With the release of her first book, “The Liturgy of Politics,” Kaitlyn Schiess hopes to inspire young adults to see politics as an avenue for expressing their faith.
In her book, Schiess, current master of theology student at Dallas Theological Seminary, examines the importance of spiritual practices and disciplines considering today’s political climate. As the invited speaker for John Brown University’s annual event, Reimagining Faith and Public Life on Sept. 29, Schiess spoke on seeking the good of your neighbor through engaging in spiritual disciplines in all areas of life, including politics.
Schiess’ work has inspired Bethany Smith, graduate assistant for the Office of Christian Formation, to love her neighbors well and challenge the church’s current view of political engagement. “Often times we are the ones instilling hate, us-versus-them ideologies, and division in our society instead of planting love, integration and inclusion,” Smith said. “In her book … Schiess graciously and truthfully calls the American church to pursue political engagement in a way that ensures that the Church does not sell itself out to a political ideology, but stands firm in the Good News … and purs[ues] policies that has the goodness and flourishing of our neighbors at its heart,” she stated.
Growing up in a military family, Schiess witnessed ceremonies and rituals that influenced the way individuals view themselves. “Most of us grew u saying the pledge of allegiance every single morning. Many of us go to football games or other events where there’s the national anthem and fireworks … Those things actually show us something really foundational about how humans act,” Schiess said. “We are lovers fundamentally, and we respond to rituals and values and stories really strongly. That also means we should be especially cautious about the stories that we consume and the places that we perform rituals and the stories that are told to us,” she said.
Schiess loved debating and planned to go to law school and studied political science at Liberty University but felt discontent in the program’s hyper-partisan classes. She changed her major to history and, at the end of her college career, decided to attend seminary.
At Dallas Theological Seminary, Schiess has the reputation as “the girl who talks about politics.” She finds purpose in bringing a political perspective to studying Scripture, and she hopes to encourage others to bring their unique gifts to theological discussions.
“I hope that that would be true in the church as well even for people who aren’t in seminary,” Schiess said. “Are you bringing the interests that you have the things you’re studying in school to the conversation, not to make everyone care equally about it, but to have that be the gift they bring?”
Whether inside the church or outside, conversations on politics can quickly become heated and divisive. Schiess recommends taking steps to “lower the temperature of the conversation” by starting from a place of respect.
“Are you in a close enough relationship with people that in a down moment where you’re both in a really comfortable place [and] … not an emotionally charged state?” She continued, “You can kind of start the conversation at a lower temperature, even if, maybe inevitably, it will rise as emotions get involved.”
As the conversation becomes more intense, Schiess encourages those involved to ask disarming questions and not attack the person’s character. “To say, ‘Well, why do you think that?’ Maybe actually you can find that the reason is one you can agree on and maybe it’s one that you can’t, so now you’ve found the actual point of disagreement instead of the external thing,” Schiess said. “Hopefully, that surprise or disarming kind of nature will also keep it from getting too heated.”
Although social media has a bad reputation for political conversations, Schiess shared that, while it may not be the most ideal place, political discussion on social media can be productive and non-toxic if everyone involved has the right mindset beforehand. She herself has experienced times where she or the other person changed their mind due to a social media conversation.
She stated that it is important to recognize, “the way that [people] present themselves in the heat of the moment in the context of a debate is not always the way they are all of the time.” “Can you even, if they won’t extend the same courtesy, … de-escalate [or] lower the temperature by assuming the best of the other person and assuming that you’re seeing them not in their best light?”
Sharing how her book can help young adults prepare for living in an extremely polarized time, Schiess stressed the importance of communal worship and connections with the saints. “Part of what it means is identifying with the global and historic church,” Schiess said. “There’s this really beautiful idea Christians used to have that … we have communion with the saints that have died in other places in the world and that our identification with them is actually stronger than our identification with anyone in our country who’s not a believer … Their idea was just so literal,” she said. “Like me and Phoebe in the first century church, we are actually closer united than someone who shares a ton of my culture and history and country but is not a believer.”
As the election approaches, Schiess encourages those who identify as apolitical or feel like their vote does not matter to seek the good of their neighbor. “I would also say you’re probably in a pretty privileged position if the local politics of your community aren’t impacting you,” Schiess said. “How can you use the privilege that you have on behalf of those you have less? If you’re sick of talking about Trump, try researching the local judges and sheriffs and school board members that actually impact your community … When you’re actually building relationships in your community, you’ll discover that the people who are impacted by those care very deeply about who is the judge and the sheriff on the school board. Maybe that actually could be more creative and more exciting to you than the really tired, exhausting, frustrating.”