Book Review: ‘Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement’ by Michael Wear, Chris Butler, and Justin Giboney

Review is by Harold Heie, who was the founding director of the Center for Christian Studies (now the Center for Faith and Inquiry) at Gordon College. Since 2011, he has focused on leading the Respectful Conversation project.


Many Christians today are struggling with the question of whether, or to what extent, they should get involved in the messy world of American politics. This is a dilemma we feel most acutely whenever election season rolls around—and especially when the choices on offer appear far from ideal.

If there are disagreements within your church about the wisdom and efficacy of believers involving themselves in politics, then one source of good counsel is the AND Campaign, an organization devoted to a model of Christian civic education that aims to transcend conventional right-versus-left divisions. A new book, Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagementlays out the core themes of the group’s philosophy.

One of the book’s significant strengths is that its clarion call for civic engagement doesn’t come from a set of detached “armchair theoreticians” but instead from three authors who have distinguished themselves at the highest levels of politics. Attorney Justin Giboney, the AND Campaign’s cofounder, has served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Michael Wear, the group’s chief strategist, coordinated faith-based outreach efforts during Barack Obama’s presidency. And the third author, Chris Butler, is an activist in Chicago and senior leader of the Chicago Embassy Church Network.

Earnest Learning

Compassion (&) Conviction is packed with gems of wisdom on effective political engagement informed by Christian faith. Here are some that jumped out at me:

  • Value neutrality is a myth. Everyone has a set of value commitments. A proper understanding of the separation of church and state at the institutional level does not preclude any citizen bringing his or her value commitments to bear on discussions of public policy. And everyone needs to be “given a voice” so that a range of viable positions can be heard and discussed.
  • When presenting their positions on public-policy issues, Christians need to dig down deep to discover how their understanding of Christian values bears on the issue at hand, rather than just parroting the platforms of either major political party.
  • In our pluralistic society, Christians should not seek to impose their positions on public-policy issues on those who do not share their faith. Rather, Christians should seek to persuade those who do not share their faith that the positions they take will promote the common good. This strategy allows for the possibility of forming effective partnerships with those who may not share all our Christian values.
  • A major obstacle to all political engagement is tribalism, an “us-versus-them” mentality that holds that my own religious or political movement has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, while those on the other side have little to no insight at all.
  • The tone with which we engage our opponents on public-policy issues must be characterized by faithfulness to the command of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This final point is especially near and dear to my own heart, as someone who has spent the better part of the last decade trying to orchestrate respectful conversations among Christians who have strong disagreements. (You can see the fruits of this Respectful Conversation project here.) My basic premise in hosting these forums is that providing a safe and welcoming space for fellow believers to speak candidly but also respectfully about their differences of opinion is an expression of deep love.

Two additional suggestions from the book are worthy of further elaboration, since their full significance can be easily overlooked. The first is the authors’ suggestion for how to begin addressing an issue where disagreement among believers is common: “Commit to earnestly learning” the reason behind the opposing perspective, and then take care to “consider it” (emphasis mine).

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Source: Christianity Today