This radio show originally aired in July 2019
An emerging assumption in our culture is that the “other side” is evil, and it’s leading to a reluctance to engage in civil conversations with people who disagree with us politically. Dan Darling, vice president of Communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says it’s an unhealthy form of tribalism that closes off the possibility for productive discussions and, possibly, solutions.
“A great example of that is in California where they were on the verge, a couple of years ago, of passing some really dangerous laws that would restrict religious liberty for Christian institutions of higher education. And, there was an aggressive campaign that we helped be a catalyst for to ask the legislators to consider the ramifications of that on Christian schools and colleges.
“But really what won the day was the way that the president of Biola, Barry Corey, really engaged in great friendship with one of the key legislators that was behind this legislation, taking him out to lunch, talking with people in his community, having him come visit Biola. That sort of diplomacy was really key to pushing back this legislation. And I think we should do that as well. And we shouldn’t befriend people because they’re projects; we should do it because this is what God calls us to do. And we shouldn’t be surprised that when you treat people like human beings and have conversations with them, how people’s perspectives can change. It may not always work; it may not always be the ticket to defeating bad legislation or passing good legislation, but I think it goes a long way.”
Join us this week for the second of a two-part interview with Dan Darling on this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
TRACI GRIGGS: For those of us that spend a lot of time working on public policy as we do here at NC Family, there have been a lot of times where we have seen certain pieces of legislation, or certain movements, that have come about that we just thought there was no way we were going to win on that one. And we would relegate, ask our people out there to pray and there’s just no other explanation for what happened next. You would just see the opposition basically self-destruct or dissolve into confusion, and it’s just like: There’s no way that any of us can take credit for that because obviously God was moving. And so I think what you’re saying is that we’ve got to bring our relationships with Christ into the public policy arena because it certainly has power there.
DAN DARLING: I think you’re absolutely right. And sometimes it’s easy to kind of think that prayer is sorta the last resort thing or: “Okay, fine. We’ll pray,” when “prayer is the work,” as my pastor is fond of saying. We sorta think God doesn’t really care about the nitty gritty details of this bill or that bill, or this legislation and that legislation, and we sort of get in this mindset where we think we can do it all. You’re right. When you’re working on these very difficult issues, prayer is powerful, and God can really change hearts in ways that we don’t even anticipate.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right? So we do know that, at times, Christians who speak out on a public policy issue—get involved working to change it—get the brunt of the opposition. They’re called hateful names; they’re targeted on social media; they might lose business or job opportunities for speaking up. So how do we as Christians think about this risk that we know we may be taking?
DAN DARLING: I think we need two things that don’t actually seem to go together, but actually do. We need both courage and we need civility, I think we need both. I think we need the courage to be able to speak up, speak out, and to work for policy even when it’s unpopular, even when the culture perhaps says that this is not right, but we know that it’s good for human flourishing, it’s good for society. And I think we have to be willing to have the courage to say, “I’m going to believe these things and stand for these things, and work for these things, even though I know it’s going to be unpopular, because it’s the right thing to do.” So I think we need to have the courage to do that. But I also think we need to have civility. You know, when Peter says, “Have an answer for every man, for the hope that lies within you,” he says to do it with gentleness. I think sometimes we think that just because we’re right it gives us a license to be kind of jerks, or to be uncivil. The Scripture really calls us not just to live and believe and carry ourselves as if we’re citizens of another Kingdom, but also in the way that we conduct ourselves. Even our speech, the way we talk should not reflect the sort of back-and-forth incivility that we see so often in the culture, but that it’s got a distinct language from another world. And so I think we need to balance civility and courage, those two things can go together. Quite often, courage doesn’t always mean being the loudest person in the room. Sometimes, it’s being quiet and being strategic and wise about the kinds of things we’re advocating, and when to advocate them, and how they will be perceived. I think all those things matter. Peter goes to great length at 1 Peter, throughout the book, to say: Make sure that when you’re being opposed, you’re being opposed actually for the Gospel, actually for the things that are right and true and worth defending. You’re not being opposed because of the way you carry yourself; you’re not being opposed because you’re treating people terribly. We’re the ones that believe that every person is created in the image of God, even those with whom we have significant ideological differences. And so we need to carry ourselves that way. That doesn’t mean that everyone will like us. We can speak with kindness and grace and winsomeness and still people will think we’re crazy, think we’re backward in terms of what we believe about what the Scripture says, for instance, about the unborn, about the family. But kindness is not a tactic. Civility is not a strategy. It’s something that is really at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
TRACI GRIGGS: I wonder if, too, we overlook the power of private relationships. I know a lot of times we’re good about lobbying things across our Facebook page or Twitter, or we might have an email exchange with somebody, but boy, doesn’t it take some courage to say: Hey, let’s go to lunch. Let me take you out to breakfast, or come over to my house and let’s have dinner. I mean, that seems to be a lost art as well.
DAN DARLING: That’s exactly right. In fact, a great example of that is in California where they were on the verge, a couple of years ago, of passing some really dangerous laws that would restrict religious liberty for Christian institutions of higher education. And, there was an aggressive campaign that we helped be a catalyst for to ask the legislators to consider the ramifications of that on Christian schools and colleges. But really what won the day was the way that the president of Biola, Barry Corey, did exactly what you just said, really engaged in great friendship with one of the key legislators that was behind this legislation, taking him out to lunch, talking with people in his community, having him come visit Biola, That sort of diplomacy was really key to pushing back this legislation. And I think we should do that as well. And we shouldn’t befriend people because they’re projects; we should do it because this is what God calls us to do. And we shouldn’t be surprised that when you treat people like human beings and have conversations with them, how people’s perspectives can change. It may not always work, it may not always be the ticket to defeating bad legislation or passing good legislation, but I think it goes a long way.
TRACI GRIGGS: Yeah, you know, it’s unfortunate because more and more, especially in politics, it seems like it’s not acceptable to talk across the aisle, so to speak. I know in political circles, I’ve got a friend that works a lot up in Washington, D.C., he says that people are watching and you better not even be talking to the people that are opposed to certain laws. So it seems that things are moving in the wrong direction as far as that’s concerned.
DAN DARLING: That’s exactly right. And I’m actually nervous about that, not just in the broader culture but even in the Christian community, that if you are seen having a conversation with, or befriending, someone who disagrees with you, it is viewed as compromise by your own community. And I just think that’s a really—you know, we’re giving into a kind of increasingly tribalistic mentality of our culture. I think David Brooks said it best in his book, The Second Mountain, that tribalism is the dark twin of community. That with tribalism we join groups not because we have a common interest, but we join groups simply in order for us to hate the other side. And so instead of being part of a tribe because we have common loves, we join a tribe because we have common hatreds. And so I think we have to resist that as Christians, you know, we can befriend people who disagree with us and hold firm to our convictions without losing anything. Jesus—I think this is an overused cliché, but I do think it holds true—that Jesus was willing to dine with and be friends with people who were sinners, with whom he obviously vociferously disagreed. Jesus did not compromise, but he did that in order to win people over. And so I think, we as Christians need to do the same thing.
TRACI GRIGGS: I think all of us, as we’re heading into the 2020 elections, are bracing ourselves. It does seem that a lot of the people who are running the different campaigns are leveraging anger and fear as their kind of main tools. So how can we, as believers, as Christians, not only resist that, but also possibly use the upcoming year, the climate that’s coming, to our advantage? At least I mean that in a way that we can use it to show love or to contrast, perhaps, the cultural atmosphere.
DAN DARLING: That’s a great question. Most pastors I talked to now are nervous and saying: How do we pastor through this election season? I think there are a few things to keep in mind. Number one, regardless of how people decide to vote, voting decisions are difficult. I totally understand when someone says: Look, I don’t totally agree with this person or even their character on either side and there’s some policies that I really disagree with here, but here’s the reason I’m voting for him, but I’m planning on opposing them on these issues. I totally respect that. I think one of the temptations is to say: I have to go all in on with a candidate and with that side, and I have to defend things that they say or do that are indefensible. Or I’m willing to sort of bend my principles over here because this is where they are. I think that’s the thing we have to be fearful of ourselves, getting sort of sucked into that. You know, we are supposed to be sojourners and strangers and so we should always feel a little discomfort in any earthly movement. There should always be areas where the Kingdom of God rubs up against the kingdoms of men and makes us uncomfortable. And the second thing is, I think we really need to commit to talking about these issues and politics in a way that recognizes the dignity of people who disagree with us. So, let’s be the people who don’t just forget that we’re Christians when we go online and we talk politics, or when we do all these things, but that we remember that we’re to carry ourselves with dignity and respect and honor. And so I think we need to be the people who are conducting ourselves differently in this political season saying: Hey, listen, I may disagree but I’m not going to demonize the other side. I’m not going to engage in this sort of scorched-earth politics. I’m gonna carry myself as a son or daughter of the King.
TRACI GRIGGS: This would be a good chance then for us to reiterate, if people didn’t hear the beginning of our conversation, that we do, as Americans and as Christians, have a responsibility to engage.
DAN DARLING: Yeah. I mean, I think voting decisions are difficult, right? So I respect someone who says: I normally vote, I take this very, very seriously, but neither person on either side in this particular race, I feel comfortable voting for them. I also respect people who say: Listen, voting decisions are difficult, I’m not completely comfortable with the person I’m voting for, but here’s a number of issues and here’s why. I do think we should be involved in the process, we should be aware. It’s hard to say that we love our neighbors as ourselves when we’re not willing to help shape the policy that affects our neighbors flourishing. So I do think we need to be involved and be active in some way, at some level.
TRACI GRIGGS: We are just about out of time for this week. Before we go, do you think you could send our listeners toward some helpful resources? Where can they go to get more on this topic of properly balancing our faith and our civic engagement?
DAN DARLING: I’d recommend a couple of things. Number one, I’d recommend our website erlc.com. We have articles on all sorts of issues and how to think about them from a biblical worldview. I’d also give a shameless plug for my book, The Dignity Revolution, which helps us think through a range of issues through a human dignity perspective. That book is available anywhere books are sold, so I encourage you to go out and get that. So erlc.com and then my book, The Dignity Revolution.
TRACI GRIGGS: Great. Well, thank you much for joining us on Family Policy Matters.
DAN DARLING: Thank you for having me.
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