In what seems to be a particularly bitter political climate, many people seem to be disillusioned, and that includes Christians. In a recent Reuters poll, almost 30 percent of self-described “born-again Christians” may refrain from voting in this presidential election.
But, is there a danger to complete disillusionment when it comes to politics? According to Joshua Dubois, instead of becoming jaded by all of the disagreements, Christians should look to find common ground with people who think differently. Because, there some issues—like combating human trafficking and initiatives to help the poor—that we can all agree are important.
The author and former head of the White House’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships talked with us about the importance of remaining engaged with politics and ultimately remembering who we are.
You served as the head of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships—something started by the Bush White House—under the Obama Administration. Do you think engaging with faith-based partnerships and encouraging those types of connections is something that it’s important for Christians to get behind no matter what their political affiliation might be?
Absolutely. President Obama said, “I may disagree with President Bush on a whole set of issues but I agree with him that we need to bring in the faith community and work together with churches and other communities of faith to make sure that the marginalized are taken care of and that the poor and vulnerable are protected.”
He was glad to not stop the Bush faith-based initiative but actually expand it. He asked me to come in and think about how to build relationships with communities of faith around the country and across the world on important anti-poverty goals—from addressing hunger here in the United States to making sure our kids are educated well to addressing human trafficking and so forth.
We built partnerships with folks who may not agree with him politically. We had everyone at the table who wanted to do something about hunger, protecting our kids and making sure women and girls are not vulnerable to traffickers and so on and so forth.
So I think that even in an era of political disagreement we have to be able to find things that we agree on across partisan lines.
In the past, I feel like a lot of the “Christian political activism” had to do with polarizing social issues, but do you see that changing as more and more churches are becoming involved in humanitarian and social issues?
I think it really starts on the basis of relationships.
I think more and more churches, for example, are serving refugees on the front lines here in the United States and across the globe. More and more churches are working directly with the victims of human trafficking.
When you work on this stuff—when you’re hand in hand with a trafficking victim, or when you’re in Greece or Macedonia or wherever the case may be, working with refugees—you have to take into account the role that government plays in helping those same people.
I think a lot of this is flowing from the amazing commitment of a growing number of churches on the front lines of these problems.
When they’re on the front lines, they also are dealing with what’s happening back in Washington on Capitol Hill and in the policy arena.
So I do see that shifting, I see it changing, particularly with this next generation of believers and I think a lot more folks are engaging in public policy as a result.
For a Christian who is passionate about serving their communities, what is the first step in engaging with the government and politics to say “we want to partner to help make a difference”? How would you recommend someone take that first step and reach out so that some sort of partnership or at least involvement can be possible?
I would say the first step is to broaden our base of information. I think it’s important for believers to cast a broad net into what we’re reading and use discernment to figure out what we actually believe, but really first understand the issues from a diversity of perspectives, even perspectives we disagree with.
Our God and our beliefs are strong enough to be able to be exposed to things we disagree with. We’re not going to break down and in fact, I think our beliefs will only be strengthened. I think about folks who are in a different political party than me and I try to find areas where we could agree.
Once you’ve diversified your information, then you reach out: You write a letter to Congress on a particular issue like criminal justice reform, global hunger or global poverty. You can make your voice known in the public square, often times via an email, a letter-writing campaign or an online form.
It sounds like embracing the nuances of each individual issue instead of just painting with broad brushes—Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal—really can help bring people together instead of dividing them further apart.
I think that’s exactly right. I am progressive on some issues, conservative on others. There are a whole lot of Democrats I like, some Democrats who don’t align with me and the same thing for Republicans. I think the only things that define me are my faith in Jesus Christ, my marriage to Michelle Dubois, and my fatherhood to August Dubois but other than that stuff gets complicated.
You have to really kind of embrace the complexity, the gray areas and the nuance and make decisions not just on a basis of a party affiliation but using discernment, wisdom and really submitting every decision to the filter of the Holy Spirit.
This political season seems like one of the most polarizing that we’ve had in a long time. It may just be recency bias, but what would you say to someone who is jaded and disengaged by the hostility and maliciousness?
First and foremost, I would say that our hope is not in this world or the results of the 2016 election. It’s built on something much more eternal than that. So don’t despair. Don’t lose hope because we all know where the source of our hope lies.
The second thing is focus on the issues. Even with the craziness that’s happening in the political sphere there are still really important things at stake right now. Really dig into the issues and make your voices known on the issues even if you’re not there on certain candidates.
The other thing I would say is speak out against incivility.
I think we’ve got to figure out a way to have vocal civility so that it’s not just the most divisive voices that are out there in the public square.
Take a risk on Twitter, not to beat somebody up but to build somebody up. Take a risk on Facebook not to call people out but to call people in. Inspire folks with what our faith says about the way that we should treat one another. Don’t be silent. Get out in the public square. Be a voice and an advocate for civility.
One of the things that you’ve always been known for is “The President’s Devotional,” a book made up of personal devotionals that you sent to the president during his time in office, is there one entry or passage that stands out to you right now that speaks to this climate?
There was a devotional in the book and it’s actually a quote from Mark Twain. He met with a businessman in Boston who didn’t have the best reputation and he was bragging to Mark Twain saying, “I’m gonna go to the Holy Land and go to the top of Mount Sinai and read the 10 Commandments aloud from the top.” Mark Twain said, “Well, sir, I’ve got a better idea. You can stay home in Boston and keep the 10 Commandments to yourself.”
The devotional is about how a lot of times we want to have a public display of our commitments and piety but we live our lives in a way that may not align with the Word of God. It’s just a reminder to me and hopefully, others, that we can talk a good game in terms of what we do in public but if we’re not living out the values of our faith in the way that we treat those around us, the way that we love our families and the way that we interact and engage with people every day, then we’re falling short.
Editor’s Note: This piece was edited from a longer conversation.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.