Uneasy Citizenship teaser: "A Better Engagement"
Plus, three recent articles well worth your time, and a bit of personal news
Christmas may be just 19 days away, but it sure doesn’t feel like it for those in higher education. Final exams at John Brown University start next week, followed by the inevitable pile of grading that follows. It’s in this relative calm before the storm that I’m sharing a sneak peek of my in-progress book, Uneasy Citizenship.
In October I shared an excerpt from Chapter 3, which focuses on the problem of political polarization. Now, here’s a look at Chapter 5, “A Better Engagement.”
For someone who studies and teaches politics at a university, I don’t really like politics that much. I mean, sure, I enjoy studying institutional development and individual behavior, and I enjoy making sense of legal decisions and arguing for certain kinds of constitutional interpretation. But as for the act of politics, with its resulting debate, conflict, and desire to win? That makes me uncomfortable. It makes me anxious. It makes me uneasy.
You might feel the same way when it comes to politics. And even if you don’t, you might feel conflicted about getting too close to politics because of the risks you think it poses to your Christian identity. So much of our public identity as Christians is interpreted as being peacemakers, which we often read as being loving, on being winsome, on being nice. But while Jesus does call us to be peacemakers, avoiding conflict is decidedly not a Christian trait. In fact, sometimes our charge to make peace will lead to conflicts of the messiest kind. Sometimes being nice by the world’s standards isn’t what the moment demands.
On June 25, 2021, President Biden criticized legislation in Republican-led states as “anti-LGBTQ bills” and “bullying against kids.” Biden didn’t mention specific legislation, but he was most likely referring to bills prohibiting biological males from competing in girls’ sports and barring minors from receiving hormone therapy for the purpose of gender transitioning. In response, Southern Seminary’s Andrew Walker sarcastically noted, “The public witness of the church is scandalized only when a Republican is in office,” a clear reference to those who lamented the state of Christianity’s public witness during the Trump administration.
There is some truth in Walker’s words. Underneath his acerbic tone is a call to consistency in a Christian political witness. Consistency, or maintaining a standard of beliefs and views regardless of context of consequences, often takes a backseat to in-the-moment victories and point-scoring. Consistency is often a rarity in the politics of this world. Christians, though, are not called to be of the world. Consistency in our beliefs is just one element of a Christian posture in political engagement, one that has the potential to both confound the world and point towards something far greater.
I mentioned early in this book that I would not provide a list of policy views that Christians should adopt to exhibit a Christian political engagement. Faithful Christians can (and do) disagree on matters of policy enactment, even while sharing fundamental convictions about justice, prioritizing the imago Dei, caring for orphans and widows, and welcoming the stranger. It is reasonable for some Christians to be passionate Republicans and for others to be passionate Democrats, and for still others to be passionately dispassionate about party labels and platforms. We should not question the sincerity of a Christian’s faith based solely on his or her voting behavior. Our fallen world is imperfect, as are the political choices we are bound to make.
Despite these inevitable disagreements, Christians from across the political divide—conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat—should embrace a distinctly Christian posture in our political engagement, one that distinguishes us from the rest of the world. This means speaking consistently and, when called for, prophetically. It means being humble, yet strong. It means seeking justice, not victories. And it means keeping our eyes where they belong—on Jesus’ empty tomb and the hope it provides—while rejecting the false idols of temporary political wins.
This is, I believe, a better political engagement.
Additionally, here are three recent articles that are well worth your time:
“Can officials pray in public? It’s complicated” (Kelsey Dallas, The Deseret News). Dallas explains why it’s difficult to know when city-sponsored prayer events cross the line from constitutional to unconstitutional. Spoiler alert: It’s because of ambiguities in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
“New York Religious Schools Face a Vaccine Mandate. Will They Fight It?” (Emma Fitzsimmons, Liam Stack, and Jeffery Mays, The New York Times). Mayor Bill de Blasio recently enacted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public and private schools in New York City, and private Catholic and Jewish schools are weighing whether to push back. One key determinant will be how hard the city will inevitably push to enforce this mandate, which affects tens of thousands of people. One opponent of the mandate predicted the outcome: “This will just lead to another court battle on religious freedom which New York will once again lose.”
“Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun” (Barton Gellman, The Atlantic). This is a very long read, but if you can get past the hyperbolic headline, the substance of Gellman’s article is fascinating. He argues the convergence of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and electoral incentives is painting a dark picture of the 2024 presidential election landscape, one in which Joe Biden’s slim but decisive 2020 victory would be overturned by state legislatures loyal to Donald Trump. I’m not at alarmist, but it isn’t too hard to see this worst case scenario coming to pass.
Finally, I’m excited to announce my involvement with a project I strongly believe in. I’ve joined the board of directors for the American Values Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to “growing a community of Americans empowered to lead with truth, reject extremism and misinformation, and defend democracy.”
AVC was founded by former Christian Post politics editor Napp Nazworth, and includes Democrats for Life veteran Dan Green as digital director. AVC has published articles, hosted dialogues and training sessions, and highlighted research on important questions facing American political culture. Check them out, and consider supporting their work.