Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Author Interview: Amy Black Helps Christians Make Sense of American Politics

Click here to learn more about Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics (BakerBooks, 2008)

Amy E. Black (AB) is associate professor of politics and international relations at Wheaton College.

CPYU: The title of your book is intriguing. Why did you think this book needed to be written?

AB: I wanted to write the book to help the educated Christian who has an interest in government and politics but doesn’t necessarily remember everything from high school or college civics class. I remind readers of the basics of how our system works and then I give them tools to help them apply their faith to politics.

The tone was very important to me – instead of talking about lots of policy issues from a particular vantage point so that the reader concludes that good Christians must be Democrats or must be Republicans, my goal is to help the reader figure out for him or herself how God is leading them.

To a large extent, the book reflects what I try to do in the classroom. I want to encourage my students to think for themselves and make their own decisions, but I also want to make certain points without making them feel pressured. In the same way, I want to help my readers understand faith and politics more clearly but also make up their own minds on divisive and controversial issues.

CPYU: How did you develop a passion for the intersection of faith and politics?

AB: My interest in the subject began from many, many discussions of current events at the dinner table and in my daily family life. Once I arrived at college, I discovered a love for the academic study of political science and decided to make it a career. As a Christian believer, it seems natural to want to find points of intersection between my faith and the subject I study and teach.

CPYU: Over the years that you have been teaching, what shifts have you noticed in the way young people of faith have engaged politics?

AB: The most significant trend I have noticed is the growing diversity of opinions and concerns of young people of faith. Instead of focusing narrowly on one or two issues, they are thinking about how their faith affects their views on a much wider range of political concerns from the environment to foreign policy to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is good to see the conversation broadening and widening as more young people seem engaged in politics and seek to bring their faith to bear on so many different and important problems.

CPYU: As you think about how young Christians are getting involved in politics today, what are some things that excite you and what are some things that concern you?

AB: I am always excited by the enthusiasm that young adults bring to life in general and politics in particular. I spent part of my office hours last week talking with a Wheaton student who is now old enough to vote for the first time. She wanted advice to help her bring her faith to bear in politics, and had many tough and insightful questions. This kind of dialogue is very exciting. On the other hand, youthful enthusiasm can be quite problematic if not tempered by reason and knowledge. Too many young people like to follow prevailing trends without careful consideration first. My hope is that we can channel the positive energy into deeper thinking.

CPYU: What advice would you give to parents and youth workers who want to engage teenagers in conversations about politics this election season?

AB: Ask questions. Confront doubts. If a claim seems either too good to be true or too awful to be true, it probably is. So do your own research. Far too much political discussion today relies on semi-truths and caricatures, and Christians are at least as guilty of spreading misinformation as anyone else.

I frame my book with reminders from Scripture that I think are important reminders for anyone wanting to engage in conversations about politics. I take my readers to my favorite “political” text in the Bible, I Corinthians 13. This chapter is a beautiful and challenging picture of God’s unconditional love, and I want my readers to apply Paul’s exhortations to their political interactions. If we truly seek to interact with others in love, we can’t apply stereotypes or demonize others. Paul’s words remind us that we won’t know everything perfectly clearly this side of heaven; if we keep in mind that we only see “through a mirror dimly,” we are much more likely to approach politics, and everything else, with humility.

I also point to the first three commandments. In the heat of political debate, it is easy to forget that we first and foremost have to serve God and honor him. In the process of trying to achieve a political victory, we can get our priorities completely out of order and forget that we are fist and foremost ambassadors for Christ.

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