Online Conversation | Practicing Civic Discipleship with Walter Kim and Adam Taylor

The polarization and confusion among Christians in this moment have left many unsure about how to pursue faithful engagement in public life. Some wonder if they would be better off simply tuning out politics and retreating to more private spheres, while others have grown more convinced that extreme times merit extreme responses.

So what does it mean to follow Christ in the public square? What practices — for individuals, churches, and communities — encourage civic discipleship? How can we be formed to exhibit and embody Christian virtues in a way that reflects our primary citizenship in the kingdom of God?

We hosted an Online Conversation with Walter Kim and Adam Taylor on May 17 to explore how we can connect discipleship with our participation in public life.

Practicing Civic Discipleship | Kim + Taylor | May 17, 2024

Cherie Harder: On behalf of all of us at the Trinity Forum, welcome to today’s Online Conversation with Walter Kim and Adam Taylor on “Practicing Civic Discipleship.” I’d like to especially welcome our many first-time registrants. I think we have around 100 of you or so joining us from all over the world, at least 17 different countries that we know of. So if you haven’t already done so, let us know where you’re joining us from in the chat box. It’s always fun to see who is tuning in. And if you are one of those first-time registrants or otherwise new to the work of the Trinity Forum, we seek to provide a space for leaders to engage the big questions of life in the context of faith, through programs like our conversation today, in order to better come to ultimately know the Author of the answers. And we hope today’s conversation will be a small taste of that for you today.

The topic that we’re considering today, “Practicing Civic Discipleship,” aims to explore how we live out our faith in public in a world that’s often skeptical of, or even hostile to, our deepest convictions and loves. How do we seek to encourage and embody the shalom of Christ in a world of hurt? How do we work with, even love, our neighbor with whom we disagree? And how do we pursue justice in a pluralistic country with very different visions of the good?

It’s a topic that’s always challenging, but takes on an increased urgency in polarized times. And by any measure, we are in those times. Different studies have found that as many as 40% of Americans believe that their political opponents are not just mistaken or misguided, but downright evil. Other studies have found that around 20% of partisans on either side think the country would be better off if large members of the opposition died. At the same time, support for political violence is growing, even across the spectrum. And all too often, rather than modeling an alternative to the anger and invective that characterizes so much of our public square, the Church has mirrored it. Just this week, a major denomination had to cancel a panel on polarization because the discussion had gotten too polarized. And friendships, communities, congregations, even entire denominations, have been torn apart by political disagreements and our inability to reckon with them.

Our guests today are bound by a shared love for and faith in Christ, but hold very different political convictions and sustain differences, even deep differences, between the civic priorities of their networks as well as themselves, which is why we thought it would be particularly valuable to explore together how we might understand civic discipleship and what it means to honor God and to pursue shalom in our contentious times. And I’m so glad to get to welcome two incredibly insightful guests, Walter Kim and Adam Taylor, to enable us to do just that.

Walter is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and previously served as the lead pastor of the historic Park Street Church in Boston, having previously pastored churches in both Vancouver and Charlottesville, as well as served as a campus chaplain at Yale University. He preaches, writes, and engages in collaborative leadership to connect the Bible to the intellectual and cultural issues of the day, and provides theological and cultural commentary on a wide variety of subjects to a wide variety of news outlets, as well as serving on the boards of Christianity Today and World Relief.

Adam Taylor is the president of Sojourners and the author of A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community. Before assuming the helm of Sojourners, he previously served as the head of the Faith Initiative at the World Bank, served as the vice-president for advocacy for World Vision, and the executive director of Global Justice. He is also ordained in both the American Baptist Church and the Progressive Baptist Convention, and serves in ministry at the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria.

Walter and Adam, welcome. Good to see you both.

Walter Kim: Great to be on. Thank you, Cherie.

Cherie Harder: So let’s start at the very beginning with just definitions about what we are talking about. There are certainly big differences between your organizations and your different missions or civic priorities. But one area it seems of agreement or commonality is that both of your organizations believe and state that we as Christians are called to live out our faith publicly, not just as a matter of private piety but of public engagement. And so I wanted to ask you, what does it mean to practice civic discipleship and why is this important? And, Walter, maybe we can start with you.

Walter Kim: Sure. Cherie, you’ve already kind of acknowledged that there is a personal, pious way in which we approach the issue of discipleship, our personal transformation, the work of Jesus in changing our individual moral character, bringing us to saving faith, and the practices that pertain to that. I would say there are maybe three other spheres that we could think of discipleship including. A narrow one, in addition to the personal, would be the kind of political discipleship. What does it mean to have a faithful engagement in our political process? Policy issues, the engagement in a democratic society and voting, how we understand the institutions of our government and our engagement of that. Beyond that, I would say, is a civic engagement, which includes this area of political discipleship, but it expands to the ways in which we engage in civic institutions: public schools, how we navigate health systems, what does it mean to engage in our shared, negotiated civic life together in our communities? And even more broadly than that, I would say, is public discipleship. And that includes the civic elements, but it also includes the way we navigate work, how we approach issues like playgrounds or the economic system, what we think about Hollywood and culture and society at large.

They’re all kind of nested, and I think when we think about civic engagement, I want to be clear that it’s not political theology, from my estimation, or political discipleship. It includes elements of that, but it’s something a bit broader. And that broader part becomes very important because it’s really about how we understand our relationship to our neighbors and how we navigate life with our neighbors. That includes the political, but includes a lot more than just the political. That becomes very, very important in a better context than just seeing each other as potential voters on one side or another of an issue.

Adam Taylor: Yeah, thanks. I liked a lot of what Walter just shared. I will kind of hone in on the civic part of it, because I agree with you, Walter, that there is this broader public, for sure. I think the way that I approach it is that following Jesus has profound political, social, and economic implications, and that if we really believe that Jesus is Lord, then that is over every kind of facet of our lives, including our political life. And so civic discipleship is really connecting how we engage in our civic life, which includes politics—but I agree, it shouldn’t just be reduced to purely politics—and to try to do that in a christianly way.

And part of what concerns me is that, you know, as Cherie rightly noted in her introduction, sometimes it feels like, borrowing from the words of Apostle Paul, we are conforming to the patterns of this world, to the broken patterns, dysfunctional patterns of our politics, rather than being a transformative agent in our politics. And so civic discipleship is a way to kind of reclaim why the “how” of politics really matters. Of course, the “what” matters a lot. And this is where we may disagree, although I actually think we share a lot more in common than many people might realize. But the how is something that we should have even more agreement about, that there are core Christian principles that, if we were to actually embrace them and live them out and apply to how we engage in civic life, it could really transform our civic life. It could enable us to really be salt and light.

So, for example, loving our enemies is a basic command of Jesus, and yet it is so anathema to how we often operate in our politics today. Exhibiting the fruit of the spirit, of gentleness, of kindness, of goodness, of truth-telling, are also so critical. And yet we don’t often see those highlighted or emphasized in our politics today. I think resisting a kind of us-versus-them mentality and an ends-justify-the-means mentality is also extremely important. So we can talk more about what those look like. But there are really some core principles that I think could help guide us in our civic life.

And I’ll just say that, particularly in the context of our liberal constitutional democracy, I believe that—and this is certainly a belief that Sojourners as an organization shares—that participating in voting in particular, and ensuring that everyone is able to exercise their sacred freedom to vote, is an essential way that we exercise civic discipleship. And again, it’s not just that, but that is one critical piece, particularly in the light of a pretty significant, to say the least, election that we’re facing in November.

Cherie Harder: I definitely want to get to your point about the “how” of what we do. I want to dig into that. But first, Walter, I want to go back to something you said, which is about the fact that civic discipleship is so much broader and deeper than our political discipleship. And I wanted to ask you to comment on or reflect on a trend that seems to be happening that may be affecting our understanding of both civic and political discipleship, which is that, by so many studies and measures, our identities themselves seem to be becoming increasingly political. And here I’m thinking about, say, the work of Jonathan Haidt, who found that the key dividing lines now in the civic sphere is not race, religion, or economic status, which they may have been in the past, but it’s partisanship. And it does seem in a certain way that the norms of partisan combat have essentially jumped the bounds of prior years, perhaps accelerated and aided by technology, where essentially the sloppiness, speed, and snark of Twitter and political campaigns now seems to characterize so much of our communication. And even just being on Twitter this week and watching some of the commentary about what’s gone down at that particular denomination, I’ve been shocked what people say about each other online. And so I wanted to ask your thoughts about how— or if you have reflections on how the increasing politicization of our identities themselves may have made civic discipleship harder or even distorted our notions of what it is.

Walter Kim: I think there’s a deep and profound concern that I have about where we get our sense of what it means to be human, what it means to have an identity as a follower of Jesus, formed first and foremost by the grace and love of Jesus Christ in bringing salvation to our lives, but a salvation that is a force of reconciliation. So when we reduce people to the processes of politics, there is some moral formation that underlies it in a liberal democracy, as Adams referred to—some notions of individual rights, some measure of dignity that would afford one another this sense in which people should have secured rights to vote, and the negotiation of our corporate life together. But what is lacking is an overarching moral vision of what it means to be human. How do we actually negotiate that life together beyond the securing of our individual rights?

And this is where being a follower of Jesus, being a Christian, has a profound impact because we would say we belong to another kingdom. Jesus told Pilate, “Listen. Yes, you are right. I am a king. I could call legions right now to rescue me. But my kingdom belongs to another world. It impacts life in this world. But ultimately I belong to another.” And that has great liberating power. It liberates us not to find within the political system our fundamental identity. We find our identities as citizens of another kingdom, as Paul would put it, citizens of heaven. And our appetites are formed by that other citizenship. Our sense of dignity is formed by that other citizenship. And so much of the polarization are threats that we feel to our identity and dignity, security in our place. But if our security is in Christ, if our security and belonging is to another kingdom, then we are freed to not derive from the political process or our political identities our fundamental sense of assurance, and that frees us up to self-sacrifice, that frees us up to love, that frees us up to a level of creativity and openness that holds on to the deep convictions that we ought to have as Christians.

And we do have deep convictions precisely on what it means to be human, what it means to engage in society. And those differences are profoundly and deeply held and at times quite countercultural to what we have. But we are going to be reduced to warring against one another if there is not the assurance that we are loved by Jesus and freed to persuade and love others, not to combat and suppress others. That is often an impulse of fear. That’s often an impulse of insecurity. But as we are more and more secure in our identity as citizens of another kingdom, our place in God’s economy, our sense that the gospel will ultimately prevail, that we know the end of the story—he will make all things new; there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and things will be organized—that sense of faithful confidence gives us the ability to negotiate life drastically, very, very differently. It enabled the first Christians to be martyrs. Instead of seeking to martyr others, they embraced the call to follow Jesus in this countercultural way, even sacrificing their own lives. And that only comes from a place of being loved by God, being citizens of a different kingdom, being formed by a different type of discipleship.

My one concern is that, you know, the way that the church can function about this is we can personalize that love. And we have categories maybe on how to be loving when we’re offended in our family relationships or a coworker offends us. But we don’t have categories of discipleship that helps us negotiate, should we take that into the public sphere? Should we take that into our neighborhoods? Should we take that into the PTA meetings that we’re involved with? We have in our discipleship and churches how to handle this in our marriages, with our children, maybe internally, in our churches. But we don’t really have the imagination, much less the tools, for discipleship in what this looks like more broadly.

But the fundamental core of being citizens of another kingdom, being transformed by the love of Christ, knowing how the story ends, that Christ will be victorious so that we can hold loosely the need to be victorious in any particular moment, I think these hold both personally, but it also holds publicly as well.

Adam Taylor: Yeah, in my tradition, I would just say “preach!” because I really resonated with what Walter just shared. Just kind of echoing that and maybe, you know, adding a couple of points. One is that, our faith should inform and shape and even transform our politics. And yet, increasingly, I feel like we’ve inverted that. It’s our politics that is overly informing and shaping our faith. Kind of tied to that, I think we’ve been, as Christians, tempted and seduced by idolatry from almost the beginning of the faith, and there’s this temptation to want to essentially make our political identity a proxy for our faithfulness or for being a true Christian. And again, I think there’s just a lot of danger in that kind of combining of those things.

The way that I approach this is that we need to replace the lordship of political party or of ideology with the sovereignty of Christ and with a love ethic of Christ. That doesn’t mean that our faith doesn’t lead us to certain convictions, and those may align with one particular political party, etc. But I think that what we’ve seen, particularly within the evangelical movement, but this is also true of the broader Protestant movement and beyond, is that there are many that identify as evangelical or Christian—and this isn’t just my words; this is the research of David Berg and others—who say they’re evangelical, but they conflate that with their political identity more than to a set of core Christian beliefs and convictions. And that essentially politicizes the faith in a way that I think hurts the witness of the Church and also, you know, really kind of fosters or fuels a lot of the polarization that we’re seeing in the Church.

I’ll just— the last thing I’ll say really quickly is that, you know, I’m a big fan of Howard Thurman, who was a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and he wrote a book that I highly recommend to anyone watching today called Jesus and the Disinherited. And in that book he describes that there are three hounds of hell that track the disinherited, the marginalized in our world. And he names fear, hatred, and hypocrisy. And Walter touched on these in his own way, but I really do think that we have to replace those three forces with, again, the love ethic of Jesus, with humility, with a commitment to centering as much as we can our shared identity in Christ as superseding the temptation of political idolatry. And, of course, this is easier said than done, but I think it’s essential.

And I’ll just close with the words of Dr. King himself. He said that, “The Church, at its best, is called not to be the master or the servant of the state, but to be the conscience of the state.” And I think when we start to become the servant of the state, or we try to be the master of the state, we can easily get co-opted into the state itself. Instead, we’re meant to kind of be this conscience, to be the ones that are trying to hold all politicians, all parties, accountable to our core values. And again, we’re going to disagree on how that should look and exactly what should be prioritized. But I’d rather have that healthy discussion and debate than to see the degree to which our politics are really tearing apart the Church itself.

Cherie Harder: Both of you alluded a little bit earlier to the importance of how we do things. And an emphasis on the “how” is quite different from virtually any civic initiative and certainly any political initiative, which is all about the “what,” you know, how many votes, how many clicks, how much money, what initiatives get done. And I’ve actually heard people refer to a focus on the “how” as the “merely adverbial.” And so I wanted to ask both of you—and, Adam, maybe we’ll start with you—why is the adverbial, the “how” of us doing things, so important in terms of civic discipleship?

Adam Taylor: Well, you know, maybe call me traditional or outdated, which may be kind of ironic in this case, but I really believe that virtue still matters for the health of our body politic, for the health of our life together. And the virtues that we find in our faith—again, of truth-telling, of humility, of gentleness—these are hard to apply to our politics, particularly given the often-perverted incentives in our politics today that tend to reward the most extreme voices or the most vitriolic voices or the ones that really try to make things into an us-versus-them proposition, or into a purely zero-sum situation. But I think that, you know, how we engage, both personally but also the “how” of what we’re looking for in the people we want to elect, really does matter. Now, of course, those then get applied to and translated into a lot of different policy positions and perspectives. And those matter a huge amount as well. But I think we have, you know, to our own detriment, really lost sight of the importance of some of that “how” and if we got back to more of that, both in terms of how we engage and then what we are calling our politicians to engage with, it really could be transformational for our politics itself.

Walter Kim: Yeah. To pick up on what Adam said in terms of the “how” as being a part of the ethics: I mean, you when you look at the commands of Scripture, virtues are both what we do but how we do it. So I think of the commands in James that are often very stark in how we are to go about life, with the specific commands of caring for the poor and considering the widows among you, negotiating the respective place of rich and poor in the Church and what we do with our time. But it’s all built, at the beginning of James, with the admonition to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, because human anger does not produce the righteousness of God. So it’s almost as if he’s saying, “All the ethical ‘what’s’ that I’m going to give you in the book, I’m first going to give you a ‘how.'” And the “how” is a rubric to enter into the “what’s.” And, of course, to pick up Paul in this, you are to speak the truth. But how? In love.

So ethics are not merely what’s; they’re also how’s. Because we’re people. We’re holistic people who engage with one another in manners that are profoundly emotional. And so how we say something— we just know this. We negotiate this from the very beginning of our lives. Raised voice in our disciplining of a child is very different than saying the same exact thing in a reasoned voice. So we know this instinctually from the very beginning of our lives, that what we do is always garbed in how we do it. And you really, in the end, can’t separate the two.

Cherie Harder: You know, I’d love to hear how you both think about the fact that one thing we often hear, in so many words, is that essentially focusing on the how or focusing on character doesn’t work, that really, at the end of the day, what is needed is strength and toughness. And if we look at many of the people that we now revere for their character, even those in the political realm—whether it’s Martin Luther King Jr or Vaclav Havel or Nelson Mandela—they were hated at the time. And I’m sure you have both encountered people who have said, well, that sounds lovely, but it doesn’t work in the real world. What do you say when people essentially say that the how of discipleship, the character, somehow is incompatible with getting important, even virtuous, things done? Adam, maybe we can start with you.

Adam Taylor: Well, since you named him, I’ll start with Dr. King because I think his steadfast and firm commitment to nonviolence was not always popular, and he got certainly criticized for it from other parts of the movement, including parts of the Black Power movement. And yet he was grounded in his own faith ethic that both believed from a kind of ethical perspective [that] nonviolence is the only way to tear down the system of Jim Crow segregation and to transform the country, but also from a pragmatic perspective as well. And so, you know, for King, he really believed that the ends are preexistent in the means. And if the means and the ends don’t align, then ultimately it corrupts the ends themselves.

And so, you know, I really worry a great deal that many Christians, American Christians in particular, are kind of being misled or kind of seduced by this sense that they need a strong man in order to protect them or in order to break the rules of our system, maybe even to break our system itself, in order to protect the Christian values this country was founded on. And we can get a whole discussion about, you know, technically, we weren’t founded as a Christian nation. Yes, we were founded on many Christian values, but the founders are very explicit about putting in place both a commitment to no established religion and a commitment to the free exercise of religion, which I would argue is what has helped enable religion, including Christianity, to really flourish in this country.

And so, you know, I think that we really have to be careful and kind of resist this sense, this, I think, false sense, that the ends are everything and that we can support violent means, or we can support corrupt means, or we can support evil means, even, to achieve those ends. So, you know, can certainly use some other examples as well, but I think that’s the core point.

Walter Kim: This is where I think an understanding that political discipleship is part of a larger rubric of civic discipleship, a larger rubric of public discipleship, because it gets to the issue of what are our ends as a Christian? Ultimately, our ends is to win people to Jesus. It’s to see the grace of God permeate every facet of society. And if those are the greater ends, then I have a different purpose than just to win a political battle. I consider, what are the ways in which I can persuade others to the truthfulness, the beauty, the goodness of the gospel? What are the ways in which I can negotiate our lives that might entail a political loss in order to have a moral win? It might entail what happened for the early Christians. They had political loss after loss after loss to the extent of the loss of their lives. But Christianity triumphed in some powerful ways in the first centuries.

And so when Peter says things like in 1 Peter, you know, don’t return evil with evil, don’t return an insult with an insult. Be compassionate and sympathetic. And he goes on and says, you know, things like, even if you suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Don’t be afraid. Why? So that you could give a reason for your hope. Not just an intellectual reason, but a compelling moral reason. What would make sense for people who would suffer, who would not return an insult with an insult? Like, what makes sense of people like that? What makes sense for this level of compassion that still has sturdy convictions? They really had sturdy convictions. They did not believe that children should be left on the garbage heaps of the cities. They went out and rescued them. They had very countercultural beliefs about marriage. They had very countercultural beliefs about life. They had very countercultural beliefs about how to negotiate the truthfulness of religion, that Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life. But how they went about it was so compellingly different than the sword of Rome that also sought to bring about a hegemony of power and cohesion. But the means were very different because the ends were very different.

So, yes, of course, Christians, especially in a liberal democracy, should engage the mechanisms of society and political process in order to advocate for what we believe to be a flourishing vision of human existence as individuals and corporately. But even that is not our end. Our end is a much larger end, that is seeking the reconciliation of all. That is our ultimate kingdom. Our politics is a party, but our kingdom is this work of the good news of Jesus. And when we confuse the ends, or have too limited of an ends, then the means also will be impoverished in our imagination, in our practice.

What could sustain that level of self-sacrifice, suffering, equanimity in the face of opposition, loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you? You’ve got to have ends beyond an election in order to sustain that kind of ethic. And, ironically, I actually believe, whether in this lifetime or this year or this election, I ultimately believe that God designed us that if we live this way, we would see what the early Church saw. It did not happen in Peter and Paul’s lifetime. But over the course of a couple of centuries, there was a compelling transformation, because this vision of what it means to be human and what it means to be a part of a group of people, was so compelling.

Cherie Harder: Well, there are so many more questions I could ask you both, but I see the questions starting to flood in. So we’ll turn to some of our questions from our viewers. And for those of you watching, you can not only ask a question, but you can also like a question. And it always helps just to give us an idea of what some of the more popular questions are. So our first question comes from Rachel Sowinski, and Rachel asked, “Do you see lack of biblical literacy and not knowing about or practicing spiritual disciplines as contributing to an us-versus-them dynamic, even within the Church? What other influences contribute to this, and how do you see redirection to put God first in the daily life of the Church?” Walter, you want to start with that one?

Walter Kim: Yeah, I think the Church in America is often very, very good. And I’m going to speak to the realities of evangelicalism. We are pragmatic, populist, in the sense that it has risen as a grassroots movement, which is why we refer so glowingly to the revivals of history: First, Second Great Awakening, what’s happening even now in immigrant churches all throughout our country, and these Pentecostal, charismatic types of renewals. So it’s deeply embedded in this kind of movement of the Spirit. But it’s often resulted in this emphasis on personal transformation, which is true, of course. I’m really glad for Billy Graham and the altar call that individuals would come down to receive Christ as their personal savior. But what has lacked often in certain strands of evangelicalism is a public discipleship, is a recognition that when Jesus came, he came anointed to proclaim good news. And in Luke chapter 4, he goes on to say, not just good news for the forgiveness of sins, but good news for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, sight for the blind, release for the prisoners, declaring the year of the Lord’s favor, which, deriving from Isaiah and then before that, Leviticus, the year of the Lord’s favor had to do with Jubilee and the release of debt. So there was a personal implication of salvation in Christ that was set in a public context.

And I don’t think we have a discipleship that has been equally forceful in the public as it has been in the personal. The public dimensions of faith, which Jesus seemed—in citing Isaiah 61 as his inaugural speech to introduce himself in Luke 4 to the world—he seemed to not have this kind of bifurcation. For him, the personal salvation, the public application of that faith, it was all a matter of discipleship. And he wanted to make that clear from the very get-go, that discipleship wasn’t a beta to the alpha of personal salvation. It was a comprehensive vision of what the good news meant and what we were to all grow up into, saved not only from our personal sins, but saved into this kind of kingdom work that is corporate and societal in nature.

Adam Taylor: Okay. I can build really quickly on that. So the kind of mission of Sojourners is to articulate the biblical call to justice, to inspire hope, and to mobilize Christians to put their faith into action for justice and peace. And so, you know, we take that biblical part very seriously, and we believe that it’s because we believe so much in the Bible, and we’re so committed to following Christ that we are that much more committed to justice. And for us, justice is about restoring right relationship between ourselves and creation, ourselves and God, and ourselves and our neighbors. And I think sometimes what’s happened in the Church and within various parts of Christianity is we’ve reduced or conflated justice only with compassion and charity. And that is one dimension of a commitment to justice, but there is a systemic side of seeking and pursuing justice that sometimes gets de-emphasized or forgotten altogether.

So I’ll give you an example, as we were talking earlier about Dr. King. Dr. King understood that no amount of charity and compassion was going to tear down Jim-Crow segregation in the South. That required a fundamental change in the law of the land. The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and then later the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to ensure all Americans, including Black Americans, could exercise their right to vote. Thinking about today, I believe we still have a very unjust system of policing in this country that often, you know, treats people that are of color, particularly black and brown, as often presumed guilty rather than innocent, and that you can’t change that simply through acts of compassion and charity. It actually does require real changes to laws and systems and policies. And so I’m just mentioning those examples as one of the ways that I think that we have to push ourselves, maybe even outside of our comfort zones, to address more of the systemic nature of injustice, even as we certainly also need to understand the ways in which we’re also called to engage in all kinds of active acts of compassion that are also really crucial.

Cherie Harder: So our next question comes from an anonymous attendee who says, “I’ve heard some people in the more activist camp point to Jesus’ act of angrily clearing the temple of money lenders as a justification for the way they express their views and engage in those issues. I’d appreciate hearing what our speakers think of that line of thinking.” Adam, you want to take a first stab at that?

Adam Taylor: Sure. The other danger, I think, is that sometimes we can overly de-radicalize Christ. And there are ways in which Jesus was quite critical of the religious leaders of his time, calling out their hypocrisy. There are ways in which he challenged injustice in his time, and this is one key example and actually kind of ties back into the earlier question about biblical literacy. So a lot of the ways that I’ve often heard this passage preached mostly focuses on how Jesus goes into the temple, and he sees that people are exchanging money, they’re selling doves, and that it is a defilement of the temple. Right? So he gets angry and he overturns the tables and shuts down the temple as a result. But that’s only part of the story.

Part of the reason for Jesus’ moral indignation is that the people, particularly many of the destitute poor that are in the temple, are being exploited by the exchanging of money and by buying doves at a high price, so that they can then offer a sacrifice in the temple. So there is literally economic injustice that is happening in the temple that he is also addressing. And so, on the one hand, you know, I think that yes, there are times in which we have to be bold. And, you know, sometimes we have to make sacrifices. And this is actually one of the reasons why I think there are times when civil disobedience is necessary. And certainly that was a huge part of the civil rights struggle. So in that sense, I do think that kind of modeling some of Jesus’ boldness and provocative actions is necessary.

Now, we have to have limits there. Jesus did not engage in violence in the temple. He ultimately reopened the temple after he made his point. And, you know, again, if we take this too far, we can kind of start to move down the direction of political violence and other ways of kind of holding on to power or taking over power.

Walter Kim: Yeah. When I think about that, picking up on a piece of exegesis that Adam was talking about in terms of the cleansing of the temple, being a place of disenfranchising those who were poor from the free access of the temple, I would add to that that my understanding of where the money changing would have occurred, was a particular area of the temple that was most understood to be the court of Gentiles. And when I think about this, there’s a missional element to it. The very people of God who are called to be a light to the nations were preventing the Gentiles from accessing the temple in a way that would be as free and flourishing as possible, would be as missional as possible. They weren’t, I guess, doing the Great Commission in modern evangelical terms. They were creating obstacles precisely for the people who most needed Jesus.

So I think about the ethic of Jesus in his use of these kinds of stern tactics of clearing the money tables. One, it was directed to religious leaders. It was in-house in its orientation. Two, it was because there were missional reasons. Preventing the poor, as Adam has noted, but I would even add, preventing other people from coming to know Christ and knowing the saving faith that Christ would represent at that point. And I think this also makes sense for why he would use the seven woes. You know, “Woe to you, you whitewashed sepulchers.” I mean, it’s really harsh terms, but those were terms directed to the religious leaders, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes. His general posture to the outsider, the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, to the Roman soldier, the centurion who wanted healing for his slave—those he was incredibly gracious toward.

So I think the modern application would be, as 1 Peter—again, maybe going back to 1 Peter—would say, judgment begins with the house of God, that some of Christ’s sternest words would be for religious leaders who misuse power, disenfranchising those who have greater needs, and preventing the good news of Jesus Christ from being declared as freely and fully and compellingly as possible to those who do not yet know him. And yet his posture toward those who do not yet know him or are in these other categories is typically one of gentle persuasion into the truth. He still told the Samaritan woman, “You don’t know what you’re doing. You need to come to faith in me.” But he did it in a manner that felt quite different than the sternness of his approach to those who were religious leaders misusing their power.

Cherie Harder: Our next question comes from Victoria Martineau, and it’s more about withdrawal from the civic square. She asked, “What can one do to convince people to engage in civic discipleship when they insist that ‘we are not of this world and we are citizens of another kingdom’?” Walter, I’ll toss that one to you first.

Walter Kim: Yeah, well, you know, since I did mention we are citizens of another kingdom, I think that’s fair to ask me that. But I did cite Luke 4, and so we live with two things simultaneously in mind. We live with the realization that our citizenship belongs to another kingdom, which doesn’t mean disengagement from present concerns. It means confidence that we belong to a kingdom that ultimately Christ supervises its fulfillment. He will bring it ultimately to fulfillment. That leads us with great confidence. When things don’t work out in this lifetime, when our efforts of transformation don’t succeed, that’s okay. We belong to another kingdom, another king, and our ethics need to be shaped by that king, not by the tactics of a political party or the ways that we would do things as Americans.

So being a citizen of another kingdom is about having a different ethic in the way we approach things, having a different time scale. But it does not mean disengagement, because Jesus in Luke chapter 4 did not leave us with any other option than to say our personal forgiveness has a social and public context. The poor, the blind, the prisoner, those who are oppressed in any fashion, and even in the economics of our life together in society. And so right from the get-go, we are saved not from something only, but into something. And we are saved into this work of the good news of Jesus in all aspects of society.

Adam Taylor: There’s an understandable tendency within many churches right now across the country to withdraw from politics, to try to create an apolitical space in reaction to just how toxic the polarization has become in our culture and in our politics itself. And while I kind of empathize with that, in some ways, I think it really is not a faithful way in which we’re called to engage in politics. I mentioned earlier that if we really believe that Christ is Lord over every aspect of our lives that includes our political lives, and particularly in a democracy—and yes, we have a flawed democracy in some ways, and it needs to be changed and reformed and I think transformed in some key ways—we still have a liberal democracy that I think is the best way that we can pursue the common good, the best way that we can protect the most vulnerable, the best system that we can hold leaders accountable to our kind of shared basic rights that we hold so dear. And so when we don’t participate, when we don’t vote, we are essentially endorsing the status quo. And even worse, we may be giving license to forces in our midst that could literally erode, if not tear apart, the system that we believe is so critical. So, you know, particularly in light of some of the kind of authoritarian-type forces that we’re seeing in our politics, I think it’s really critical that we engage, but again, engage in a healthier way.

We at Sojourners convened a meeting about a year ago with about 30 Christian leaders from across different denominations and different parts of the Church to really reflect together on how could we try to inspire and model a healthier version of Christian engagement in politics? And so we actually just yesterday launched this framework called A Call to Civic Discipleship that is our way to try to provide not just a framework, but a set of tools and resources that can empower individual Christians, but also churches, to be able to engage in our politics in a much healthier way.

Last thing I’ll just say really quickly is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that our silence is actually a form of speech, and our inaction is a form of action. So again, if we get overly cynical and disillusioned with our political choices this election cycle, or we’re worried that if we try to talk about the election in any way in the Church, it’s going to further divide the Church, we are then essentially ceding our moral authority to a lot of other forces out there that are not going to ground that conversation in the same biblical ethic that we know is so important. And so I think this is a moment where we have to be more courageous in leaning in and engaging in our civic life, engaging in politics, but again, trying to engage with the how, which again would be so transformational.

Cherie Harder: So we’re going to try to squeeze in one more question before we wrap things up and go to the last word from you both. And so a question from James Reed, who says, “Politics, or the enactment of policies in our democratic society, seems to require compromise. What can you say about compromise with integrity?” Walter, I’ll toss that one to you.

Walter Kim: I think I’m very grateful that God still loves me with all my flaws. And I don’t say this lightly, but I say this by a concrete analogy to the less concrete, and that is, God knows how to negotiate what it means to live with a flawed people, and to call us to be as holy and perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, but to accept us in process. To negotiate life, to not strike me down because I’ve just sinned, but to see this work of grace. I want to take that a step further now and see how does Scripture negotiate this? There are all sorts of ways in which laws were given in the Old Testament, for instance, in order to not say “this is what I ultimately believe is righteous”—permitting polygamy, even though his ultimate vision was one man, one woman in marriage. Permitting divorce in Deuteronomy 24, even though ultimately his desire would be for marriage to endure. And so there are all sorts of ways in which we even see in Scripture this negotiation of where humanity is in its imperfections, even as there’s a moral call to a greater.

So what I would say is there’s a differentiation between the Church and the state. The moral resources available to the people of God who have been filled by the Spirit are different than the moral resources that are available to society as a whole that has not yet been fully redeemed in Christ and don’t have access to the specific work of the Spirit. So there’s a different kind of equation that we need to have, not that we lessen our moral vision for society as a whole, but we understand the moral capacities so that the political process is to restrain sin, promote justice, insofar as possible promote flourishing. But the standards, the means of doing this, are going to be different than what we have access to in the Church, given the greater resources.

But even in the Church, there’s a difference between who we are now and who we will one day be in the full consummation of all things in Christ when everything is made new and we’re perfect. So I think all of life, both individually, personally, is a constant negotiation between the aspiration of the perfect and the realization of life right now, negotiated. And that’s true of the Church internally, even with the resources of God’s Spirit and the good news of Jesus Christ. And it is definitely true to society at large, which has the common grace and goodness of God. So we should still have expectations, but do not have the same set of resources that would be available.

If we want ultimate transformation, let’s share our faith. Let’s see the good grace of Jesus extended. And this again, it comes back to a civic discipleship, is broader than just the political discipleship. And what we are aiming for is much greater than winning politically. We have a greater aim as followers of Jesus in that.

Adam Taylor: I’ll add really quickly that I think it’s sad and problematic that compromise has become such a dirty word in our politics. Our political system is based, at least in large part, on compromise. It’s part of the reason we have checks and balances. And that doesn’t mean that you, you know, should therefore compromise some of your most deeply held convictions. But ultimately, in the context of politics, which is often a very messy process, we have to find ways to seek common ground. And I’ve been really grateful that I’ve been a part of a coalition that, actually, both Sojourners and the NAE have been very active in shaping, called the Circle of Protection that has— you know, the Catholic Church is involved through the Catholic bishops and the Salvation Army and the National Council of Churches. Let’s just say these church bodies do not always agree on everything, but they are unified in their commitment to protect funding in the federal budget that helps to lift people out of poverty and help keep them out of poverty. And that coalition has had huge successes in protecting food stamps and, most recently, in trying to expand the child tax credit.

And so, one, I think it’s really critical that we really try to find ways to seek and search for common ground, and then we kind of have to recognize that the kingdom of God is never perfectly represented on any ballot. Any effort or attempt to kind of anoint someone for a political office, I think, is a form of idolatry. And we see that far too much in our politics and in the Church today. And so, you know, we have to do our best to, again, try to be that conscience that is trying to be this transformational agent within our civic life and in our public life and in our political life. And, you know, clearly, we’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to fall short and we’re going to disagree. But I think we can do that in a much healthier way that then can model for others what the Church is at its best.

Cherie Harder: Thank you, Adam. Thank you, Walter. It’s been a real pleasure to get to talk with both of you. And in just a moment, I’m going to ask you both for a last word. But before that, a few things to share with those of you who are watching and listening. First, immediately after we conclude, you will see an invitation to fill out a feedback form. We really appreciate when you do this. We read all of these. We do try to incorporate your suggestions, and as a small token of our appreciation for doing so, you will get a free Trinity Forum Reading download of your choice. There are quite a few that we would recommend to help deepen understanding of some of the themes raised in today’s conversation, including readings by Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther King Jr, Vaclav Havel, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others. So would love to hear what you thought.

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Finally, as promised, Adam and Walter, I wanted to give the last word to you. So, Adam, maybe we can start with you.

Adam Taylor: First, Cherie, thank you and Trinity Forum for hosting this conversation. I would just emphasize that it is imperative for us as Christians to resist two extremes I think that we see in how so often we approach our civic life. One extreme is to be apolitical. We talked about that. The other extreme is to overly weaponize our faith for extreme ideological and partisan purposes. And there’s a more faithful third way, which I kind of described as civic discipleship. To learn a lot more about what we kind of reflecting on that you can go to, in order to learn more. But I really think that all of this is also connected to both the great Commandment and to the Great Commission, that people are watching, including many that have left the Church or have felt disaffected from the Church in how Christians engage in politics. And if we were to engage in a different way, a healthier way, a more transformational way, I actually think that would be a really powerful form of evangelism, that it’d better enable us to build the beloved community, which for me is to help build a society, a nation, where neither punishment nor privilege is tied to race or ethnicity or to sexual orientation or to ableness, and to build a society where everyone can thrive and everyone is able to realize their God-given potential.

So I leave with that vision and that hope, and certainly Sojourners wants to work with anyone that is listening in to work together to achieve that goal.

Cherie Harder: Walter.

Walter Kim: As with Adam, Cherie, I want to say thank you for hosting this conversation. The work you’re doing is vital to civic discipleship, to giving us space to grow in this. So thank you. You know, I really appreciate the opportunity to point to “For the Health of the Nation,” our resource, both in written form, booklet form, in video form, at RightNow media. You can check out our website, “For the Health of the Nation,” as a resource that could expand our sense of civic discipleship. I think of Scripture’s commandment or exhortation, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest.” It will feel wearying to be in this process of civic engagement, civic discipleship. But I would say we don’t even need to wait very long. In doing this, in pursuing a more expansive vision of the good news and its application to all of life, we get a bigger vision of God. So if you want to know God better, if you want to know God more richly, if you want to know the implications of how great the reconciliation that God offers to us in Christ, I would say, rather than running away from issues of civic concern as either being politically polarizing, therefore damaging to the life in Church, I would say let’s run to it, so we can have a bigger view of the greatness of our God, a bigger view of the grandeur of our salvation, and a bigger view of the scope of what God is doing in making all things new.

Cherie Harder: Walter, Adam, thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure to talk with you both. And thank you to all of you for joining us. Have a great weekend.