Invitation to Explore
Justin Giboney says that when dealing with a person who presents themselves as your enemy, you need to have the moral imagination to see in that person what God says is true about them, that they are made in His image and likeness. Beyond Bible Reading and prayer, what is one thing you can do to begin to cultivate this kind of moral imagination?
Scripture to Study
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4–7)
Wise Words to Consider
“Christian advocacy and political positions must reflect the compassion of Jesus Christ. …. The political sphere provides us with a significant opportunity to actively love our neighbors by acknowledging their dignity and seeking their well-being through the civic process. Love for others should compel us to advocate for justice on their behalf just as we would do for ourselves.” ―Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler, Compassion and Conviction: the And Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement
A Prayer to Lead You
Merciful Father, you have called us not just to love our neighbors as ourselves, but to love even our enemies and to pray for those who hate us. We ask that you would help us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to engage our civic neighbor with compassion and conviction, seeking to promote the common good, remembering the most vulnerable in society. Help us to demonstrate your compassion for the world so that people who would see us would see your love and righteousness reflected in our speech and acts. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
A Practice to Begin
Many Christians have adopted a pessimistic attitude toward civic engagement and loving their neighbors, feeling like there is nothing they can do. Consider going to people you trust, a pastor, elders, or Christian friends who are doing justice or good works in their community. Ask how you can get involved. Start small and open yourself to the possibility that God might surprise you and give you hope.
Questions to Answer
In politics, Christians have a challenging task: find a way to promote the common good in society while being faithful to the Lord and what you read in Scripture. One way to do this is to consider values that Scripture speaks to: love, justice, compassion, advocacy for the poor, righteousness, etc. What are some values in Scripture that you find important for your political commitments? In what ways does the Bible challenge the views of those with whom you most align? In this episode, what surprised you most about Justin Giboney’s perspective?
Resources to Help
- Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler, Compassion and Conviction: the And Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement
- And Campaign, The Church Politics Podcast
- Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just
Sam Holland, Host 0:04
You’re listening to the Created For podcast. We believe that everyone was created to make a unique impact in the world. Created For is a podcast to explore ideas around purpose, calling, and discovering how God is inviting you to influence the world in your own way, right now.
I’m your host, Sam Holland.
Today’s guest is Justin Giboney. Justin is an ordained minister, attorney and political strategist in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s also the co-founder and president of the AND Campaign, a coalition of biblical Christians who are determined to address the socio-political arena with the compassion and conviction of the gospel of Jesus Christ. During our virtual Created For event last month, Justin spoke on “Thy Civic Neighbor: loving your neighbor across partisan lines.”
Justin, you’re a political strategist, and you’re also an athlete who played football at Vanderbilt. And recently on the church politics podcast, I heard you mention your sports tribalism theorem. Now, I don’t have an athletic bone in my body. My only context for sports is that my kids like the NFL and fantasy football. So Justin, can you educate me? How would you explain your sports tribalism theorem? To a non athlete like me?
Justin Giboney 1:36
Sure, I mean, the beauty of the sports tribalism theorem is that you don’t have to be athletic to understand it or appreciate it. The idea comes from the fact that number one, tribalism within politics, where we see it a lot, is a very bad thing. So just choosing a side, going along with your side, defending your side, regardless of what they do, is terrible in politics, because it has very serious real, real life consequences. That’s not where I’m at.
So let me start by saying I think people are kind of naturally tribal. So there’s a tribalism in all of us. And I just don’t think politics is the place to do it. However, I think that sports, the greatest service, that it may serve us, the greatest way that it may serve us, is through actually allowing us to have an outlet for our tribalism. That is the perfect place if you ask me to be someone who’s a fanatic, right? That’s what fans are about to be someone who’s very tribal, sticks with their team, defends their team, whatever they do, that’s where that tribalism should be, rather than taking that tribalism to politics where it could have some very serious consequences.
So I think that the greatest use for sports, perhaps, is tribalism. I think that’s where it serves this society best rather than having our tribalism in, in our politics.
Sam Holland 2:56
Another thing you said is that believing the best in others helps combat tribalism. And I was wondering, is believing the best similar to what you referred to in your Created For segment as moral imagination?
Justin Giboney 3:11
Yeah, I think so. The truth of the matter is, we can’t always see the best sides of people. Sometimes it may be even hard to see the human dignity in someone that’s treating you a certain way. But I think when we look at the Bible, when we look at the words of Jesus, and how He tells us to treat our neighbors, and even tells us to treat our enemies, we have to be able to see something that’s not necessarily visible to us. We have to see past what that person may be acting like in the moment, and really see what God says that they are, which is an image-bearer.
And so yes, that is that is the moral imagination, it’s seeing something that’s not really visible to you, from the naked eye or from the physical. But knowing that something bigger is there because of what God says and treating people that way, even when you can’t see it.
Sam Holland 3:59
One part of moral imagination that you mentioned in your Created For talk involves recognizing that everyone has a story. Everyone has a testimony. Justin, what are some of the parts of your story that formed who you are and the work that you do today?
Justin Giboney 4:17
Yeah, I mean, the major point is that people are not political abstractions. And I think one major part of me being able to say that was just growing up in a very diverse area. I grew up in Denver, Colorado, I had friends who were indigenous people, I had friends who were Mexican and white – everything, and from different classes, too. And so it’s very hard for me to take a whole group of people and just make them a political abstraction, because I’ve been around them.
I know that people have stories. I know that it’s hard to label somebody just based off their identity and know what they’ve gone through. There’s so many different variables, whether they had a parent who was an alcoholic or there was some type of abuse there, or even sometimes whether they– regardless of who you are, what your identity is, sometimes we’re just spoiled. You know, there’s a lot of different reasons that make us different, even within a certain identity group. And so I really try to push us away from making these huge generalizations.
Now, that doesn’t mean that representation doesn’t matter for certain groups. That doesn’t mean that certain groups don’t run into different types of discrimination and oppression. But we don’t want to go too far into late– and this I mean, this is nothing new. This is the type of thing that Dr. Martin Luther King was talking about, but we somehow lost that. We just want to make sure that we try to get to know people’s character, because one thing that our race and even our class doesn’t tell us about somebody’s character, their competence, and really what they– you know, the specifics of what they’ve been through. And so we need to keep that in mind as we engage society.
Sam Holland 5:47
That’s good. So, how would you say your work relates to what you read in Scripture every day, and just what you grew up reading in Scripture?
Justin Giboney 5:58
I think that’s the basis of– I try to make that the basis of my interactions in the public square. For one, I’m the grandson of a civil rights era preacher, someone that taught me early on that we were– we did have an imperative to be just, to treat people a certain way. There was never this dichotomy between personal piety and social action. My understanding coming from the traditional Black church, is that those things went together. And so it was odd for me to see those things separated as I met some people outside of that space. But that really made me focus on, “Okay, what is it God? What are the imperatives? What is God saying that we have to do and how we have to treat other people?”
I think my grandfather and people in my family were very good at teaching us the character of God, understanding our own weakness, understanding that we are all sinful. That we need to have grace for other people, and but for God’s grace, we could be in a number of other situations. That it’s not our moral superiority, but it’s the grace of God that keeps us out of those situations. And so that’s what I really try to focus on.
I think the Bible is very clear on the justice imperative, I think it’s very clear that Christians should seek a type of moral order as well. And that moral order and social justice are not mutually exclusive – that they actually work together. And that if you don’t have justice, then you don’t really have a moral order. If you have a law and order that doesn’t have justice in it, then that’s not something that’s biblical. And so I really want Christians to pull away from our ideological tribes in a way or ideological narratives, to see that we need to be both about social justice and moral order – that we can’t really choose one or the other. We can’t choose between love and truth. Jesus combined those things. Now, I would agree that it’s very hard to combine those things without the gospel. But with the gospel, not only is it doable, but I think it’s required.
Sam Holland 7:55
So, you’ve told us a little bit about your story, like growing up in a very diverse community and with your grandfather and his influence on your life, and then you go to college, and you’re playing football there. And then from there, you know, going to law school, getting involved in the political arena. When did you start to really see the need for this moral imagination that we’ve been talking about?
Justin Giboney 8:25
Yeah, I’ll be honest. So it took me a while. I mean, even when I first got into politics, I wouldn’t say that I got into politics for the right reason. I think I got into politics because it gave me that same kind of competitive feeling that I got from sports. And once I stopped playing sports – it maybe was even an idol – I started looking around like, “What else can I do to kind of get that rush back?” And so that’s why I got into politics.
But as I started running campaigns and doing political strategy, and just talking to friends and folks who were running their campaign, it became very clear that there was a gap in between where people were at their church and their values in the church and their spirituality, and how that was applied to the public square. There just didn’t seem to be a clear framework that a lot of people had for applying who we were as Christians to what we’re supposed to do in the political arena. And I saw that pretty clearly.
But I also saw just the back and forth that we have between people, that it’s like, “We can’t seem to find anything in common – any common ground.” And I just– you know, being that we have the same Bible, being that we have the same Great Commandment, that same Great Commission, the same great requirement – Christians have more than enough common ground to be able to come together and unify the church.
But I think in many ways, it’s the progressivism – parts of progressivism, parts of conservatism – that takes away our moral imagination. That doesn’t want us to see the best in our opponents. That only wants us to see the worst, because they know that in seeing the worst, we’re motivated through that kind of fear and anger. And Christians have to do their best not to say that there aren’t times where we need to be upset, angry, or righteously indignant, but how long do we stay there? And what do we take that to say about our opponents? Does it paint them in a way that truly is dehumanizing. And I think that happens too often.
And if Christians can’t break out of these ideological narratives and molds, then it’s gonna be very hard to have the moral imagination that I think we need to fix this broken landscape.
Sam Holland 10:26
So I imagine you find yourself in conversations all the time with people on various parts of the spectrum, either on Twitter or in person – are there best practices that you have to engage those conversations? Do you – Do you automatically jump into trying to find out like, “What’s your story?” Or what – what are some of those tools that you use?
Justin Giboney 10:51
Yeah, I try to get people’s perspective. I try to look, and as you’re listening to people, you try to affirm what you can – right? I don’t think you affirm things that are wrong, or that you don’t agree with – you don’t want to be disingenuous. But I think when you can affirm something within their perspective, I think you should. And what that does is it brings down the defenses – right? It says, “Okay, this person isn’t trying to walk out of here making me look like an idiot, or that he’s completely right, or I’m completely wrong. This is someone who’s actually listening.”
So whether I’m talking to somebody who’s progressive or conservative, I want to where I can, give them those affirmations to say, “Hey, we do see some of the same things– see some thing’s the same. How can we talk through our differences?” And maybe those differences aren’t so great, once we lower our defenses.
Sam Holland 11:34
When is that the most difficult? Is it – Twitter? Is it online? Is it a certain type of interaction that you’re having?
Justin Giboney 11:42
Well, yeah, it can be almost impossible on Twitter sometimes. And I’ve had to find that out the hard way. And I want to be clear, I’m not always doing it the right way, either. But I do try to correct myself when necessary too. But yeah, I think it can be hard when you don’t have a relationship with the person or that you’re not able– they’re not able to hear your tone, you’re not able to hear their tone. But you both have your respective ideological tribes behind you, patting you on the back for saying the most abrasive thing. That’s when it becomes very hard.
The other side of it, sometimes it’s not just about having a persuasive argument. Sometimes it is really about a heart issue. It’s about a hard heart either with you or the other person. And it does take prayer, and really self examination to see where you are on certain issues. So sometimes people in the conversation – one or both, are just not ready to really listen to the other side.
Sometimes we’re dealing with spiritual strongholds and issues like that, that also need to be addressed. So you know, with the AND Campaign, we’re not materialists, we think there is more than just what we see. And we want to address those things, too.
Sam Holland 12:51
Let’s talk about community for a minute. So, Justin, what are ways that you have intentionally, over your lifetime so far, planted yourself in a community that’s going to support you in the work that you’re doing, in your calling, and that you are going to do the same for others?
Justin Giboney 13:09
Yeah, I mean, community is so important for us. And unfortunately, I think we lose the– we’re losing an understanding of the value of that, like we set up these lifestyle enclaves. But we don’t understand the value of true community.
And so first, my community is my church, trying to make sure that I’m there serving, I’m doing a Bible study with one of my books now, just making sure that I’m connected with the church – even during this pandemic, that can be really hard.
We have my community, which is my neighborhood, which are people who I live with, and try to– and may not always agree with, but have to find ways to work together to make things better. And so it’s not always easy. But community is really something I think we need to get back to, we need to focus in on that because we can get off into our own social media circles and all these other things, and really not pay attention to those who are closest around us and what they’re going through.
And those who are very close within proximity, some of their issues are within our sphere of influence. And that’s why it’s so important. You know, if we’re missing opportunities to help people and do things that are within our sphere of influence, then we may not be the good stewards that God has called us to be. And it’s hard, nobody can do everything. But I do think Christians should have somewhat, like, a sense of urgency and be vigilant to opportunities to help others, and that’s done very well in community.
Sam Holland 14:38
Let’s talk about “Compassion and Conviction,” the book that you co-authored. You included this great section on Christians forming partnerships with non Christians and with people from different political convictions to work together, to achieve a common good, political goal. So I’d love to just hear where you have seen this going really well? Where do you have hope in this area?
Justin Giboney 15:04
Yeah, I mean, first I’ll start with, you know, the Bible shows us – and I think history shows us as well – but in particular, the Bible shows us that children of God can work with others to get things done. We saw that with Joseph, we saw so many times in the Bible, where folks who serve God worked with others to do good things, even if they didn’t have the exact same reason for doing it, or even if their beliefs diverged at some point. And so that’s very important to me.
And I think you see it happen, I think, more so on the local level, with some of these local issues here in Atlanta – you can see it happening with housing, where people who were Christians, and folks who may not agree with us from a faith perspective, are coming together to say, “Housing and making sure low income people have somewhere to live that’s not so far out the city that they can’t get to any services, or get to any jobs, is not where we want our city to be.” And I think we’ve seen people come around those particular issues, to say, “Hey, we don’t have to agree on everything. But this is an issue that we care about.”
And really the AND Campaign’s perspective on that – a lot of it comes from Francis Schaeffer who talked about co-belligerency. Understanding that, “Hey, we may not be– there may be limits to this partnership, because we come from two different perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get some things done.”
The other side to that, though, is Christians really taking the time, as they go into partnerships, to understand where those ideas do diverge, because I think the downside of that is entering into a partnership or joining a secular group, and then not knowing where you need to be protecting your values – or at least voicing your values – so that you don’t get sent off in a direction that’s not biblical. That happens often. And I think it just means that we need to be diligent enough and take the time to make sure that we’re standing on our values, and not violating that just for the sake of being a partner.
Sam Holland 17:00
Yeah, that goes back to what you were saying about community, like staying plugged in to your church, and your community there to keep your core values straight. So when you’re talking about describing this partnership, and what’s happening with housing, it reminds me of something you said about growing up in church for you, and was that a Black church that you grew up in?
Justin Giboney 17:25
My grandfather was a bishop in a traditional Black church. I went to a few different churches. So I started off in the Black Baptist Church – even went to a charismatic church for quite a while too. So I’ve had a diverse experience there, too. But the foundation of, kind of, my church experiences has been the Black church. Yeah.
Sam Holland 17:43
And was that traditional Black church, where you really, you said, you saw orthodoxy and orthopraxy always lived out, like what we believe and what we do, was– they were always not separated. They were together, when you’re growing up. And so, it seemed like, so it’s just normal for you to have those go together because of how you grew up, but it’s not for people who grew up in other church traditions.
Justin Giboney 18:14
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I just never saw a disconnect between the piety and what you’re supposed to do personally. And then what you’re supposed to do within society and community.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I always got it right – right? That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have struggles. And I certainly had struggles when I went to college, and even after college, with theology and making sure that I got it right, and that I wasn’t centering myself – that I was actually centering Christ. So I didn’t– there were times when I didn’t necessarily always stick with what I was taught. So I don’t want to give that impression. But certainly, I think from early on, I didn’t have the dichotomy that you see a lot of people working through – people trying to, “How do I connect compassion and conviction? How do I connect this personal piety with social action? Or do I connect them at all?” – right?
You have some people on the left that are saying, “Hey, it’s really just about being a good person, helping other people, and I can do what I want, I can decide what’s right for me.” Well, we can say that, but you’re not gonna find any justification for that in the Bible. It’s just not there. It’s not about self indulgence. It’s about self sacrifice. There is no defense of that in the Bible. Although if you feel like that needs to be, kind of, evolved, then you may find some way to rationalize it, but it’s really not in the Bible. And I think for the same way, when you look at the prophets, when you look at the things that Jesus said, there’s really no excuse for Christians not engaging in social action and caring about what’s happening to their neighbor – there’s really no excuse for it. Again, we find ways to rationalize it based on our self interest, or based on our cultural preferences.
But one thing that the AND Campaign is about trying to bring back to the fore is that, “No, the Bible demands that compassion and conviction – that those things come together,” because you really don’t have one without the other.
Sam Holland 19:55
So you’ve mentioned a few times in your life when you were, you know, switching from Either college when you’re playing football, and then into law school and then into the political arena, and you mentioned, “Oh, sometimes we get into to something, like politics, for a certain reason. But then we discover really why we’re in this arena later on.” Can you talk more about that and how you’ve discovered your calling along the way?
Justin Giboney 20:25
Yeah, I mean, God– the way God works is you don’t always know what He’s doing with you until you get to a certain space.
But as I look back on my life, as I look at how I was in diverse spaces, as I look at how I played on diverse teams, and going to law school, being competitive, how I’ve always been taught to be willing to stand up to authority. The more that I thought about where– what I’ve gone through and what God has shown me, it seems like He was always preparing me for what I’m doing now. I think me being a lawyer helps what I do now, and how I formulate my arguments – trying to understand different sides of issues – it all seems like it came together. And even the things that happened to me that were bad – right? There are some things that were not so helpful – that put me in really tough positions. But I do really see how God used them for the good.
And that’s the beauty of really learning the Bible and reading Scripture. When you read Scripture, when you pray in that, you let the Holy Spirit guide you. You start to see how your life fits into exactly what the Bible is telling you. And that doesn’t mean that you’ll always be in good situations. But it helps you understand sometimes your life’s– just the ups and downs of life and where God might be trying to take you, or what he’s trying to teach you.
And that’s certainly been the case for me. And I’m just thankful that God has me where I am, that He has my organization where it is, because all the things that AND Campaign is doing, the growth, the– even speaking to you right now. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that I was just speaking to myself and didn’t think anybody wanted to hear what I had to say. So it’s all God, like, it’s way bigger than anything I could have done. But I’m just thankful that He’s using me as long as I can be useful to that, and I’m gonna do my best to be faithful. And I think the AND Campaign in general, we’re really committed to that.
Sam Holland 22:20
So would you say that those practices you mentioned, like being in the Scriptures, prayer, and letting the Holy Spirit work through your life, those are kind of what you’ve come back to, to keep you grounded and alert to how God is leading you and your calling, day by day?
Justin Giboney 22:38
Yeah, those are huge things. So daily prayer, staying in the Scripture, but also having a community – again, a community – right? Having a community of people around me whether it’s Lisa Fields, Charlie Dates, Dr. Esau McCaulley, that I can reach out to, that I can ask questions – Steven Harris – that I can reach out to and ask questions, and talk to, and just confide in. And we’re all trying to do our best to be faithful, and we’re all trying to hold each other accountable. I can’t call any of those folks and want to do something wrong, and they’re just going to go along with it. That, again, is another place where community is important. And it is one of those things that I do think keeps me grounded. Again, far from perfect. I would be really leading you astray to tell you anything else. But I have seen how God has changed my life for the better. And I’m just thankful for the folks He surrounded me by, for the ability to even see some of these disciplines or exercises that I do, as being helpful. It’s all God’s grace. And I’m just thankful.
Sam Holland 23:38
So you mentioned Esau McCaulley and others, that you’re– kind of your peers that you’re in community with and doing similar type work. Do you also have in your community, people, maybe in your neighborhood, that you– that are harder relationships? Like, it’s harder to find common ground? It’s harder to– you don’t work in the same sphere, but are they also making an impact on your life, those people in your community?
Justin Giboney 24:08
Yeah, I mean, for sure. Especially when you’re interacting in the public square, and you’re going back and forth on very serious issues. One of the other practices that I’ve learned that’s been helpful, is praying for people that I disagree with, or that I feel some way towards. It doesn’t happen immediately, always. But it is harder to really have disdain for someone that you’re praying for. And not praying that God just corrects them, praying for their well being, praying for their best. And that’s something that I’ve tried to do, because you are gonna come into contact with people who you don’t get along with. Maybe it’s your fault, maybe it’s theirs. Maybe it’s just a– you see things differently. But we need to find ways not to just dismiss people. There’s ways that I can work on that, but that’s one of the things that I do. And I think it’s been helpful as I try to get even better at that as well.
Sam Holland 25:01
So when you’re praying for others that maybe you haven’t found common ground with yet or something like that, is it more the change that’s going on in your own heart through those prayers, than necessarily seeing change in your relationship with that person? Or is it both?
Justin Giboney 25:17
It can be a little bit of both, you know, sometimes it’s like, “Hey, I pray that– I’m praying for their best interest. That You would work in their life, that they would get what they need, that they would not be in pain, that they would not be suffering,” things like that. Mostly that, and then sometimes, yeah, that maybe we can see eye to eye or maybe there are things that we can learn from one another. And I try to do that almost every night.
Sam Holland 25:41
Justin, if you had one invitation for followers of Jesus, who are listening right now, who want to step into their calling, what would that one invitation be?
Justin Giboney 25:53
Make sure that you – again – are reading the Bible, and that, whatever ideology or theory or systems that you may be talking about or flirting with, that you’re bringing those things through biblical scrutiny. That if you do find yourself leaning more towards a progressive space, or leaning more towards the conservative space, that it’s not about your opinion, it’s about what the Bible has to say about these things.
And to know that it really takes courage. That it takes courage to tell your ideological tribe that, “No, actually, we can agree on some things, but that narrative is false, or that thing that we’re doing or promoting isn’t right.” But you can’t do that if you’re not willing to be a Christian first, if you’re not willing to take those things through biblical scrutiny, and really think about them – not within the narratives that you’ve been given – but within the principles that God has given us.
And so that would be– that would be my challenge to people, to have the courage to be biblical, to put those things to biblical scrutiny, and to live out what Jesus has called us to do, and which really can be the cost of discipleship.
Sam Holland 27:00
To quote Justin, “When I look back on my life, God was always preparing me for what I’m doing now. Even through the things that were hard.”
Words to live by. What’s one step you can take today, to stay in the Bible and in community?
Created For is hosted and produced by Cru. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe, rate or review it wherever you listen. For more resources to continue your journey to living out your impact, check out the show notes on our website Cru.org/createdfor, or follow us on Instagram at _createdfor.
Thanks for listening.
We’ll catch you again on the next episode with Elizabeth McKinney, where we will talk about neighboring.