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Unbound publishes first issue after six-month hiatus

Editors discuss relaunching award-winning online social justice journal

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – After a brief hiatus, Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, published its first edition since the hire of new managing editor Henry Koenig Stone. The current installment: Defending the Common Good, covers diverse issues such as defending truth in media, sanctuary churches, human trafficking, an ecumenical call to good ecological stewardship, and the role of faith communities in resisting white supremacy. The award-winning journal is sponsored by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which is part of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace, and Justice ministries.

Recently, the Presbyterian News Service (PNS) spoke with general editor Chris Iosso (CI) and managing editor Henry Koenig Stone (HKS) to discuss Unbound’s first edition since its break, its role for the church, and their vision for moving it forward.

PNS: Unbound is back after a six-month hiatus!  Do you have a message for your readers?

Henry K. Stone, the new editor of Unbound. (Photo by Ilana Urman)

HKS:  Yes!  We’re back on the scene and have a whole issue’s worth of articles at justiceunbound.org.  Our re-opening issue was on the theme Defending the Common Good, and covered topics related to climate change, international relations, human trafficking, community engagement in healthcare, opposition to white supremacy, the history of Labor in the United States, and our duty as citizens to protect truth in the media.

CI: We have “views of the news you can use” from experienced and new contributors. As before, our goal is still to get to the theological and ethical nub of issues. We now have a better sense of how to cut through the new styles of rhetorical battle in both “the media” and social media. The need for informed solidarity on most justice matters has increased, as the actual rationales for government action or inaction, and sometimes the actions themselves, go forward “underneath” the well-publicized provocations and protests. Our own solidarity within the church is also prompting us to invite new kinds of exchange with presbyteries and congregations.

PNS: Why Unbound?  What does Unbound offer that is unique?

HKS:  What first drew me to Unbound is that it’s unrestricted in the topics it can address, but also linked to an open-hearted faith community close to my own. Many policy issues have a moral valence for us, because they have an impact on the public good—and particularly on people facing political or economic discrimination, whom Jesus called “the least of these” and yet made his primary focus.

CI: Unbound has been able to focus on lifting up voices for social justice.  We don’t need to cover every significant event which happens in the church. Our job is to listen, offer an empathic and critical frame, and to help advocate. So, we can zero in on a given topic and devote significant effort to teasing out less known aspects of that topic, with the help of writers engaged with faith communities.  This creates a journal usable as a think-through resource for pastors, a place for new and more experienced social activists to share ideas, and a critical policy forum for the church as a whole. Unbound has and will go deeper on faith and politics, Israel/Palestine, General Assembly debates, and green theology – building on the fine work of prior managing editors Ginna Bairby and Patrick Heery.

PNS: What would you say is Unbound’s vision?  How does it fit in the church?

(L to R) Chris Iosso, coordinator for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy; Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Rev. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator for the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People address the Educate a Child Round Table. (Photo by Rick Jones)

CI:  Our vision is to help nurture a covenantal base of Christians who earnestly seek positive change in the world.  There is a theological aspect to Unbound which underlies the policy concerns and connects readers with the resources of a Reformed and reforming tradition. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board initially approved Unbound as the online successor to a 98-year line of journals analyzing social mission for the Presbyterian Church (Church & Society Magazine), but we knew early on that we wanted to help convene a broader conversation.

HKS:  Unbound focuses a lot on the “home front” of Christianity—who are we, what is our role in a larger world, questions like that.  But the goal also isn’t to exclude non-Christians from the dialogue. Rather, it’s to prepare Christians to interact meaningfully with all people.  Some of the most helpful voices in nurturing the “covenantal base” of Christians are in fact people who are not Christian…we define ourselves in relation to the people around us, and building relationships with people holding diverse perspectives is a huge part of our individual faith journeys. I am told that the name Unbound, a kind of pun for something post-print, was suggested by a UCC minister, Noelle Damico, who is also a critical leader on workers’ rights.

PNS:  Henry, this is your first issue on board with Unbound.  Any thoughts about how your background plays into this?

HKS:  I’m coming into this role—working for the PC(USA) in policy circles as well as editorial ones—with a technical background in economics and a theological one grown by the United Church of Christ’s “still speaking” campaign.  Part of what has been so exciting in joining the PMA team is that I see that same sort of “still speaking” energy present in the PC(USA) that was so crucial to me in the UCC:  an energy which inspires people to challenge their own assumptions about what it means to be Christian and seek new ways of bearing witness to God’s love in everyday and yet earth-changing ways.  I really look forward to building up ecumenical and interfaith energy in Unbound, and feel wonderfully blessed to have been so welcomed into the fold by every member of PC(USA) that I have encountered.

PNS: What direction do you see Unbound heading in the immediate future?

CI: Our next theme will be on issues of citizenship and the role of citizens’ compassion and moral criticism in crafting our society.  We will have a set of articles focusing on the prophetic witness of the Rev. Donald W. Shriver, Jr.  Dr. Shriver—an ethics professor and seminary president called to understand social witness at the time of the civil rights struggles, and a leader first in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (our “Southern stream”)—addressed some of his best-known works to truth and reconciliation in US, Native American, German, and South African history. Thus we see a need not to reinvent wheels but to give some new traction, while inventing others with new voices. That is part of our trans-generational dynamic.

HKS: At the same time, we hope to expand our reach through new media—we have been exploring the possibility of forming an Unbound podcast, which could dive more deeply into the things at the core of each issue, and which also may prove to be an increasingly attractive form of communication with my fellow millennials. So, we welcome all kinds of input and think we have a flexible enough platform to adapt when called to do so.

Stone, named managing editor in June this year, holds a master’s degree in public policy and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago. He’ll be managing a publication that won eight Associated Church Press awards in 2016, including recognition for excellence in written editorial/opinion and first person experience.

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For information on future issues or submissions, contact Unbound at Unbound@pcusa.org.


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