Many Christians today are struggling with the question of whether, or to what extent, they should get involved in the messy world of American politics. This is a dilemma we feel most acutely whenever election season rolls around—and especially when the choices on offer appear far from ideal.
A new book, Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement, lays out the core themes of the group’s philosophy.
One of the book’s significant strengths is that its clarion call for civic engagement doesn’t come from a set of detached “armchair theoreticians” but instead from three authors who have distinguished themselves at the highest levels of politics. Attorney Justin Giboney, the AND Campaign’s cofounder, has served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Michael Wear, the group’s chief strategist, coordinated faith-based outreach efforts during Barack Obama’s presidency. And the third author, Chris Butler, is an activist in Chicago and senior leader of the Chicago Embassy Church Network.
Compassion (&) Conviction is packed with gems of wisdom on effective political engagement informed by Christian faith. Here are some that jumped out at me:
- Value neutrality is a myth. Everyone has a set of value commitments. A proper understanding of the separation of church and state at the institutional level does not preclude any citizen bringing his or her value commitments to bear on discussions of public policy. And everyone needs to be “given a voice” so that a range of viable positions can be heard and discussed.
- When presenting their positions on public-policy issues, Christians need to dig down deep to discover how their understanding of Christian values bears on the issue at hand, rather than just parroting the platforms of either major political party.
- In our pluralistic society, Christians should not seek to impose their positions on public-policy issues on those who do not share their faith. Rather, Christians should seek to persuade those who do not share their faith that the positions they take will promote the common good. This strategy allows for the possibility of forming effective partnerships with those who may not share all our Christian values.
- A major obstacle to all political engagement is tribalism, an “us-versus-them” mentality that holds that my own religious or political movement has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, while those on the other side have little to no insight at all.
- The tone with which we engage our opponents on public-policy issues must be characterized by faithfulness to the command of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This final point is especially near and dear to my own heart, as someone who has spent the better part of the last decade trying to orchestrate respectful conversations among Christians who have strong disagreements. My basic premise in hosting these forums is that providing a safe and welcoming space for fellow believers to speak candidly but also respectfully about their differences of opinion is an expression of deep love.
Two additional suggestions from the book are worthy of further elaboration, since their full significance can be easily overlooked. The first is the authors’ suggestion for how to begin addressing an issue where disagreement among believers is common: “Commit to earnestly learning” the reason behind the opposing perspective, and then take care to “consider it” (emphasis mine).
Those final two words, “consider it,” are vitally important. They call for going beyond a weak form of listening that amounts to nothing more than basic politeness, where you listen to what the other person says without interruption but without any willingness to rethink or refine your own position in light of what you hear.
The second suggestion comes in the context of the book’s vision for promoting racial reconciliation within American society, though of course it applies to Christian political engagement more broadly. We must “be deliberate,” the authors write, about building personal relationships and understanding where others are coming from.
Establishing such bonds is an especially urgent matter when it comes to questions of sexuality and same-sex marriage. The authors of Compassion (&) Conviction call upon Christians to appeal to “the moral order God established in Scripture,” which “warns against…pursuing sexual relationships outside of marriage between one man and one woman.” To be sure, this is the traditional Christian position on marriage, one embraced by the majority of professing Christians. But the fact remains that there are Christians who sincerely believe that God will bless same-sex marriages that reflect lifelong commitment and faithfulness. Knowing this, we need to prioritize creating safe and welcoming spaces for believers to speak respectfully about these highly contentious matters.