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Justin Giboney: How Both Political Parties Fail Urban Christians 

Ever feel left out of the political conversation, because your values are not represented by either political party? 

You might tend towards wanting justice but find your political party is out of step with your spiritual values.  Or, you might tend to want to preserve your spiritual values but find your party ignores the injustice that many Americans have suffered.

Christians, who don’t quite feel comfortable in either party, are experiencing a type of political homelessness as both parties’ extremities leave voters feeling adrift. This might lead to political disengagement, which further exacerbates the problem of extreme polarized factions gaining more power over our political environment.

What are we to do?

This week, I’m pleased to introduce you to Justin Giboney, co-founder of the (&) campaign.  He believes urban Christians committed to redemptive justice and values-based policy are being shoved out and under-represented by both Democrats and Republicans.  Though the political elite exploits them for votes, the “political elite” refuse to represent their beliefs. 

However, both redemptive justice and values-based policies are inseparably tied together and cannot be ignored. In this episode of the Good Faith podcast, which I missed because of my sabbatical, my co-host David French and Justin discuss:

  • the problems with left and right as they grapple with extremism; 
  • Justin’s experiences talking about hot-button topics from a politically heterodox (but theologically orthodox) point of view;
  • racial justice, political tribalism, and the “God gap” in the Democratic Party; and
  • SEC football (Justin is a former starting safety for Vanderbilt football, so you knew David would bring that up)

DAVID FRENCH: What is the (&) campaign, and how did you move into it from being a Democratic political operative?

JUSTIN GIBONEY: So, the (&) campaign is a Christian civic organization where we’re trying to raise civic literacy – we want Christians to understand the process and politics a little bit better – but we also want to educate and help Christians view politics… not so much from a partisan point of view or an ideological point of view, but more about biblical principles.

We do think conservatism, progressivism, and the two parties can take us away from that biblical point of view. And so we’re really trying to emphasize that.

The way that I got there is a really long story, but I’ll give you the short of it.

I had been working in politics, running campaigns here in Atlanta for years, and there were just some things I couldn’t reconcile. We’ll talk a little bit about the “God Gap” later. But that “God Gap” really hit me as my faith was growing. I really felt my community was being disrespected by both parties to some extent, that our point of view was being erased.

I felt the church needed to focus on those biblical principles and step away from the ideology and the partisanship.

DAVID FRENCH: So I’ve heard you tell a story about when you were involved in Atlanta selecting delegates to the Democratic National Convention? 

JUSTIN GIBONEY: Yeah, that’s right. It was the Democratic National Convention selection in 2016, so that was the second time I was a delegate. I basically came with a biblical platform: I talked about the sanctity of life and about transgender issues with compassion – but certainly with biblical convictions.

I ended up winning in John Lewis’s district because it connected with the people who were there and the people in my community. You would never think that would happen, but that was kind of the beginning of the (&) campaign, when we were saying, “This is who we are. We’re bringing politics differently.”

DAVID FRENCH: So you were a Democratic delegate in 2012 as well? I was a Republican delegate in 2012 for Mitt Romney.

JUSTIN GIBONEY: As I said, we come from different parts of the spectrum into a lot of unity at this point.

DAVID FRENCH: So far, if I’m a Republican and listening to you talking about presenting a traditional biblical sexual ethic in a Democratic context and feeling alienated from that, that there was a schism there, or some tension there…

Doesn’t that logically mean you just step across the aisle from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party?  Because the GOP is going to much more closely maybe match your values that you just articulated about gender and sexuality?

JUSTIN GIBONEY: That’s only part of our public witness.  That wouldn’t necessarily mean that for us.

And to be honest, (&) campaign is not partisan, so it’s not like a Democrat or Republican organization. But no, there are legitimate reasons why a lot of African Americans aren’t in the Republican Party.  A lot of it deals with the history of civil rights, the history on racial justice, and the lack of engagement there. Or sometimes just being on the opposite side of what I think is just.  

I had a feeling of homelessness, because there were legitimate reasons on both sides to push away and give Christians an opportunity to have a different framework by which to move forward. 

DAVID FRENCH: Let’s drill down for a minute on that homelessness point. I was a Republican my entire adult life until 2016. When Donald Trump clinched the nomination, I just wasn’t going to be a part of an organization that put him as its leader. I think there are lots of good and faithful Christians who remained Republicans during the Donald Trump years. There’s lots of good and faithful Christians who’ve been and still are Democrats.

But for me, I couldn’t affiliate with this institution.

A lot of people have interpreted this sort of “homelessness feeling” as disengagement. In other words, you’re out of it. But my perspective has been, “No, I’m not out of it in any way. I just don’t fit into one of these two boxes.”

And that’s why I’ve really followed you with intense interest for some time, because I sensed that you’re not disengaged from anything.  As you’re talking to Christians about public life, you’re not disengaged at all. You’re deeply engaged. You’re just not tribal.

JUSTIN GIBONEY: That’s right. I mean, I probably don’t get invited to the progressive cocktail parties anymore, but I do feel like I’m engaged in a better way, in a more clear way where I can say I feel comfortable with my faith and with my convictions engaging in this way.

So what does that mean?  Sometimes there are times when I will say to some of my old progressive friends, “this is something we can work together on.” But at the same time, I don’t let them tell me that I can’t go across the aisle and also have conversations with conservatives and try to get things done as well.

Again, it’s just not playing by their rules and making sure that we do it in a different way. But I think in many ways, the effectiveness and certainly the faithfulness of my engagement has gotten better and stronger.

[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]

HOST: David French

PRODUCER: Caleb Parker

IMAGE CREDIT: (&) Campaign

The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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