Book Notes

Compassion (&) Conviction

Book cover for Compassion (&) Conviction
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: 

  1. Study and be confident
  2. Show love and concern
  3. Be informed
  4. Have a plan
  5. Main­tain a hope­ful, pos­i­tive tone
  6. Relate to the audience
  7. Be per­sua­sive
  8. 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:”

  1. 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?
  2. Is the rhetoric of this group or leader based on exag­ger­at­ed claims and base­less accu­sa­tions against oth­ers or on a sol­id, proac­tive rationale? 
  3. Am I allowed to ask questions?
  4. Is the group act­ing out of love for our neighbors?
  5. 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:

  1. What do we want?
  2. Who is the deci­sion maker?
  3. Who is on the team?
  4. 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:

  1. Hold out hope for polit­i­cal oppo­nents’ best pos­si­ble motives.
  2. Affirm the true and the good in our oppo­nents’ argument.
  3. Avoid decep­tion and manipulation.
  4. 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)

All excerpts © 2020 by AND Institute, Inc.

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