In our divided political and cultural landscape, the combination of conviction and compassion is more necessary than ever. Join Scott and Sean as they interview author and founder of the AND Campaign, Justin Giboney about his new book Compassion and Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement.
About our Guest
Justin Giboney is the founder of the AND Campaign, whose goals are to foster responsible Christian engagement in politics and public life.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your cohost Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Scott Rae: We're here with our guests today, Justin Giboney who is the co-founder of AND Campaign, also he's training as an attorney, he's also been a political strategist. Justin we're so delighted to have you with us. He is the co-author of a terrific new book entitled Compassion (&) Conviction, subtitle, The AND Campaign's Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement. Justin, welcome. We're delighted to have a chance to talk to you about this terrific new book that you've co-authored with your colleagues, Michael Wear and Chris Butler.
Justin Giboney: Hey guys, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be on.
Scott Rae: Justin, tell our listeners, first of all, what is the AND Campaign and what are its goals?
Justin Giboney: Sure. The AND Campaign is a Christian civic organization that is really trying to, number one, raise civic literacy among Christians. We want Christians to better understand the process and better understand policy. And then we want to help Christians apply their values to the issues of the day.
We think that unfortunately there is a false dichotomy in our political landscape where if you believe in justice then you go to the left, and if you believe in more order you go to the right. And we think that Christians have to do both. And so we're trying to help Christians to do that, which often means reframing the issues. But we just want to be a resource for pastors, churches and Christians in general, to help them engage politics more faithfully.
Sean McDowell: Sometimes I've heard Christian say that we should stay out of the political arena and just preach the gospel and make disciples, but you disagree. Tell us why.
Justin Giboney: I do disagree. I think politics gives us... Because for one, we have to understand that politics, whether we like it or not, it impacts every aspect of society. So whether it's if we go to church, what our children eat, what our children learn in school, all of these things are impacted by politics.
And so I think for Christians to sit it out and to not try to engage politics is really missing a huge opportunity to promote human flourishing and most importantly to defend human dignity in the public square. I think politics is a tool that can be used to do those things, to really love our neighbor in the way that we should. And so I encourage Christians to use that opportunity because I think we're bad stewards if we don't.
Now, I do want to affirm what some people are thinking when they say that we shouldn't engage. I think to a certain extent, they're saying we shouldn't allow politics to be our master and that we should be cautious because politics can be something that taints the church.
It can be something that can be misused, and sometimes we've abused it and politics have abused us. But I think if we go about it in the right way and we frame it properly, that it can be used to do some good things. And I think we should take that opportunity.
Scott Rae: Justin, the point you just made touches on, I think the next question we want to get to, because you make the argument that politics is actually what you call a moral enterprise. In light of what you've just said about the political arena, I think a lot of people would find that argument a little hard to swallow. Tell us what is the argument you make for politics being a moral enterprise?
Justin Giboney: Well, let's take it to the Bible. I mean, if you look in 1st John 3, when it talks about love, when it talks about love being more than words, that if your neighbor or your brother or sister needs something that you wouldn't just say, "Bless your heart." That you would actually do something for them. And that's why I think politics is such a robust way to do that.
It gives us the opportunity to have a major impact on our neighbors, to make sure that they're not being mistreated. Look, government is about order and if Christians believe in order, why wouldn't we use government to make sure that it's doing its job, to make sure that it's protecting people and that there isn't chaos in the streets? Why wouldn't we take that opportunity?
I think it's very important for us to understand that this is something that's placed in our sphere of influence and if we don't have an influence on it, if we just leave it to itself, then I think that's a big problem. So when you talk about issues like the sanctity of life, a lot of people that say we shouldn't be in politics too much, well, they do believe in the sanctity of life. And so should we not weigh in when it comes to the lives of the unborn?
We can go to the past when you look at slavery, many of the abolitionists were Christians, should they not have engaged that and set some of God's people free. I think they should have and I think even today there's some very serious issues that if we sit out, because we're almost acting like God isn't big enough to deal with politics, politics is too tainted for the God that can wash away our sins. I think we're giving too much credit to the nasty side of politics and not looking to see how it could be used in a positive way.
Sean McDowell: You're inviting Christians to enter into the political arena, at least as far as getting engaged, voting, et cetera, what biblical principles and guidance does the Bible offer for how we approach public policy?
Justin Giboney: Yeah. That's a good question. Just as we talk about in the book, the Bible provides Christians with a framework for engaging. And the reason I say this is the Bible... We would say Jesus in other aspects of the Bible had an impact on everything in the world. And therefore, because it had an impact on everything it had, in a sense, political implications.
And so we think that the Bible through its principles gives Christians a framework for engaging politics. Now, I want to be very clear, that does not mean that it tells us what to think on every single issue. And so I think that's a mistake that we can make too where there's something that the Bible doesn't speak directly towards, but if it's in our interests, we try to make it a biblical issue. That's not the case.
But if you look at the compassion and conviction, and this is the way we talk about it. We talk about it by means of justice and moral order. Really the two primary reasons that we need government is for order and for justice. That's the primary purpose that government serves and if that's the primary purpose that government serves, we have a concept of justice, right?
We have a concept of order that we get from the Bible and if you get that from the Bible and you can apply it to society to make the lives of your neighbor better, to make sure that they flourish, to make sure that their human dignity is respected, why wouldn't you do that? I would almost ask the question, what is it about politics that says that Christians couldn't enter that space?
And so my general answer is because we understand justice and we understand order we should apply those two things in the political sphere. We should care about whether people are being imprisoned for too long. The Bible is full of unjust imprisonment. We should care about that because it takes fathers out of families. It does a number of things.
We should care about if the poor are being treated well. Now, we can say, "Hey, that's the church's responsibility to do that." To some extent it is, but I think we can also agree that the church in no way touches as many people as the government can. Now we can go back and forth on how much one should give and what economic system we should go on.
I'm not saying that the Bible tells us exactly how that should go, but it does tell us we should care. It does tell us to care for the immigrant and things of that nature. And so when we take those principles and we understand that politics touches those so directly, we'll just be missing a huge opportunity if we did not. And I think we'd be remiss, not just missing opportunity, but we'd be remiss and in certain instances, I think unfaithful, if we didn't use politics as a tool to impact those areas.
Scott Rae: Yeah, Justin, I think that's a really helpful argument. We reflect back on what Jesus said when he said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." He doesn't tell us how much Cesar should get and how much God should get. It's just both are appropriate realms for the follower of Jesus to be involved in.
Now, let me follow up on this if I might. It's not just religious people who have qualms and reservations about involvement in the political arena. A lot of folks in our secular culture think that religious people shouldn't be involved in the political arena either based on their understanding of the separation of church and state, but you maintain in your book that the original intention for the separation of church and state is a lot different than the way it's understood today. What's changed in the understanding of that over the years?
Justin Giboney: Yeah. Good question. The one thing we have to understand, because I do think the separation between church and state is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts that there is out there, legal concepts that there is out there. Some people take it to mean that your religion should play no role in your politics at all. It should play no role in any law. And that's just not what the founders intended.
What the founders were saying was that you should not establish a religion, right? There should not be a Church of England, for instance, right? You shouldn't have the equivalent of that in America. No, religion should be established, but also that the government should not be able to stop you from using your religious conscience from practicing your religion in real ways.
So it cuts both ways, right? You don't establish a religion and you don't stop people from worshiping. There's a freedom of religion and that's what was meant. But again, they did not mean that your religious values shouldn't play a role in the positions that you take because in fact, that's impossible. Everybody has convictions, whether they're secular progressive convictions or they're Christian convictions.
You have convictions and the fact of the matter is you can not create laws without values. No law is neutral and so any law that you look at came from somebody's values, again, whether they're secular values or Christian or Muslim values or whatever, they all come from our convictions. And so you can't really separate your faith from your politics in that way if it's truly part of you. If it's truly what you believe, it's going to play a part.
Now, there are limits to that, right? We understand that Christianity is not about imposing the religion on people. It doesn't work that way. If you impose it on somebody, it's not real. We're not trying to do that. But again, we are trying to take those measures that are necessary to make sure we're protecting people's human dignity, to make sure that we're helping people as much as we can. And so you cannot take values, whether they be Christian or otherwise out of politics. It just doesn't work that way.
Sean McDowell: That's a really helpful distinction. Sometimes I've talked with my secular friends and I said, "Wait a minute, you have an ideology and a worldview you're advancing, so do I. You don't get a pass in a way that I don't." The question is not if, the question is, what worldview, how and why?
And I think you're pulling back the curtain on that, which is very, very fair. Let me ask you this, Justin, you insist that both conservative and progressive platforms ultimately fall short of the Bible in some fashion. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Justin Giboney: Sure. Both conservatism and progressivism are made by human hands. They are not infallible. And I really believe that when Christians feel like they need to be conservative or progressive on every single issue, I think that's one of the most intellectually lazy positions that you can take, because neither of them is going to completely put us in a position where the gospel would put us.
Again, it's not infallible. It's not going to lead us in a way that the gospel leads us. I think that there are times when Christians should be conservative, because there are certain things that God has already said are good. Certain institutions like marriage and the church and so on that God has said are good. And so we need to be conservative when protecting those and making sure that we're doing it in a way that is inclusive and that that helps people.
But there are times to say no. Certain things don't need to change because God's truth doesn't change. And so we can't improve on everything. Sometimes we have to maintain what God has given us. And then on the other hand, I think sometimes Christians need to be more progressive because we live in a broken world and we have broken institutions and we have broken systems and we don't want to add to injustice by maintaining something that is wrong.
And so in those situations where something needs to change, we need to make sure that we're willing to change. For instance, when you're talking about the Jim Crow era or things of that nature, for Christians when they're facing those issues of racial justice, for us to be completely conservative and unwilling to change really preserving injustice is not what God called us to do.
Again, we need to be thoughtful about it, but I truly believe that there are certain issues that we need to be conservative on. There's certain times when we need to be more progressive and understand that if we are living in a broken world and if these two ideologies were made by human hands, they have to be flawed.
And if we're not willing to think about where our side of the argument may be flawed in some areas, then we're going to be put in a position where we're adding to iniquity and we just have to be more thoughtful than that.
Scott Rae: Now, Justin, this is a really helpful point you make. We've said before with some other guests that neither political platform was written with biblical faithfulness as its goal and by definition, they're going to be flawed not to mention the fact that they're flawed human beings that are writing these positions.
You maintain throughout the book that there are political positions that are more controlled by ideology as opposed to being controlled by the teaching of scripture. Can you give us an example, maybe one from each side of the aisle of political positions that are more a function of ideology than of biblical teaching?
Justin Giboney: Sure. I've often said that we've allowed our political affiliation to become religious in nature and so often we conflate what ideology is telling us with what the Bible is telling us. And so on the progressive side, I would say the abortion issue is one of those. One of the things that I think is regrettable that a lot of progressives do is they completely eliminate the unborn from the equation.
And that's why it seems so easy to them because you can just say, "I mean, it's just a woman's choice. Why would you get in the middle of that?" It's that simple. Well, you say some because it's not that simple, because there is another life that's involved here and it makes it a tougher choice than you want to make it. And when Christians just go along with that and use the rhetoric and just go kind of regurgitate the talking points, they're missing the understanding that we're not supposed to shed innocent blood.
We know that these aren't easy conversations to have. We know that women are in crisis situations and I think the pro-life movement would do good to recognize that and focus on maternal mortality rates and things of that nature. But we can not just accept the progressive narrative on that issue and move forward with it. We have to critique it. We have to come stronger.
I think when you look on the conservative side, you could look at the race conversation where a lot of folks... Just we have this kind of rugged individualistic point of view, where we act like all the ground is equal and everybody has to make it on their own and again, I think that's ideology.
I don't see Jesus as a rugged individualist. Certainly he was about accountability, but there was also a level... I mean, we can go through several different stories where when there was wrongdoing, when things needed to be made right, people did have to sacrifice for their brothers and sisters who had been oppressed.
If you look at the Exodus narrative, this is one of the things that you see a lot in the black church. The worst thing you could ever do would be to be on the side of the oppressor and so when we're not willing to really dig deep and look to make sure that we have taken care of things on the racial justice side.
These disparities that are often based on race and we haven't really investigated them because we want to summarily dismiss it as Marxism or Critical Race Theory, all these boogeymen that we've created, we're really focusing on our ideology. Are we really looking at what the Bible has to say about it?
Because if I think if we look at what the Bible has to say about justice, we wouldn't be so afraid of some of these systems and theories that folks have made up to address it, we'll just be focused on getting it right. And so I think those are two places on the progressive side and conservative side where we're more ideological than we are biblical.
Sean McDowell: Justin, let's talk about this for a second. What does the Bible say about justice?
Justin Giboney: I think when you look at justice from a biblical point of view, you have to start with the Imago Dei. Because we are all made in the image of God, we all have a certain dignity. That means we all must be treated a certain way, right? I can not treat either of you as less than human, right? There's a certain respect. There's a certain worth that I have to acknowledge in you. And that means that if you work for me, I have to pay you what you earn.
That means I cannot oppress you and keep you from voting, or keep you from eating or keep you from being heard. That means I have to recognize you in a certain way. And so I think when you look at American history and you look at the way that race has played a role in our history, it's hard to deny that people of color, especially African-Americans, have been treated less than the Imago Dei.
We can talk about slavery, we can talk about Jim Crow, we can talk about Redlining, we can talk about the racialized violence that's going on in society. There's not an acknowledgement of that dignity and that's an injustice. When you treat somebody less than what they're worth because of the Imago Dei, then you have committed an injustice and that certainly has racial and social application.
If a certain group of people are going to prison longer, because there's partiality in our courts, Christians can not sit there and say nothing. I mean, we can go to the book of Amos, when he comes to Israel and others and says, "Look, God is threatening to destroy you." He wasn't just threat threatening to destroy them because of sexual immorality, he was coming to destroy them because of how they treated the poor.
He was coming to destroy them or threatening to destroy them because there was partiality in their courts. That's what the Bible says about justice, and so when we create a kind of ideology or a political point of view that just focuses on one issue and doesn't look at how the Bible talks about justice and how serious God was about that issue, we're missing part of the Bible. We're missing that justice side of the conversation.
I think that happens too often, but again, if you go through the prophets, Isaiah, Micah, Amos, you cannot miss the idea that God has an expectation that we will do justice. Let's go to Isaiah where God is basically... He looks around and there's injustice and unrighteousness and it says, "God was appalled."
He couldn't believe that we were at peace with injustice, that his people were at peace within justice. And so I think when we read through that and we do it with an eye towards understanding the Bible and not an eye towards what our ideology might say about it, or what Marxism might say about it or whatever, it's hard to get away from addressing the disparities in our midst.
Scott Rae: Justin, you maintain in your book that race presents a great opportunity for the church today, the discussion about race, how do we ensure that that opportunity for the church is not wasted today? I mean, maybe say a little bit about what you mean. In what way does the race discussion present an opportunity for the church?
Justin Giboney: I think it presents an opportunity because we've handled it so poorly and because it's been handled in general so poorly. The church loses credibility on that conversation because we have a huge divide in the church. There's a major racial divide in the church and so when the church comes and tries to tell others outside of the church what they should do in that regard, they can point and say, "Well, y'all don't even talk to each other. Y'all can't even see eye to eye on anything to even have a conversation."
And so in that an opportunity is presented not because of the good things that are going on but because of what we've missed. And I think if we can correct that, if we can come together in humility, and here's a really big point. And I think we often miss it, we have to be able to come together and not be in a posture of self-defense.
When we come to a conversation about race, often we're coming with our shields up, our hands up and we're trying to make sure that we leave that conversation faultless, and we just can't come into the conversation like that because you give nothing. You're not willing to seed any ground, even when you need to.
And I often tell people how often do people have a conversation with Jesus and leave with their storyline and their narrative intact? Well, we have to go into the race conversation willing to be examined, not with a posture of self-defense, but with a spirit of self-examination to actually be open to saying, "You know what, I did get that wrong," or, "My tribe has gotten that wrong. I need to do better."
And so if we can do that, if we can come together, because I'm not one of the people that thinks we can just come together, sing kumbaya and move on and everything's all good. My idea of racial conciliation is being able to come out of our comfort zones and advocate together against some of these disparities in criminal justice and other places that we see.
Being able to come together and share resources like the AND Campaign did with Churches-Helping-Churches, where we raised $1.3 million for churches in low-income areas. That was done not just by the black church where I'm coming from, but also by white evangelicals. We came together in a crisis to get that done. If we can do those things, then we can have a real conversation and we can move forward and we can glorify God, but also have a testimony and an example that we can share with the rest of the country.
Sean McDowell: That's really moving Justin. I love that, coming together for a common cause amidst the differences is what this is about, not agreement, but unity and a larger common cause. I think that's beautiful. Let me ask you a personal question to this. You suggest that we should take an inventory of our own political positions and be honest how we came to those positions. What did that look like in your own life when you did that?
Justin Giboney: Yeah. One issue I had to do that on and I keep bringing this up, but... Well, let me use a different one. I think even on the... I've been a Democrat all my life. I've always just kind of... That's a space I've been in and I have good reasons for it too, but on an issue like abortion, that wasn't something that I always talked about.
I didn't necessarily think it was right, but my party didn't really talk about it and so I just kind of dismissed it. And I just had to deal with the fact and look really to what the Bible had to say about it. And I had to deal with my views and say, "You know what? There's certain things that I have to disagree with my party on. And until I'm willing to do that, I can't really ask the person in the Republican party on the other side to do that, if I'm not willing to do it." Right?
And so I think it's that honesty of saying, "If I'm going to tell you to correct yourself, have I investigated where I stand and am I willing to do that with myself?" And so that's one of the issues that we fight about, right? One group doesn't care about race. The other group doesn't care about abortion and because of that, we don't have any credibility amongst each other.
And I think we need to care about both of those issues and be able to come together and have a deep conversation about it and I think that'll bring healing, but it has to come with humility. It can't come with the hubris or the pride of feeling like we're going to walk out of that conversation and the other side is going to tell us that we get everything right?
Scott Rae: Justin, one final question for you. Nobody disputes that we have huge political divisions today and especially in the aftermath of the election. What out there gives you hope that our political divisions can move toward more healing?
Justin Giboney: I think as individuals we have to build relationships, we have to be able to fellowship and unfortunately politics often gets in the way of us doing that. We get so tied to a party, so tied to an elected official, a politician, that if somebody doesn't agree with us on that, we can't even talk to them. And we just can't do that.
We have to be able to push partisanship aside, we have to be able to push other things aside and build relationships with people because otherwise the only thing we see of people and know of them is the character that we're presented, right? This ought to be the character that you're presented on Fox news, if you're a conservative or the character that you're presented on MSNBC, if you're a progressive.
But when you actually have relationships with people and see how they struggle and see how they love people and help people then you get a different feeling for them. Because I think one of the things we do that's really bad in our society and Christians go along with it, we feel like if you're wrong on the issue that I care about most, then you're really irredeemable and not really worth talking to.
That you're pretty much wrong on everything else. You have no credibility unless you take the position that I want you to take on my issue, but we know that's not true. I mean, even in our families, we have people that we disagree with probably on serious issues, but you still know that they have value. You still know that in other areas of their life they are doing their best and trying to serve as best as they can.
When we're connected only through the characters that we see of one another and we don't have any relationship, then we're in trouble. And so I think to heal all this stuff, it has to be based on relationships that aren't entered into in pride or to get high fives from our ideological tribe. But to really get to know one another, not even necessarily trying to win an argument, but just trying to love one another as we're called to do.
Scott Rae: Justin, that's really helpful and I think it sort of reflects the tenor of your book. And I want to recommend your book to our listeners again, entitled Compassion (&) Conviction, Justin Giboney, Michael Wear and Chris Butler. Justin, thanks so much for coming on with us. It's been a very insightful discussion about a whole host of things.
Our prayer is that the AND Campaign would be one of those tools that God uses to help bring about healing among the divisions in our culture and where we could view people who hold things differently than we do just as maybe opponents or people that have differences instead of as enemies. And if we can do that, I think that will be a pretty significant step in the right direction going forward.
Justin, thanks so much for being with us. We wish the AND Campaign well, and I hope your book gets lots of attention because it's a terrific work and addresses some really important things. Thanks so much for being on with us.
Justin Giboney: Thank you all for having me. I enjoyed it.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think biblically: Conversations on Faith and culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, Justin Giboney and his book, Compassion (&) Conviction and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation with Sean and Justin and I give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.