Review of Compassion & Conviction by Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler

Compasssion & Conviction is written by the AND Campaign, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to educate and organize Christians for civic and cultural engagement.” Their name derives from their belief that Christians too often fall prey to false dichotomies that our culture and political environment present to us. The authors argue that as Christians, we are often called to embrace both sides of these false dichotomies.

America’s current political system separates love from truth, compassion from conviction, and social justice from moral order as if they’re somehow at odds with one another. … Those on the right side of the political spectrum say they stand for individual freedom, patriotism, and moral order; the left, on the other hand, claims to stand for justice, equality, and inclusion. … Many Christians are conflicted because they believe in freedom, moral order, justice, equality, and inclusion. We want to protect the unborn and treat the poor and racial minorities with love and compassion.

One of the main themes of the book is that a Christian’s primary purpose in life must be to profess the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations, and that politics must play a subordinate role.

For Christians, there may well be practical reasons to affiliate with a political party or a tribe, but we run into trouble when we allow that entity to have undue influence on our values and opinions. Some Christians are more willing to defend their ideological tribe than the Christian faith. It’s imperative that Christians are deliberate about avoiding partisan and ideological indoctrination. We also compromise our faith when we look to political tribes for validation simply because we want to belong. Our partisan and ideological affiliations should never become religious in nature.

Much of what the authors emphasize is simply good common sense—which unfortunately is all too often lacking in the political sphere nowadays. For example, in Chapter 5, they give an example where simply doing their homework paid off handsomely.

In the early stages of creating what would become the AND Campaign, we sought opportunities to engage the political arena in clever ways. In June of 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, which focused on whether or not closely held corporations could be forced to pay for certain types of contraception that some consider to be the equivalent of abortion. Based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act the court ruled that Hobby Lobby and similar corporations could not be forced to do so. Many progressives argued that women’s health had been disregarded and that as a result of this decision women all over the country would be left without contraception.

A few days later the Young Democrats of America hosted a forum to discuss this subject. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to speak into the public square with love and truth. Justin Giboney and a few other attorneys reviewed the decision and legal expert commentaries and created a summary in layman’s terms for the rest of the AND Campaign team. The team studied the summary and went to the forum prepared for the discussion. The panel included people from Planned Parenthood and other far-left groups, and as we suspected, there was a lot of emotion and conjecture, though no one on the panel seemed to have read the actual legal opinion. After allowing the panelists to have their say, our team began to ask questions and break down the true implications of the ruling for the audience. We even quoted some progressive legal scholars who predicted that the effect of the ruling wouldn’t be as drastic as many of their peers suggested. By the end of the forum more people were directing their questions toward us than the actual panel. A local judge in the audience emailed us the next day, saying that she was impressed by our knowledge of the subject matter and that she had learned more about the case from us. We made a lasting impression on behalf of the body of Christ in what could have been a hostile environment.

The book’s focus on practical advice for engaging in political and social activism without losing sight of one’s primary allegiance to Christ reflects the authors’ background. Giboney is an attorney, Wear is a strategist, and Butler is a pastor and community organizer. In terms of the five views of church and state discussed in the book Church, State and Public Justice, the authors are firmly in the “classical separation” camp of Derek Davis. They write, “As Christians, we should support the separation of church and state because we don’t want the state infringing on our religious practices, and because we recognize the dangers of the church controlling the state.” Christians should work to influence social and political structures, and their religious beliefs should inform their actions, but the goal is not to turn the United States into a theocracy. In fact, there are times when Christians can partner as “cobelligerents” with others who are not Christians, if there is a common cause toward which they can work together.

Although the authors are not primarily theorists or theologians, they do make a strong effort to base their book on biblical principles and examples. For example, early in the book, they cite Micah 6:8, calling it the Great Requirement, and they spend several pages analyzing how Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Paul interacted with secular rulers. In a key chapter, which bears the same title as the title of the book, the authors take great pains to unpack Paul’s command to “speak the truth in love,” explaining how the Bible enjoins love and justice, love and truth.

The book is relatively short and the authors do not try to give a comprehensive discussion of every issue, such as abortion, sexuality, and gender. However, they do discuss race at some length (as one might expect, since a glance at their website reveals that most of their leaders are people of color).

The colorblind ideology that says “I don’t see race” should not be embraced by Christians. When we choose to look past race, we also choose to avert our eyes from the many ways that even well-meaning people and institutions engage in practices that reproduce and reinforce negative outcomes such as segregation, disadvantages for minorities in the job market, and the portrayal of whiteness as superior in public communications and entertainment. The simple fact is that if we can’t see and discuss the issue of race, we cannot solve the problems that racism causes. When we see that black American preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts, colorblindness asks us to search for some rational explanation other than racial discrimination. Colorblind ideology can cause a form of denial in which we’re unwilling to acknowledge race as the root cause of tough issues because we don’t want to admit that we still have work to do. We have to come to terms with America’s race issue by honestly examining ourselves and our institutions.

But the greater danger in the colorblind ideology is that it misses the heart of God where race is concerned. Even in John’s vision of the redeemed in heaven, he was able to perceive racial and cultural distinctions (Revelation 7:9–10). Race is not just the color of our skin—as 1 John 3:2 says, we do not yet know what we will be—but according to John, whatever we will be, we will still bear these glorious distinctions. Jesus Christ has opened a way for believers to bring all of our brokenness—even our racial brokenness—before the throne of God and there find help (Hebrews 4:16). We must confront racism in a way that keeps racial diversity intact. In Christ, racial diversity can be redeemed.

Although it is understandable that in a short book, the authors cannot cover every topic, in some cases, I found their silence on a particular topic to be puzzling. For example, they devote an entire chapter to civility of discourse, and yet give no concrete examples of incivility from the present day. There is no mention of Black Lives Matter or any direct discussion of the tension between religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. To be fair, some of these issues are mentioned in the AND Campaign’s 2020 Presidential Election Statement. This statement explicitly asserts that “the current administration has significantly lowered our nation’s discourse and endangered the political process” and they condemn the “president’s callousness.” It also states that they “support the Fairness For All Act, which will grant basic civil rights for LGBTQ people while also protecting religious freedom for all faiths.” In my opinion, it would have been good for them to discuss their 2020 Presidential Election Statement in some detail in their book.

If there is a weakness of the book, it is that the authors are sometimes too glib, and they sometimes set up straw men. For example, in Chapter 5, they suggest that people who support the Equality Act are probably supporting it simply because the name of the act sounds good. Really? No doubt there are airheads out there who fit this description, but I am confident that the bulk of the supporters of the Equality Act support it because of their strong stance on LGBTQ rights. In fact, even the title of the book seems to me to set up a straw man of sorts. Most people on the right would surely protest that they are compassionate, and most people on the left would surely protest that they have strong convictions. Resolving the differences is not as simple as embracing both compassion and conviction. Finally, even their careful discussion of “colorblind ideology” quoted above neglects different possible interpretations of the word “colorblind,” such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous dream that people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I am tempted to argue that we can see race and be colorblind at the same time.

Overall, though, Compassion & Conviction is a much-needed book in today’s polarized environment in which far too many Christians bend the gospel of Jesus Christ to fit their political views rather than the other way around. The efforts of the AND Campaign deserve to be far better known in Christian circles.
Posted November 2020

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