Review: Compassion (&) Conviction

Compassion (&) Conviction, Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler, Foreword by Barbara Williams-Skinner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A handbook for better political and civic engagement, overcoming the highly polarized character of our current discourse and the unhealthy assimilation of the church into politics.

I, like so many of you, struggle increasingly with two things. One is the character of our political discourse, that turns everything into an either-or choice, down to the wearing of masks in a pandemic, a practice uncontroversial throughout most of the world. The other is the increasing captivity and assimilation of blocks of Christians into our political divisions, on both conservative and progressive sides, where Christian ethics and convictions on a range of matters must be muted in the pursuit of a few political aims. The Anabaptist in me is tempted to flee it all, branding it as “just politics,” a mere shadow of the polis of the church, the harbinger of God’s in-breaking kingdom. And yet, I see the examples of believing people in scripture and history whose faithful lives and witness functioned redemptively within political structures. And government, around which our politics revolve, is a God-ordained structure to bring order and justice within society, and, when at its best, to protect the most vulnerable among us.

The authors of this book, described as “the AND Campaign’s guide to faithful civic engagement” renew my hope that a better form of political and civic engagement is still possible. The AND Campaign‘s stated aim is:

TO EDUCATE AND ORGANIZE CHRISTIANS FOR CIVIC AND CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT THAT RESULTS IN BETTER REPRESENTATION, MORE JUST AND COMPASSIONATE POLICIES AND A HEALTHIER POLITICAL CULTURE.

This book combines principle and practice to flesh out that aim. The authors begin by setting politics within the broader Christian mission, contending that faithfulness always comes before political wins. They offer a civics lesson on how our government is constituted and the First Amendment protections both from a state church and the state’s intrusion into the life of the church. This does not preclude the influence of Christian principles in political discussions pursuing the common good. The authors emphasize how our engagement must be shaped by compassion and conviction, love and justice. They discuss how we engage partnerships and partisanship without losing our identity. They offer guidelines for messaging that is clear, well-researched, persuasive, loving, and convictional. They give clear-eyed direction for engaging racial injustices and pursuing racial reconciliation while avoiding destructive mobs. They instruct readers in effective advocacy. And they offer practical guidelines for maintaining civility.

I particularly appreciated the following guidelines for partnerships and partisanship:

  1. Be confident in your identity in Christ.
  2. Get to know your partners and understand their endgame.
  3. Identify the objective and shared values.
  4. Identify differences and conflicting views.
  5. Don’t isolate the issue.
  6. Don’t take on your partner’s identity.
  7. Protect against losing your identity through active critique. (pp. 69-72)

All this underscores two major themes of this book. One is the theme of AND in a time of either-or. Their approach is one of reconciliation, that cares for both fetuses and mother, for both people of color and police. Yet it is also an approach grounded in truth and justice. The authors repeatedly speak of pro-life convictions, they uphold advocacy, oppose systemic racism, and counsel avoiding those who would engage in destructive mob violence.

The second theme is that our political and civic engagement, as every area of life must be shaped by our mission and ethics as Christians. We must never submerge our identity for political aims, no matter how good and holy those aims may seem. We are to do this confidently but humbly, not arrogantly, and to love those who oppose us.

It is a time when the only alternatives for Christians appear to be political captivity and assimilation or isolation that withdraws from and political involvements. The authors invite us to principled and loving engagement in civic and political affairs as acts of Christian faithfulness that undergird rather than undermine our Christian witness. They offer biblical principles and practical guidelines. This is a vital book for such a time as this.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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