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

Needed: a Robust Vision, a Civil Conversation

Gideon Strauss


November 5, 2010
by Gideon Strauss

Change is coming to Washington. Again. The success of the Tea Party movement in this week's elections will not only give leadership of the House of Representatives to the Republican Party and bring about a divided government, it will change the tone and direction of American politics.

??But then again, the election of President Obama, not so very long ago, brought about similar judgments and questions. Change happens. Does it last? What does it mean? How do we respond to it?!  Obama evangelicals, Tea Party Christians—are Christian Americans becoming more progressive, more conservative, more social democratic, more libertarian???

These years of turmoil suggest to me that there is a real prospect of a reconfiguration of American politics. The coalitions that make up both the Republican and Democratic parties are not currently stable. Similarly, the long-term trends of political opinion among Christians are not neatly predictable, especially if the broader demographics and trends in religious practice are taken into account.??

Wise leadership is needed in tumultuous times such as these. Christians called to political leadership in this context must not be blown around by every wind of opinion, whether measured by polls or the fickle fortunes of the ballot box.

??Now is a good time for taking a look at the situation from 30,000 feet. To ask the big questions. And to offer big answers—answers big enough not only to achieve fleeting victories in one or another election, but to provide a vision that can guide America towards more justice over a generation or two.??

Times of political upheaval invite a lazy cynicism from those who do not like the way the wind blows—disillusioned Republicans two years ago, weary Democrats this week. But to be human is to be responsible—to take responsibility. Not to step away from the political process, but to figure out how to contribute to the common good and seek public justice, regardless of the constraints we face.

??The heated rhetoric of this election frequently went beyond the proper bounds imposed by love of neighbor and recognition of our common humanity. This is a good time to recover what Richard Mouw calls a convicted civility—neither a civility that derives from a limp lack of conviction, nor the kind of in-your-face aggression to which people of deep and sincere conviction so easily succumb.??

We need to practice a graceful citizenship that informs both the content and style of our politics, based on an awareness that we are the beneficiaries of God's grace, living in the time of God's patience

We hope that the Center for Public Justice and our associates across America will contribute to such a more graceful politics—conscious of our own status as sinners saved by grace, humble in our pronouncements, but resolute in our commitment to the gospel and to the political implications of a biblical view of our humanity and our place in history. We are called to humble, resolute, responsible citizenship. There is no taking a sabbatical from politics, as there is no taking a sabbatical from history or our humanity.

But even in these moments of great political excitement, we do well to remember that politics is not everything, or the first thing. In my travels I am reminded again and again of the centrality of the church to the Christian life. What we do as the Center for Public Justice depends thoroughly on the vibrant public presence of churches in the cities, towns, countryside and media of America. The kind of politics we believe in cannot be sustained—cannot even be imagined—without churches proclaiming the good news of the reign of God in their preaching, the celebration of the sacraments, and the discipleship of the people of God.

—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.”