Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Slow Politics

Gideon Strauss


March 25, 2011
by Gideon Strauss

“A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.”
—Tim Keller, Generous Justice

I'll start out by confessing that I quite like fast food. Especially when traveling, grabbing a warm hamburger and fries or a slice of pizza not only fuels me up for the road, but provides a certain kind of solace.

There is much to like about fast food: it is quick, cheap, and easy. But I recognize that, as a steady diet, most fast food is unhealthy, wasteful, and dislocated—disconnected from local economies and communities.

Discontent with fast food has led to the emergence of a movement of people who prefer Slow Food. Slow Food emphasizes taste, health, and local connections … and it is admittedly harder to prepare, costlier to buy, and demanding of investments of time, money, and energy.

I can understand, therefore, why so many of us like fast politics: flicking on a television talk show or clicking through to a blog that dishes up a diet of simple, easy-to-understand slogans, compelling messages, and popular prejudices is similar to my biting into a juicy burger. But just as a steady diet of fast food will clog my arteries and strain my health in general, so also will a steady diet of shallow, narrow, faddish politics—whether of the Left or the Right—injure my capacity to be a responsible citizen, and contribute to the degeneration of the civic fabric of America.

And so, at this year's Jubilee student conference I presented a workshop on Slow Politics. Slow Politics includes deep reflection, a wide scope of concern, and long years of involvement. In contrast to the over-simplifications of fast politics, it recognizes the moral complexity of political life. It recognizes that responsible citizenship is a demanding road to travel. But it comes with the conviviality and camaraderie of communities of common conviction and concern.

In the workshop I suggested that Slow Politics, practiced Christianly, demands: (1) a biblical spirituality robust enough for the practice of politics, starting from a recognition of the primacy of God's sovereignty and grace and continuing on through an ethic of gratitude; (2) Christian political involvement unfolded from biblical first principles—at its core, seeking public justice for the common good; and (3) close attention to both sound traditions and fresh opportunities.

I was grateful to hear, a few weeks after Jubilee, from Mike Schoenen, a graduate student in politics at Harvard who participated in the Slow Politics workshop. Mike told me in our correspondence and a subsequent meeting that over the course of his studies, he has become more and more skeptical—even cynical—about the value of political involvement. He credited the workshop with "reinvigorating [his] passion for politics," and added that as a result—in part—“by God's grace I haven't walked away from where I know I belong."

When we turn from fast to slow politics we do not make things easier for ourselves. Instead, we respond to a tough calling. But in it we can find political vigor, and by it we can make an enduring contribution. And suffer less frequently from a bad taste in our mouths.

—Gideon Strauss is editor of Capital Commentary and CEO of the Center for Public Justice.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”