Politics, some say, is a dirty business. That has definitely, it seems been the case this year in 2020. Particularly, perhaps in America, where the presidential election has been what can only be politely described as a dumpster fire. Even the language I’ve been using in this opening paragraph demonstrates a problem. Enter, neither stage right no stage left (and that is important) this book, from the end campaign. Compassion and Conviction: the and campaign’s guide to faithful civic engagement is a short punchy clear and Bible–saturated book about engaging in politics, both in terms of the democratic process, and more generally in public life.
Over eight chapters, each of which combines two things that don’t often go together, the authors consider how we’ve got to such a strange place in our Western democracies, and how Christians as people of truth and grace, can be part of the solution, to create a better civil culture. This is a short and readable book. It is focused almost exclusively on the American context, but I would say at least three quarters of it is directly relevant to any democratic country. Certainly, it would not take much adapting or thought to take this approach seriously in the UK. The trio of authors (who are well placed to write this book) centre their book in another book, the Bible. Ultimately, engaging in politics is about loving our neighbours. “We’ll never know for sure but we do know that our participation in the political process or lack there off-and the principles we employ can greatly affect our neighbours“… “Love has form and content, as described in scripture, and it compels us to act. Saying that we love our neighbours is nonsense if it’s not reflected in our actions. Such actions are the outworking of our faith.” This is a book that takes love seriously. And it is a practical book. As well as deep and simplistic, non-partisan reflection on the Bible there are helpful biblical examples scattered throughout the book. This is an activist book in the best sense, taking the stories and teachings of the Bible so seriously that they should affect every part of our lives.
There are many standout moments in this book. Despite being less than 150 pages, I’d say I made at least 200 notes or marks, as well as turning the page over on over 50% of the pages. Whilst this book is very American, almost all of the issues facing the USA face other countries. Nowhere else is this more apparent, perhaps particularly in the context of political division, and the question of abortion and other life issues. Here, I was very encouraged by both the tone and the content of what the authors write. Ultimately, abortion is the murder of a human being. And as the authors write, “clever messaging should not prompt questions to ignore human life made in them it God. Both the health and body of women and the health and body of the child should be considered. Anything less is untruthful”. This is a book that resists easy binaries and easy answers. It is a book, dare I say it, that take seriously the teachings of Jesus regarding the kingdom of God, both now and not yet. There is a helpful discussion guide with exercises to close out the book, and I would encourage friends in America to consider running this book as a small group in their church.
For those of us who aren’t in America and so will need to read this book slightly differently, I still think it holds an immense amount of value. The authors have done the global church service reminding reminding us about what’s important – love of neighbour, respect for truth (especially the Bible), and good stewardship – and seeing and treating the person across the political divide from us as being made in the image of God. I hope that this book will receive a wide readership in the USA, and it will be taken seriously by Christians of all stripes, but I also think it is a useful addition to the many publications on practical political theology which the church now has. I hope a UK version could one-day be a possibility, but until then I’ll be glad to recommend this to pastors readers leaders and those involved in politics who are Christians.