Online Conversation | Engaging Politics with Love and Truth, with Justin Giboney

Online Conversation | Engaging Politics with Love and Truth
with Justin Giboney

On August 28th the Trinity Forum and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities welcomed AND Campaign President and author of the best-selling new release Compassion (&) Conviction, Justin Giboney to discuss the timely and thorny topic “Engaging Politics with Love and Truth.” 

We were delighted to have Trinity Forum Trustee and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities President Shirley Hoogstra serve as a special guest moderator for this conversation.

Special thanks to this event’s sponsors and CCCU members:
American Center for Political Leadership at Southeastern University
Pepperdine School of Public Policy

The painting is Sunrise by T. C. Steele, 1886
The song is All That is to Come (Instrumental) by Christy Nockels

 

Transcript of our Online Conversation with Justin Giboney:

Shirley Hoogstra: Welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining us for this online conversation with Justin Giboney. As you just heard, I’m Shirley Hoogstra, and I am so pleased to be a Trinity Forum board member, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. I’m sitting in for my very good friend Cherie Harder, who’s president of the Trinity Forum and the regular host of these remarkable Friday conversations, a silver lining to this pandemic. If you’ve been watching your TV for the last two weeks, you know that today’s topic is a timely one with the election rapidly approaching in sixty-six days. It seems like we are seeing two opposing views of who and what America is and should be. Perhaps you’ve experienced this, too. There seems to be sort of a level of national division that is seemingly increasing. But you know what gives me confidence, is that we are still the world’s strongest democracy and that we have really faced political stridency throughout our history. We’ve survived, and we’ve actually grown by doing what we’re doing today, which is fostering an engaged and intentional citizenry, hence a conversation. So, let me introduce Justin Giboney. He is the co-founder and president of the AND Campaign which aims at cultivating what he has called a gospel centric worldview that is committed to both redemptive justice and values-based policy. He is co-author of a new bestselling book called Compassion and Conviction. I’ve read it. It’s excellent. It’s going to be the book that you’re going to want to read. Justin, welcome.

Justin Giboney: Hey Shirley. Good to see you.

Shirley Hoogstra: Nice to see you again. Say, many of our listeners are people of faith. And so, I’m going to just jump right in. Your book is written particularly towards the Christian faith, and here’s what you posit for us. You say that our faith should impact our political outlook as believers. So, what do you think? What difference will it make to our political outlook because we are people of faith?

Justin Giboney: That’s a good question. Well, I think our faith gives us purpose, it gives us a mission, and I think that mission is always connected to everything we do. We know that Christianity isn’t just something we do in church. It’s something that—It’s a lifestyle. It’s a way of viewing the world. And so, it certainly has something to say about how we interact with other people. The way we phrase it and talk about it a lot of times is the love and truth. You know, there is this gospel centered framework where we look at the love and truth of the gospel and what it has to say about our interactions because we know that in Ephesians 4:15, Paul tells the Church of Ephesus that regardless of what’s going on, Christians should be able to speak the truth and love. That’s something that applies to our interpersonal relationships but also to our public witness. And so, when we look at love and what the Bible says about love, one thing we should notice is that we’re to love others like we love ourselves. I think one of the things that that does when it comes to our public witness is it tells us that it can’t be self-centered, right? We can’t continue to go along with what I call the ‘politics of Christian self-interest’, that we must also be interested in others if not more than ourselves. We need to be thinking about how our decisions are affecting others, because it’s hard for me to believe that as a Christian, that I should be more worried about what’s happening to me than what’s happening to my neighbor that might be in need. I think that transforms a lot of things. It makes us more willing to go against our own interests. I mean, I think in a lot of ways, when you talk about justice and when you talk about moral order, you’re asking people to go against their self-interest sometimes to do what’s right. And Christians shouldn’t have a problem with doing that, because our faith demands that. It demands that kind of self-sacrifice, which is a very different viewpoint than I think many other people that come into the public square.

Shirley Hoogstra: Justin, you set a very high standard there, and I’d like you to help us think about where are the examples that you have seen where people have laid down their self-interest for the good of others?

Justin Giboney: Yeah, I think there’s various examples. One that I usually point to is the civil rights movement. My grandfather was a civil rights era preacher, and I got a chance to see and just understand from him what was really the ethos behind that conversation. The motivation was God—to walk into a situation that may seem hopeless, but to somehow have hope, to somehow have faith, that drives you to forgive someone who might have done wrong to you, but then also look them in the eye and demand justice. I think these are some of the things that we can look at whether we look at the life of Fannie Lou Hamer. We look at the life of Dorothy Day. People who are about self-sacrifice didn’t feel like they needed to go hurt someone else just to tell the truth and to really be a convictional Christian. These are examples that I think we can follow of how to be faithful in our civic engagement.

Shirley Hoogstra: Well they’re excellent examples that the kind of bar you’re setting for us as Christians in politics is that we’re going to have to let go of our desire to get even, or to be right, and to say I can lay that down and yet, speak the truth and love. How did you come to this vision?

Justin Giboney: Yeah, I think it’s just reading the Bible and trying to get an understanding of where we can go wrong. I think a lot of what we’re missing in the public square today is moral imagination, right? What moral imagination does is it allows us to see past this moment. It allows us to see past what has happened historically, and what’s happening right now. Sometimes there are things that the moment is hiding from you, and I think it’s your faith and kind of seeing things through the eyes of God that allows you to see past the moment at hand.

Shirley Hoogstra: Yes, faith in what can happen. Faith in the unseen. So, in your suggestion for a brand of politics that would give glory to God, you talk about it as being Christ centered, loving, and caring. This is founded in your own deep sense of faith. So, how did you come to believe that civic participation will not glorify God if it’s placed above worship or sharing our faith or Christian fellowship? Who shaped your Christian beliefs?

Justin Giboney: Again, I would just have to say family, my church home grown, growing up in my church home now of the elders, and how they dealt with us and dealt with different issues. Just to say—and not perfectly and I’ve said this before—one of the key principles of the civil rights movement was that you can never allow your opposition to have a negative impact on your spirit because you can win all kinds of policy debates, you can beat them within the conversation, but you lose something of yourself. And so, that’s one of the things that I think has really been driven home, and it’s not always easy. It’s not something I always get a hundred percent right, but it is a principle and something that we should aspire to as Christians because we know this isn’t an ultimate thing. We talk a lot about what the AND Campaign—About ultimate things. As important as politics is, I mean, I’ve committed a lot of my life to the political arena, it’s still not an ultimate thing. I think that’s one of those understandings that allow Christians to back up and say, “Let me do this the right way, because I have a reward that’s not necessarily tied to this very moment. I have to think past it.”

Shirley Hoogstra: So actually, what you’re saying is your Christian faith gives you freedom, not freedom to define yourself and perhaps an identity as a person here with an earthly call. But, your home, being in heaven, gives you this freedom to say maybe I’m even going to look foolish for the gospel.

Justin Giboney: Yeah, I think it has to. I mean, this is an otherworldly faith. It’s not always the most rational thing to do to not try to be vengeant, or have revenge against someone who’s done something wrong against you, or to give someone the benefit of the doubt who doesn’t deserve it, but that’s not what we’re here for. I think Christians have to realize that every day that we’re in politics, we have another opportunity to show people the will and the character of God. That’s why we really have to be more about the witness that we’re putting out there than actually winning these political battles. Again, I’m a political strategist. I don’t go to any situation not trying to win, but winning a conflict I do believe that our witness has to be more important than winning any political battle.

Shirley Hoogstra: All right. I’m going to press you a little bit on that because what we know in politics is it’s about winning, right? It’s about getting your policies passed. It’s about getting laws passed or winning in court. And look, you were a three-sport athlete in high school football, basketball, cross-country, and the debate team. You played football for Vanderbilt University, big time Southern Sports before going to law school. Okay, these are high octane activities, and yet you do say, just like you said before, that you have to put your witness before the win. How do we actually do that?

Justin Giboney: Yes, as we talked about before, one of the reasons that I got into politics, maybe not the right reason, but one of the reasons I got into politics was because of that kind of competitive spirit. But that doesn’t mean we need to be opposition centered. One of the problems that we have today is that our politics is very much about a response or reaction to our opposition. It’s the cycle of whataboutism where you say that I did something and instead of explaining why I did or didn’t do it; I just point out what you did. That can’t be the way for the Christian because the Christian has a different standard, right? We are doing the work of our father here. What we do should never be controlled by some of the things that are coming from our opposition. We have our own set of standards, and we have to make sure that we understand our purpose in politics. If our purpose in politics is to defend human dignity and to promote human flourishing, then we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by many of the things that are going on. We have to make sure that we stay focused. 

Shirley Hoogstra: And Justin, Christians haven’t always—and then some might say that is it’s been infrequent—where Christians have failed to act on behalf of the good of others. They acted, as we were talking about earlier in this conversation, for their self-interest. You write in your book about the Trail of Tears, where fifty-thousand indigenous people were removed from southeastern United States, and they have four thousand people die, and other people got their land. You’ve got some other examples where people lay down their life and said, look, we can change, and the American Disabilities Act was introduced. Can you tell us as people of faith and people who are not people of faith on the call say how do you reconcile the commands of the gospel with the hypocrisy and the failure of Christians?

Justin Giboney: I don’t think that’s too tough. It’s unfortunate, but I think we’re broken people, and although we have a book and we have a savior in Jesus that are perfect and that show us the way, we don’t always get it right. And unfortunately, throughout history, that has been very clear. But I’ll say this. This is even more of a reason that Christians need to engage in politics the right way. I mean, no one should question whether they are loved by Christians because of our politics. We should be motivated by the fact that people aren’t necessarily clear on that, but we do have an opportunity to make it more clear. That’s why I press Christians so strongly on doing just this and not just criticizing how other people do justice. If you want people to really know how to do it right, give them an example because walking away and just saying, Well, I’m not going to do it because other people have a distorted view of justice, is not going to help the situation. Get in there and do it right and maybe they’ll follow you. Maybe that will actually help our evangelism and that we’re willing to sacrifice ourselves to do that.

Shirley Hoogstra: So who are the people that you can point to that you think were people of faith, who are able to do what you say in your book about loving God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and then sharing the hope of the gospel around the world. But then, I love the way that you said this ‘the great requirement’, which we all know from the famous passage, which is to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Who do you think have combined those things? Not perfectly, but as the kind of Christian example that would give us hope and courage to do just as you’re just as you’re suggesting?

Justin Giboney: Yeah, I think some of the people I’ve mentioned are people like Dorothy Day. I mean, this is someone who was reflective of the will and character of God, right? This is someone who defied kind of these partisan divisions that we see someone who was pro-life, who was very very committed to the poor. This is something that we’ve seen. I mean, you look at someone like Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave, but somehow had the faith and understanding to say, I don’t want to tear down the union to free the slaves. I think the union is the mechanism to free the slaves. And so, I’ll work with anybody to do good and no one to do evil. He was willing to have conversations. You know, today we cancel people that we don’t want to hear from. He wanted to have a conversation and a debate with slaveholders because he believed that his case had merit and that he could make that case, so he didn’t have to run from the opposition. He wanted to engage the opposition because he believed in himself. He didn’t want to be treated with pity. He wanted to be treated as a peer and as someone that had something to say that was of value to our country, and he was able to do that and have a profound effect on history.

Shirley Hoogstra: You talk about the cancel culture that we’re living in. Actually, you’re about combining things that don’t naturally go together. That is one of the brilliant aspects of your AND Campaign. You put this love and truth, compassion and conviction, and social justice and moral order. So many people find those things at odds and yet you have put them together, not cancelling each other out. So, can you give us some concrete examples again about where you see this social justice and, for instance, moral order coming together in a way that for people of faith, for Christian people, should be the way we go forward? What will it cost us to put social justice and moral order together?

Justin Giboney: Well, yeah, I would say this. I think that the Bible puts those things together. I think the Bible puts compassion and conviction, and love and truth, and justice and moral order together. And I think without the two, we see an imbalance. I like the way that Tim Keller put it. He said that love without truth is kind of formless. Right? It’s too malleable. You can make it into anything you want to be and truth without love, is harshness. It’s mean. I think one of the problems that we have on the left is that we want to stand up for justice, but at the same time don’t want to have absolute truth. And, if you don’t have absolute truth and you don’t have absolute standards that are unconditional, that apply to everybody, how do you demand that someone else do justice? On what basis? And so, we see that’s a problem. Again, if you look at the civil rights movement, and this is why I think that the black church tradition has something to say to this moment. Not that we’ve been perfect, but we do have something to say to this moment. You saw people going into a conversation saying, yes, you have to do justice because we all have human dignity. I think that’s where a lot of Christian politics should start the understanding of human dignity and making sure people are treated based on their work. So, they came into the public square and said, “We have human dignity. We ought to be treated that way.” And yet we still have a standard that we must apply to ourselves, right? They’re asking love from you, but also still applying a standard to themselves. One of the problems that I have is when people ask for social justice, but then act like the people that need justice don’t have agency. We do have agency. We can you know—we’re not asking to be necessarily put on a pedestal or treated like children. We’re asking for an opportunity to have the freedom to pursue the things that we know this country was built to pursue. That’s how I think this works out. So much of the conversation that we talk about Shirley is Christians framing the issues for themselves. If you allow the Democratic Party or the Republican Party to frame the issues for you, you’re going to be in a bad place. Look, we’re both attorneys, and so we know that if you frame a question or an issue the wrong way, then there can actually be two wrong answers. And so many times in society, I think we’re at a place where we have two wrong answers. You take the abortion issue. You know, it’s either do you care about women, or do you care about children? No, we care about both. So, we’ll care about maternal mortality rates, and we’ll care about unborn lives. Those two things aren’t separate. There’s no reason those two things can’t be put together. You talk about the LGBTQ conversation. The way it’s framed is that either you affirm someone, or you hate them. In no other area of life, is that the way that we frame things. We love people and sometimes we have disagreements, but we still care for them and would sacrifice our lives for them. The church hasn’t been clear on that sometimes. Sometimes we have the conviction, and we’ve condemned people without showing love, or sometimes on the further left we have the compassion, but not understood that it’s not all that compassionate to the people that you won’t tell the truth to. And so, people also need to know the truth, and that’s how we think you should combine the two. But you can’t do it if you’re adhering too closely to progressivism or conservatism ideologically. It really has to be gospel centered.

Shirley Hoogstra: And so, this again goes to that freedom to ask the question that we think should be asked, not just buying into the question that’s on the table. You have a hero in Howard Thurman, and you talk about how he talked at length about civility in politics and/or the lack of civility in politics and human dignity. What have you learned, especially from the perspective of Howard Thurman?

Justin Giboney: I think Howard Thurman spoke very eloquently on and helped us understand that incivility and hatred really just number one, aren’t effective, right? He talks about it like an infection. We know that Christians, we are to be disinfected. Part of what being the salt is, is to be a disinfectant. But if you allow your political opponents or even your allies to make you angry, to make you someone who was bitter, then you’ve actually caught the infection instead of being a disinfectant. That’s one of the things that he says so well. The other thing I would point out is, especially in this day and time, I think we overestimate how effective incivility is. It’s actually not very effective. It doesn’t persuade anyone. We also have to understand what’s the alternative to civility. It surprises me when so many people who are advocating for incivility don’t understand that it’s civility that gives the small guy a chance to even be part of the conversation. It’s civility that gives women who need to be heard a chance to be part of the conversation. The opposite of civility is just might is right. So, you don’t hear any of the other voices that need to be a part of the conversation. It’s always interesting to see that, but I don’t think people understand the alternatives to civility, and they’re just not something that makes our democracy work.

Shirley Hoogstra: Yes, civility has a generousness to it. Civility says, I don’t have to be at the center. I don’t have to be the loudest. I don’t have to prove my point at every turn. Actually, I’m a curious person. I’m a person that wants to know your point of view. I have intellectual honesty. Maybe, in fact, you have something that I could learn. I think that that generosity that you described, that Howard Thurman was talking about, is grounded in this hope that it’s not just my way that will make it better, but maybe we as a community could make it better.

Justin Giboney: That’s right. I think that’s a huge part of it, and something else you hit on is, is the humility, the understanding, especially as Christians, that we are all broken, that there’s a chance that all of us are getting something very seriously wrong. And, if that’s the case, we better listen.

Shirley Hoogstra: Yes, thank you. I mean, this conversation, I knew would just go like that. And yet, we have a whole half hour. We’ve got some questions from our listeners. First, from our sponsor, Ron Mahurin, and from Southeastern University, “What do Christians, Justin, need to unlearn from what we’ve been taught, even in the church, in order for us to really, truly embrace the love, justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with our God? Where and how have Christians missed the mark on this ability to unlearn what we’ve gotten wrong?”

Justin Giboney: I think part of it starts with where are we looking for answers? Are we looking for answers from the Bible, from our faith community? Are we looking for answers outside of that in a place that is really broken? And I think that’s one of the main things we see. We’ve conflated things like ideological conservatism with theological conservatism. I’m theologically conservative, but I don’t think that would always lead me to be ideologically conservative. And when you conflate those two things, it’s very easy to put the interests of your tribe, so to speak, in front of the interests of other people in front of the common good because we begin to see things with a lens that is just simply not Christian. I think the way to correct that is to step back. One practical way we suggest in the book is to be able to list probably six things that if you lean left or lean right, six things that your side of the conversation gets wrong. If you can’t list those six things they get wrong, and believe me, there’s way more than six that both sides get wrong, then maybe you’re a little too close to it. Maybe you’ve been somewhat indoctrinated. But, I think the ability to step back and critique your side prevents us from being in the situation that we found, where we’re just going along with the ideology, but not really making it go through kind of biblical scrutiny. That biblical scrutiny is what’s going to keep us honest.

Shirley Hoogstra: Well, you talk about being honest about your own point of view and honest about another person’s point of view. That actually requires this sort of courage and bigness of heart, that that transcends tribalism and aligns ourselves with Jesus, and that is what you are suggesting here. Let me give you another question here from Scott. “How do we interact with and dialogue about Christian views on political issues without improperly using the Bible or weaponizing the Bible, sort of as that way of saying, well, now we’ve got the truth. Here we go. Have you ever seen the Bible weaponized?”

Justin Giboney: Oh, yeah, I think the Bible is weaponized all the time, unfortunately. That’s one of the reasons that in the book we talk about– we think the Bible gives us a framework for politics, but we also think it’s not okay to take something out of the Bible and just ignore it or to put something in there. Sometimes, we act like things are promoted by the Bible that really aren’t, right? Sometimes we use it to kind of bolster our point when the Bible doesn’t specifically talk about that. So, there are many things that Christians can disagree on in politics that the Bible doesn’t necessarily speak on within that framework. There’s room for disagreement that we may never agree on how much the government should interact with us when it comes to economics. We can have those disagreements. But if I’m going to come and say, “No, the Bible says that taxes should be this much and we have to be, you know, we have to have a say exactly this large,” then I am taking it out of context. I’m doing something that’s just as bad as ignoring some of the edicts that forced me to treat people a certain way. I have to make sure that I’m honest, and if I have to make a case, sometimes I have to make a case that’s not necessarily based on something the Bible is saying specifically. Sometimes I have to make my case based on other issues because there’s room to disagree within the Bible. So, we don’t have to agree on every single issue. We should be very careful of acting like the Bible says something that it doesn’t.

Shirley Hoogstra: Well, this is about the stewardship of our faith, the credibility about our faith. Again, misusing scripture just undercuts later our witness and you, and the book, and your organization is really clear about not misusing the tools that you have. Again, back to our prior point about winning at all costs. It just shouldn’t happen.

Justin Giboney: Exactly.

Shirley Hoogstra: Let me give you another question from an anonymous viewer, “How should Christians view the role of government? Is it to implement Christian morality? Or is it to create laws and make decisions in the interests of a pluralistic society such as good health care, or is maybe it a combo situation? So, again, how should Christians view the role of government?”

Justin Giboney: That’s a great question. And as you know, we talk about that thoroughly in the book, but let me just say this. I think the two roles of government—we know that government is God ordained, right? So, it’s not something that we should just go against just because we don’t feel like we agree with every single thing. I think the two main purposes of government are order and justice. So, no, I don’t think we are here, especially in this constitutional republic. We’re not here to create a theocracy, to make people go on with everything we say when it comes to making sure that people aren’t treated as if they don’t have that we were talking about before. We should absolutely be using our values to do that. Our values matter. And so, it’s not necessarily about creating a theocracy, but there are no laws without values. And so, values are always going to play a role in creating laws, and we should apply that, but I would be careful because there’s a thin line between those two things. I truly believe that Christians should be able to articulate their values in a way where people see that it is practical and good for everyone. I think if we can’t do that then I think we’ve gotten caught flat-footed. Sometimes even when it came to marriage and things like that, I think we were right, but I don’t think we articulated necessarily how that benefited everyone. It sounded more like the Bible says this, and so you should do it rather than no, the Bible does say this, and this is why it’s practical and good for us all. When we can articulate things in that way, then I think people receive it a little bit better. It shows that it’s not about theocracy, it’s about the common good, and it’s about helping everyone.

Shirley Hoogstra: Self-interest never looks good.

Justin Giboney: Right.

Shirley Hoogstra: Right. And, when you see self-interest, you’re sort of stuck because you say, well look, that just doesn’t ring true. Then you have to be prepared, I think, to present a better and more cogent solution to whatever the conversation is. And, what I appreciate about you, Justin, is you actually are honest about when Christians, even though we have this high calling and we have great foundation, actually fail to live up to our own standards. I think when we don’t admit that, then the level of hypocrisy that people will often level at Christians sticks in a way that is both fair in the instances and then unfair because it’s painting with too broad a brush.

Justin Giboney: Yeah, I would agree. I think when we’re not intellectually honest, we lose credibility, and credibility is currency when it comes to public discourse. And so, when we deny something like that, we’re not convincing anybody. Everybody else sees it. We’re not really doing anything that’s helpful, although we convince ourselves sometimes that we are. When we’re willing to admit that we got something wrong or willing to admit sometimes something that seems like an argument against self-interest, now we have the credibility to speak into the conversation in a way that others have to give credence to because they know we’re being honest. There’re just too many people that are defending themselves, that have this self-defensive posture and think they’re hiding things that are obvious to everybody who are good faith observers. We just need to be honest about those things.

Shirley Hoogstra: I know. Well, when we talk about civility and we talk about sundering the conversation in a fair way, what role do you think the media plays in helping that or hurting that, in your opinion?

Justin Giboney: The media plays a huge role when the media is trying to push narratives instead of just pushing the facts. Again, it’s one of those situations where people can usually see it, right? I think sometimes they convince themselves that they can’t see it. And so, I think there are a lot of people that do media right. There are a lot of journalists that do a very good job, and I’m very thankful for that. But, they frame the issue. Somebody said they can’t control what you think, but they can control what you think about. And so, we really have to be honest. I mean, integrity goes so far in this conversation. We cannot just be people that walk into institutions who are warriors for our ideology. We have to have principles that transcend our ideological tribes, that transcend partisanship, or we end up in a situation like we are now, where again, there’s just no trust and no common ground between the two sides because both of them have become bankrupt when it comes to that currency of credibility. Then the people who try to connect both and try to hold both accountable and to higher standards, we call them weak moderates, or we say they just don’t care enough about the issue. We get to this place where we’re not even having a conversation. We’re just speaking past one another. And so, it’s that integrity and intellectual honesty that really is key to any democracy, to being able to work together and get things done in a pluralistic society.

Shirley Hoogstra: Two questions to follow up on that. One is when you talk about civility, are there times when the civility actually interferes with what needs to be done? Like, there are issues that our black and brown brothers and sisters need, and we as a nation need to address. For so long as it just feels too soft, and maybe that’s a wrong way to say that civility is soft. Things don’t get done that should really get done.

Justin Giboney: Civility allows for a lot of things. But, I think sometimes we make civility being quiet and not interrupting people, and I don’t think that’s necessarily always civility. Yeah, there are probably times when civility has come to an end. Right? I mean, maybe it was the Civil War or something like that, but what are we stepping into? And very rarely do we want to say that we’re at a moment where we’re past civility. I don’t think we’re past civility. I don’t think civility asks black and brown people not to speak up, not to be loud and not to be passionate about what they believe, and not to be passionate about fighting injustice. I don’t believe that’s what civility is. Your point, there have been people who use civility to say, “Hey, just be quiet for now. Let’s just all get along. Let’s not talk loud. Let’s just wait.” I don’t think that’s what civility is. And good Howard Thurman, again, I think would disagree with that definition of civility. Civility has nothing to do with being docile.

Shirley Hoogstra: All right. That is, I think, something that’s really helpful for all of us to understand. Civility is not a doormat or being docile. The more you practice civility, the better you get at finding that sweet spot of passion—maybe even loud certainly, pressed into getting the right and needed justice. But, there is a way to do it so that you have not stomped on or belittled someone else into being quiet.

Justin Giboney: That’s right.

Shirley Hoogstra: Let me ask about how you define justice.

Justin Giboney: Yeah, I think it starts again with the Imago Dei. I think it starts with the fact that we are all created in God’s image, and if we’re all created in God’s image, we have a certain level of worth, right? And so, there is a certain standard by which we must be treated because we have that dignity because we have those inalienable rights that did not come from the state that came from God. A worth that came from God. That’s what I think it’s about. I think it’s about the fairness and how somebody should be treated. What can we not do to someone because they have that innate worth? That’s what we should be looking at. So when we talk about biblical justice, we’re talking about how should people be treated? What is right and wrong? There’s two sides of that conversation, but we really have to engage it, and we have to engage it. And I don’t know how these people separated, but that biblical justice has a social and racial application, right? There’s a way to apply it to social and racial issues that is real because all those things have human—all these people have human dignity. We can’t back up and say, well, there’s biblical justice, but I don’t really want it applied in the social arena because there’s people who do that the wrong way. There’s people who do everything the wrong way. The world has kind of tarnished a lot of things, whether it be marriage or whether—you know, child rearing. All those things have been tarnished. Does that mean we don’t do them? No, it means that we try to do them better, and we try to give people a better example of how to go about it, a biblical example. That’s what I would urge Christians to do. But justice has to be based on the Imago Dei, and our motivation has to be the second half of the great commandment.

Shirley Hoogstra: And to your point there, when we think about political parties that have at its center this justice built in around the Imago Dei, I think people have felt that sometimes when we see this deep division that there’s not a party I want to belong to. I don’t agree with this one. I don’t agree with that one. There’s really sort of a frustration and maybe even despondency. Do you think that we need a new and more intentional Christian party or do we work in the two parties that exist? What’s your thought on that?

Justin Giboney: I would love to see a different party. I think that’s very heavy lifting, and I think we can start something different, but without having a party. I think Christians can come together and kind of a coalition that’s in both parties. To say on certain issues, we disagree on some things, but there are maybe six or eight issues that we agree on. And we’re going to make sure that we come together and support candidates and issues that we agree on with on those bases. So that’s something that we can do. I think people make too much of parties sometimes, and I think it’s because we allow our identity to be a part of the party. If you ask me, I think that parties are tools. And so if you have some—You know, I’m in the Democratic Party, but I use it to do things in my community that I think should get done based on my faith. When somebody says they’re a Democrat or a Republican, I think we can assume too much because not everybody, and Christians shouldn’t, put our identity into the party. We should be able to separate ourselves from the party. One way to test that is, is if I have a critique or even an insult for your party, do you automatically get offended? Well, I would hope that I don’t automatically get offended because you’re not talking about me. Right. I may agree with you. I mean, there are some points that you may be right, and all Christians should be able to do that. You know, somebody’s talking about your party shouldn’t feel like them talking about your mother. You should be able to separate yourself and be able to think critically about whether their criticism is right or wrong. So when we separate ourselves, I don’t think it’s as big of a struggle to say, “Okay, I feel affiliated with this party, I can vote for somebody else.” But this may be the best tool for me to get things done.

Shirley Hoogstra: You know, you talk about thinking critically in your book. You talk about thinking ‘Christianly’. Actually, Justin, you’re saying that this work of the republic, this work of democracy is actually hard work, engaged work takes time, work. Why is it worth it?

Justin Giboney: Oh, it’s worth it because so many great things can be done within politics, whether we like it or not. Politics touches every aspect of society, whether we can go to church or not. We’ve seen that during the COVID crisis. What our children are learning in school. I mean, my oldest is six and I’m starting to understand that he’s going to spend more time at school than he spends with me. I want to know what he’s learning. I mean, those things matter. What’s in the food we eat? What constitutes a crime and how long people will be in prison for a crime? These are things that Christians should care about. As we know, the Bible is full of unjust imprisonment. Without politics and without Christian engagement, slavery wouldn’t have ended when it did. You know, there are a lot of things that wouldn’t be going on, that wouldn’t have happened when they did. Jim Crow wouldn’t have ended when it did if it wasn’t for Christians saying, “This isn’t right and we’re trying to usher in the kingdom, and we have a bigger purpose than this moment. We have a bigger mission than this moment.”

Shirley Hoogstra: Again, we are talking about a very high view of politics here and people involved in politics. You yourself are a person who has just given us an answer about why being in politics is so valuable. I’d like to ask you if you have examples of politicians in the last fifty years that you have studied or you know, whether it’s on the local level or on the national level, that exemplify or epitomize this kind of Christian leadership, not a Christian nation kind of leadership, but a lay down your life kind of leadership.

Justin Giboney: You know, that’s a great question. I think somebody, I don’t care if you’re a Christian, whether you are conservative or progressive ideologically, I think someone like Katrina Jackson, State Senator Katrina Jackson in Louisiana. I mean, she’s a Democrat, but she’s a pro-life Democrat, and she doesn’t hold anything back with that. She’s a Christian that maintains her Christian identity in politics. These are people that if we want to incentivize people doing things the right way, we should all be supporting her. We should all be trying to help her rise to kind of a national status, because that’s what we, even if she’s not in our party, that’s what we want to incentivize. And so, I think that’s a good person. You know, somebody that I point out is on the other side is Jack Kemp. I think Jack Kemp did a good job, and it doesn’t mean that we agreed on everything. But, I think he did a good job of being different, saying, Hey, I understand what my party wants, but I also understand that I have a different mission and purpose. And sometimes, I have to depart from what my party is asking me for to get things done right. I think those are two pretty good examples of people who we can look to. One in history, one that’s going on right now who are trying to do it the right way and just don’t have enough support. I mean, we should feel some kind of way that somebody like Katrina Jackson just doesn’t get as much support as she should or isn’t somebody who we are highlighting on the national stage. That’s something we all can do if we came together to try to do it.

Shirley Hoogstra: Yes. I also think that when you tell the stories of people who do this, this is what gives individuals a real tangible example of what could happen and what did happen. And so, you don’t feel so alone when actually you see your values, your principles, your beliefs embodied in someone who is actually on the front line doing the work. So, I think we’ve got to collect those stories, and we’ve got to tell those stories over and over again. What gives you hope Justin, that this kind of civic engagement you’re calling for can take hold? [We] talked a little bit about needing another party. We talked a little bit just now about supporting those people who hold these kinds of things. What needs to happen for this vision, this idea of compassion and conviction to take hold? What do you think it would look like in ten years if it were to take hold?

Justin Giboney: One of the things that give me hope, I’ll be honest, is you and even the Trinity Forum allowing someone like myself to come have this conversation. I think it’s important that people who may not agree on every single issue but share a faith have these conversations. I see more and more we’re having these conversations in a constructive way. But really, what gives me hope the most is really at my church family and going back and speaking to people on the grassroots level. I mean, these people think a lot differently about the issues and their voices aren’t always heard, you know, on the Meet the Press, in the CNNs, and all that stuff. But when you talk to them, there’s a lot more nuance in how they think about the issues. And oftentimes, they have a hope. And, for me to go back to church and speak to one of the elders who might be a seventy-five year old lady who just is looking at me as someone who’s speaking on her behalf, that gives me hope to say, “You know what, I can’t continue to go on. There’s things that I can do.” I would also say some of the leaders that I’m seeing arise. I mean, you have people like Dr. Charlie Dates. You have people like Alan Noble, Dr. Alan Noble. Esau McCaulley. These are people—Lisa Fields—these are people who are committed to the gospel and aren’t trying to find validation in conservatism or progressivism but are just trying to be faithful. That really is an encouragement to me to make sure that we keep going every day and keep trying to make these things better, even in times when it doesn’t seem like there was much hope.

Shirley Hoogstra: You know, I had just this kind of well of emotion as you were listing a group of people, and I think to myself, what if ten years from now or even better, five years from now, where we’re able to list a group of people that have committed to this ideal that we’ve been talking about today. So, Justin, let me go back to you. Here is a last word that’s part of this Friday kind of conversation. A sentence, summation, a new idea, or a quotation that you would like to leave us with?

Justin Giboney: Yeah, I would just say that Christians should have a unique public witness.  Because we should have a unique public witness, we should not strive to be conservative or progressive. We should set out to be faithful, which will force us to critique and to challenge both sides, to compose a civic witness that reimagines the brilliance of justice and moral order, dancing in sync. So, don’t be beholden to ideological conservatism, but use it. Use the best parts of conservatism structure, but make it feel, and make it relate. I don’t serve progressivism, but use it, use it to change that which is oppressive and distorts the Imago Dei, but make progressivism respect that which is rightly unchangeable and to obey God’s design. Christians have more common ground than we could ever ask for. We have the same great commission, the same great commandment, and we have the same savior. The common ground is exactly what our political landscape needs. We’re on both sides of the aisle and if we were coming together, we would have the credibility to heal this land. Thanks for having me.

Shirley Hoogstra: Justin, thank you. Thank you for the calling on your life, what you’re doing for your courage, and for your hope that you brought us today. And to all of you, thank you for joining in and have a great weekend.

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