Compassion (&) Conviction
By Justin Gibony, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler
This is the book I didn’t realize I was waiting for. Over the past few years, I’ve been particularly interested in engaging more in political discussion and action. As I looked at the landscape of conversations going on, I struggled to see how my Christian faith could or should inform my engagement. I didn’t see what felt like many good examples of this. Then I came across The And Campaign and Justin Gibony. And now with Compassion & Conviction in my hands, I now have a toolset and framework to faithfully engage in the public square.
Authors Gibony, Wear, and Butler have created a Scripture-founded framework that can help believers who are new to civic engagement while also helping strengthen and hold accountable those who are veterans to civic engagement. I would recommend this book to any Jesus follower who wants to honor God in how they engage in political discussion and action.
From the first chapter: “Politics provides Christians with an opportunity to actively love our neighbors through advocacy, policymaking, and civic representation.”
Below are some quotes and notes that stood out to me as I read the book. But don’t stop at reading what’s on this page. I highly recommend you buy a copy for yourself.
Ch 1: Christians & Politics
“Our participation in the political process or lack thereof — and the principles we employ — greatly affect our neighbors.” (p. 6)
“Refusing to engage civically is failing to steward the things God has placed in our sphere of influence. How can we be salt and light if we have no contact with society (Matthew 5:13 – 16) — especially in an arena with such a significant and broad impact on society? Christians should engage politics because doing so provides us with a robust opportunity to love our neighbor by acting justly, promoting human flourishing, and seeking the prosperity of our community.” (p. 7)
“Loving our neighbors involves actively seeking their wellbeing.” (p. 9)
“Politics provides Christians with an opportunity to actively love our neighbors through advocacy, policymaking, and civic representation.” (p. 11)
“When in conflict we should demonstrate that our public witness is more important than winning a political battle.” (p.17)
“The Bible and history show us that God’s children can do great work in politics as long as they aren’t of politics.” (p. 18)
Ch 2: Church & State
“To properly go about our Father’s business, we must be informed about the civic process and understand the relationship between church and state.” (p. 20)
“Whether political views derive from religious tenets or secular philosophy, invoking values to influence the legislative process violates neither the constitution nor the spirit of the deliberative process.” (p. 29)
“Value judgements are an inescapable aspect of political engagement and decision making. If we’re not applying our values to our advocacy and voting, then we’re applying someone else’s.” (p. 32)
“We can’t separate what we believe in the political arena from who we are in Christ and what obedience to God demands. Jesus told Christians to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest of Jesus’ commandments, and it doesn’t leave any room for us to disregard his guidelines in politics or any other aspect of life.” (p. 32)
“The civic practices of confident pluralism build upon three aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience. … It might seem less obvious that we would pursue tolerance, humility, and patience in light of our firmly held convictions. But it is in fact the confidence in our own views in the midst of deep difference that allows us to engage charitably with others. Rather than lashing out at others or remaining in our own echo chambers, we can pursue dialogue and coexistence even when (and perhaps especially when) we believe that our views are in fact the better ones.” John Inazu, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference (referenced on p. 34 in Compassion & Conviction)
“In Acts 17, we see the apostle Paul demonstrate this in Athens as he interacts with other thinkers in the agora, which was the marketplace of ideas. He wasn’t trying to coerce people; he was trying to relate to and persuade them.” (p. 35; Acts 17:16 – 32 being the reference)
“To engage politics effectively, Christians should be familiar with primary constitutional principles and the relationship between the state and the church.” (p. 35)
“It’s impossible to separate the values of the people from their laws. Laws are always an application of some group’s values. Ideally, everyone would agree on what these values should be — and sometimes everyone does. But when that isn’t possible, we must promote our values within the legislative process. We can do this with respect for those who disagree, understanding that not every precept in the Bible is meant to be a law of the state. We do this by orienting our politics toward a vision of what is truly good for all the people, even those who hold very different beliefs or interests. This is what is means to love our neighbors in politics.” (p. 35)
Ch 3. Compassion & Conviction
“It’s a mistake to suggest that Christians should always come to the same political conclusions. However, all Christians should make those decisions from a biblical framework.” (p. 37)
“As Christians, we must be deliberate about making sure our positions have biblical roots rather than being controlled by our political party or ideological tribe.” (p. 37)
“Politics is a limited but essential forum for pursuing the wellbeing of our neighbors. It is limited in both its scope and its effectiveness.” (p. 38)
“Both [the Democrats and the Republicans] have become less tolerant of differing viewpoints and often stamp out candidates and advocates who hold a more nuanced or moderate perspective.” (p. 39)
Regarding how “the left” and “the right” tend to present issues around laws and policies:
“Because of how the issues are presented, Christians are told to either surrender their biblical convictions or neglect their Christlike compassion.” (p. 40)
“Mature Christians are not swayed by false teachers because they have a strong relationship with God and know what they believe.” (p. 41, referencing Ephesians 4:14)
“Christian advocacy and political positions must reflect the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. This means we must seek justice for our neighbors. Justice is about the right ordering of things, and we look to Scripture to help us determine what that might look like. We know Jesus will eventually set all wrongs right, but until then he has invited us to join him in his work. Politics is an essential arena for pursuing justice. The political sphere provides us with a significant opportunity to actively love our neighbors by acknowledging their dignity and seeking their well-being through the civic process.” (p. 43)
“The world tells us that our values should evolve with the times and suggests that every individual has their own truth. This might sound pleasant, but it simply isn’t a biblical understanding of truth.” (p. 45)
“Be certain that you’re not more eager to invoke God’s moral order for others than you are for yourself.” (p. 47)
“Truth is not subject to popular opinion. There was a time when the majority of American society thought black people were inherently inferior. Notwithstanding the majority’s opinion, that assertion was false. If more people had interpreted the Bible with clean hearts and clear eyes, they would never have indulged in that deception. We shouldn’t be persuaded by whatever side of that argument has greater numbers.” (p. 47)
“We can know the Bible front to back and be adept in our understanding of systematic theology, but if we don’t love our neighbors, we’re not being Christlike. If we use doctrine to correct people but don’t show them love and compassion, not only will we be ineffective but more importantly we’ll fail to follow Christ’s example.” (p. 48)
“Christians are usually proficient at identifying the flaws on the other side of the political spectrum and pointing out how our political opponents fall short of the gospel. But we’re less willing or able to identify the issues on our own end of the spectrum. Neither progressivism nor conservatism satisfies the love or truth imperatives on the gospel. Both fall outside of a biblical framework. Christians must recognize the failings and blind spots in their own political party and ideological tribe in order to avoid indoctrination and to faithfully correct unexamined assumptions.” (p. 50)
“The public square is full of ideas, theories, and philosophies about what to value and how to make the world better, and these things can be helpful or harmful. If we don’t think about them through the lens of the gospel, we’ll be prone to be led away from what is good and true. Biblical doctrine must be the foundation of our civic involvement. We must be led by love and truth as we think critically about political issues and search for solutions.” (p. 54)
“Our identity shouldn’t be tied up in either progressivism or conservatism. We shouldn’t hesitate to correct either when necessary. When conservatism means preserving unjust systems and institutions, it must be opposed. When progressivism means moving from God’s truth, it too must be opposed.” (p. 54)
Ch 4. Partnerships & Partisanship
“Christians rarely go through an arduous due-diligence process in evaluating cultural and political partners before joining forces.” (p. 56)
“The structure of the US political system and the diversity of our society make it difficult to accomplish political tasks without working with people outside a Christian belief system.” (p. 56)
Diverse coalitions offer strength, and God can use all sorts of people to further his will.” (p. 61)
“While more Americans consider themselves Independent than belong to either political party, America’s two-party system is hard for politically active people to avoid.” (p. 61)
“Some Christians are more willing to defend their ideological tribe than the Christian faith.” (p. 63)
“When Christian beliefs aren’t popular, our political partners sometimes present us with rewards or punishments to persuade us to surrender our convictions. If we’re looking to gain favor or avoid social punishment, we’ll likely fail to walk away from the partnership or stand up when necessary.” (p. 64)
“We allow ourselves to be indoctrinated by political, academic, and pop culture leaders and to surrender our convictions to avoid disassociation and criticism.” (p. 65)
“When we internalize worldly beliefs, they become the standard or lens through which we discern right and wrong instead of the Bible. We then accept their partisan and ideological positions without taking the time to think critically about them or assess them based on a biblical standard.” (p. 66)
“We let influencers tell us that if we’re smart or patriotic then we’ll support whatever point of view they’re peddling at the time. That is the definition of indoctrination.” (p. 66)
“When we deny the love or truth of the gospel in order to please others or gain position and power, we deny God and prove that we are most concerned with the approval of people. We squander our inheritance in Christ for worldly treasure.” (p. 67)
“Have you relied on the worst arguments and behavior of those you disagree with to avoid considering whether they might have a point? Try to pick at least one issue where you know many Christians disagree with you and commit to earnestly learning why they believe what they believe and consider it. The worst that can happen is that you will better understand your brothers and sisters who disagree with you.” (p. 67)
“Partnering with another group or person should never be seen as an endorsement of their entire agenda.” (p. 71)
“Christians must be careful about how we engage partners and political parties. If we enter these relationships naively or in need of validation from non-Christians, we can easily lose our Christian identity and end up doing more harm than good.” (p. 72)
“It’s intellectually lazy to agree with the same political party on every single issue. That’s a clear indication that we’ve been indoctrinated, which should never be an option for Christians.” (p. 73)
Ch 5. Messaging & Rhetoric
“[Paul] understood the spirit of the day and even used Athenian rhetorical devices to get his point across.” (p. 78, referencing this TGC article by Tim Keller)
“Paul shows that effectively engaging nonbelievers takes more than quoting Scripture to people who don’t believe in its authority. Christians should understand the subject matter and articulate biblical principles in terms that resonate with the audience.” (p. 78)
In this chapter, the authors share some specific guidelines for effective communication in the public square. From pages 80 – 81, they are:
- Study and be confident
- Show love and concern
- Be informed
- Have a plan
- Maintain a hopeful, positive tone
- Relate to the audience
- Be persuasive
- Don’t hide your convictions
“We have wasted a lot of time trying to correct those to whom we haven’t shown true concern.” (p. 80)
“We shouldn’t let speakers get a reaction out of us by simply using cheap buzzwords that mean virtually nothing. Speakers insult our intelligence when they use vague terms and expect us to be easily pleased or enraged. Neither our approval nor our indignation should be so easily accessible.” (p. 83)
“Liberals and conservatives use the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer with hopes of improving their own reputations without really embodying the true spirit of the civil rights movement. Don’t fall for it. Every campaign and movement must be appraised based on its own works and the merit of its agenda.” (p. 85)
“The more important the issue, the less Christians should rely on talking points and taglines. If our assessment is limited to the resonance of a phrase, then we’ve outsourced our thought process to well-paid wordsmiths. … Next time you discuss hot-button issues such as poverty or abortion, ask all parties involved to avoid slogans and to explain their point of view without using jargon. That’ll test whether everyone really knows why they believe what they preach.” (p. 87)
“If we as Christians are listening to politicians in order to be flattered or to personally identify with a politician, then we will be easily manipulated.” (p. 88)
“Christians shouldn’t chase after the plaudits of politicians; we receive our reward in Christ. We’re interested in politics for the same reason our elected officials should be: to serve the public.” (p. 89)
“Political leaders often talk as if their side is for all that is good and true, and the other side is for death and destruction. But civic decisions become too easy when we as Christians pretend politics is simply a battle between angles and demons.” (p. 90)
“We must be able to disagree and work against those with opposing beliefs without dehumanizing them. When we label other groups evil, stupid, or irredeemable — or deny their pain — we strip them of their human dignity and make ourselves and others less likely to show them concern and compassion.” (p. 90)
“Christian political engagement shouldn’t be all about what Christians have to say. We should go out of our way to make sure the voiceless are heard and respected.” (p. 91)
“Choose your words wisely and remember that when you speak in the public square, you’re going about your Father’s business. Christian messaging should always be rooted in the gospel.” (p. 92)
Ch 6. Politics & Race
“Racial reconciliation is a process that starts with the gospel and ends with the gospel. If we are unwilling to become informed and push back against our tribes when they are racially insensitive or manipulative, we will continue to fall well short of God’s intention for us.” (p. 94)
“Race is not an easy topic to engage, but an unwillingness to confront the issue of racism is one of the greatest roadblocks to reconciliation.” (p. 97)
“Colorblind ideology can cause a form of denial in which we’re unwilling to acknowledge race as the root cause of tough issues because we don’t want to admit that we still have work to do. We have to come to terms with America’s race issue by honestly examining ourselves and our institutions.” (p. 98)
“Christians have to avoid mobs. We must be adept at identifying people who are trying to stir a group of people into one.” (p. 102)
On page 102 the authors break down five thoughts or questions we should consider before “throwing ourselves into a group:”
- Am I clear on the objective of this group or the leader and why it’s important? Are the other people in the group also clear?
- Is the rhetoric of this group or leader based on exaggerated claims and baseless accusations against others or on a solid, proactive rationale?
- Am I allowed to ask questions?
- Is the group acting out of love for our neighbors?
- Do we listen and respond to people who disagree?
“By thinking critically and loving our neighbor, we can avoid the influence of mobs that thrive off of division.” (p. 102)
Ch 7. Advocacy & Protest
Protest: “publicly registering disapproval of some action or set of circumstances for the purpose of moving those with power to act.”
Advocacy: “can be private or public and can register disapproval of some action or policy, positively express support for a particular approach to a problem, or both.”
“An easy way to think about it is that advocacy is the large body of work done to make sure that political decision makers make the right decisions. Protest is what is done in order to let them know when they have made the wrong decision.” (p. 106)
“Protest and advocacy are among the most effective tools that we can use to pursue improvements in the lives of others through the civic/political process. Like a hammer or a chainsaw, protest and advocacy can be welded to do tremendous good or to cause tremendous harm. But when Christians use these tools to pursue improvements in the lives of hurting people and to uphold eternal values in our society, we effectively love our neighbors and, by way of these good deeds, glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” (p. 107)
On pages 114 – 115 the authors share some good questions to use when considering who to join in advocacy and/or protest:
- What do we want?
- Who is the decision maker?
- Who is on the team?
- What do we have?
(Hit these pages in the book for more specifics of what they get at, along with some examples.)
Ch 8. Civility & Political Culture
“Civility shows itself when we acknowledge the best in our political opponents’ line of thinking and the best in our political opponents themselves. Civility is mercy and forgiveness. It is a form of public grace.” (p. 117)
“All incivility is, at its root, preceded by dehumanization. Incivility is toxic because it stems from a lapse in the recognition of human dignity: recognition of the dignity of others or recognition of one’s own dignity.” (p. 118)
“We are increasingly self-segregating ideologically, so we don’t live in community as neighbors with people who disagree with us politically.” (p. 119)
“Humility helps us separate a person’s thinking from their dignity and to recognize and respect the latter even when we vehemently disagree with the former.” (p. 121)
“People who are proponents of civility but quietists on everything else are, in fact, a great threat to civility. They are silent on voter disenfranchisement, but quick to urge the disenfranchised to be civil in how they express their disagreement. They are silent on the inequities and injustices in our criminal justice system, but are more than happy to retweet videos of protesters blocking highways or cursing at pedestrians. We can hardly encourage civility if we undermine a healthy civic life.” (p. 123)
“Christians can be one while disagreeing on prudential policy matters, but we cannot be one while expressing contempt for one another in the public square.” (p. 124)
“Our responsibility to one another as Christians rises above civility. Civility is the baseline for how we treat strangers, yet no Christian is a stranger to us but is, instead, our brother or sister in Christ. Christians will have political disagreements, too, but our disagreements are to be in the context of mutual love and submission to Christ.” (p. 124)
Pages 125 – 126 outline guidelines for civil political engagement. They are:
- Hold out hope for political opponents’ best possible motives.
- Affirm the true and the good in our opponents’ argument.
- Avoid deception and manipulation.
- Ground political engagement in service.
A Closing Exhortation
“Dear Christian, if you are going to do civics and politics, we first urge you to do it. All throughout Scripture there are diverse action commands. Without doubt, civic and political engagement begins with what we think and what we believe — and our prayer is that this book has helped to shape and clarify your thinking and belief. But never be drawn off into the false assumption that right thinking and right belief are sufficient. As with so many other areas of this Christian life, orthodoxy is hollow apart from orthopraxy. Christian faith starts with what we think and believe, but it manifests itself in what we do. Democracy is not ultimately an adjective or even a noun; democracy is a verb.” (p. 128)
“Christian political and civic engagement is a spiritual offering. It is offering time, talent, and resources to the Lord so he can accomplish his will.” (p. 130)