Notes on James McClendon and the Virtue of Presence

I’ve been doing extra reading for my seminar trying to nail down a paper topic and have really been enjoying the exposure to James McClendon’s stuff, here’s tidbit.

James McClendon in his book Ethics describes the virtue of presence as an acquired human characteristic necessary to achieve the goods internal to the practice of witness (from Virtues and Practices in the Christian Tradition, 36):”

“Presence is being one’s self for someone else; it is refusing the temptation to withdraw mentally and emotionally, but it is also on occasion putting our own body’s weight and shape alongside the neighbor, the friend, the lover in need.

But is presence, even in this extended sense, really a virtue, or is it like left-handedness or curiosity, merely somebody’s quality or distinguishing feature?  Earlier in this chapter [of Ethics] the black church was set forth as displaying the quality of presence to and for one another, and knew that Another was present for them as well…Too characterize this presence as a virtue is to say that it is a strength or skill, developed by training and practice, which is a substantive part of (the Christian) life… (116-117)”

Presence is the virtue corresponding to the practice of witness – and McClendon picks George Fox to exemplify this point further when he says about Fox and his followers:

“…we see that the appeal to truth and to witness required the full presence of the witnesses to that truth — even their presence to and for the churches and denominations and civil authorities that sought to eject them.  They could not, could not just go away and leave the others alone as they were asked to do and still be true to this virtue.  Presence is one of the profound forms of Christian witness.  There is a Catholic religious order whose members live inside South American prisons and Jails in order to be present to and for the prisoners — the ministry of presence (108).”

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