Which issues should Christians prioritize when engaging in civics? Should Christians focus exclusively on one social issue, or should they support initiatives that address a broader range of topics? The current cultural and political climate has prompted Christians to discuss these questions.
Justin Giboney, founder of the AND Campaign, and Andrew Walker, executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, were invited to speak at “Finding our Niche: A Discussion about Faithful Civic Engagement” on March 18 on the John Brown University campus.
Students, faculty and community members joined the conversation in-person at JBU’s Berry Performance Arts Center and via the livestream, courtesy of the Center for Faith and Flourishing (CFF). Additionally, a select group of students had the opportunity to join a book study and explore works by both speakers, including the AND Campaign’s “Compassion & Conviction” and a collection of Walker’s essays before the event.
Daniel Bennett, associate professor of political science and assistant director of CFF, explained the core message of the event. “I think that the main rationale was to show that Christians who take their faith seriously, and who are engaged in politics in the public square, can come to different conclusions about what the best policy might be on important issues, and the best way to go about achieving these outcomes, but still share that fundamental goal of being faithful in their public witness,” Bennett said.
During the event, both speakers shared opening remarks and answered questions posed by the audience. Topics like religious freedom, social justice and civic engagement were at the center of the discussion.
Giboney, who advocates for “more just and compassionate policies,” according to the AND Campaign website, said that he has “the peculiar commission of emphasizing the importance of politics as a way of loving our neighbors, promoting human flourishing and protecting human dignity,” during his introduction. “At the same time, it is de-emphasizing politics to the believer who might be treating it as the ultimate thing.”
On the same note, Walker outlined his points about religious liberty and Christian civic engagement. “The contest that we are waged in right now is to figure out how to protect the liberty we [Christians] enjoy for ourselves without denying it to others,” he said. “We defend liberty, not to protect people’s right to sin, or to equivocate on the moral status of their sin, but to protect their ability to live in accordance with their individual grasp of truth.”
Students who attended the event and participated in the book study said they appreciated both speakers’ viewpoints and courteous attitudes. “I think it was important to have an intellectually humble conversation, which I think that was really modeled well at the event,” said Caitlyn Aversman, senior political science major, who attended both the book study and the event.
As Christians, especially young adults, are placing more importance on civic engagement, Bennett advises the JBU community to make a priority list when it comes to exercising their right to vote. “It is a matter of individual conscience,” he said. “I think there is going to be students on this campus who will say, ‘I will vote for whichever candidate is pro-life,’ and there are other students who will say, ‘I think it’s more complicated than that.’ You can disagree about the means to addressing a certain problem in society without disparaging the motives, and I think that’s what their conversation was hoping to do.”
“[Giboney and Walker] both imaged the fact that you can doubt someone’s political agenda, and that doesn’t mean that you doubt their theology,” Aversman commented. “That is something that is maybe lost in the polarized conversations that we have.”
After a year of political conflict, Christians do not have to wait every two or four years to prioritize social issues and engage in faithful civics. “Yes, you’re praying for your vote, but you’re also praying for how you can extend your witness beyond your vote,” Aversman added. “You’re a citizen, and you’re called to be a good citizen, and citizenship is not sufficiently exerted strictly on a vote. Your witness does not end on election day.”
Photo by María Aguilar/The Threefold Advocate