilities
Principles of Poverty Reduction
Strategies for Poverty Reduction
Adapting Contemporary Catholic Responses to Poverty
From Above, From Below, and in Between

6. Abortion: Toward Cooperation with the Good
Law and Public Opinion: Where are we? What is Possible?
Human Life, Women’s Agency, and the Cooperation with Evil
Listening to Young, Unmarried Pregnant Women
The Limits of Traditional Strategies
Building a Culture That Welcomes New Life
What Are We Hoping For?

7. End-of-Life Care: Enabling Better Practices for Dying Well
Human Dignity: Finitude, Vulnerability, and Community
Autonomy and Control
Understanding the Social Context
Building Up an Alternative Context
“Changing the World”

Conclusion: Francis and Ferguson



"Useful reminder that Christians have reason to engage in public life confident of the ever-present (if somewhat elusive) possibility of enhancing the common good together."—Studies in Christian Ethics

"Rubio’s book is best in its review of the theological place that communities offer us to live as Christians in the world. Her call for choosing the incremental and the pragmatic—and I would add “the prudential”—is compelling."—U.S. Catholic Magazine

"An ambitious, inspiring social agenda for twenty-first-century American Catholics. Each of her case studies demonstrates ethical nuance and thorough policy detail, and she provides a compelling set of proposals for immediate action or further dialogue."—Horizons

"The book's strengths are many. . . . [The] practical embodiment of hope may be Rubio's greatest gift to the reader. . . . Hope for Common Ground will be of great interest to anyone interested in the spiritual and political dimensions of our times, and we need it now more than ever."—Conversations

"This book could not have come at a better time. When so many people both in the church and in society seem hopelessly divided over pressing ethical issues, Rubio shows us a path forward by focusing on the often overlooked importance of local communities, neighborhood organizations, and churches as ways of gathering us together to find common ground we may not have thought to be possible. Clearly written, richly researched, balanced, and eminently accessible, Hope for Common Ground deftly exemplifies how Catholic social teaching can aid us in addressing some of the most contested issues that confront us. It’s a gift for anyone concerned about the common good."—Paul J. Waddell, Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, St. Norbert College

"In Hope for Common Ground, respected theological ethicist Julie Hanlon Rubio offers a fresh, balanced, insightful, and cumulatively persuasive case for local engagements around commonly-held values as a way beyond the stale left-right, liberal-conservative polarizations that beset so many US Catholics and their neighbors today. Never denying nor forgetting the indispensable places of the personal and the structural levels for advancing human well-being, justice, and the common good, Rubio argues that on-the-ground Catholic and Christian communities possess a special genius for and calling to activism in 'the spaces between' the personal/familial and the political: in neighborhoods, civic life, local institutions, voluntary associations and grassroots organizing."—Christine Firer Hinze, Professor of Theology, Director, Francis & Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, Fordham University


Supplemental Materials


Winner of the 2017 College Theology Society Book Award of the College Theology Society, the 2017 CPA Book Award for Faithful Citizenship of the Catholic Press Association

About the Author

Julie Hanlon Rubio is a professor of Christian ethics at St. Louis University. She is the author of Family Ethics: Practices for Christians (GUP 2010) and A Christian Theology of Marriage and Family, and coeditor of Readings in Moral Theology No. 15: Marriage.

264 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-62616-308-9
May 2016

264 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-62616-306-5
May 2016

264 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-62616-307-2
May 2016

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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