We’re on the tail end of the most chaotic, agonistic political season in recent memory. For almost a year, our public square has been dominated by anger, ideology, and even violence. As Christians commissioned to bring God’s peace to the world, I’d like to think there’s something unique we can bring to the table, something that might lead America in a more positive direction.
There is no definitive Christian policy prescription, and we must resist the temptation to present our personal preferences as such. But there is a particular Christian political disposition, rooted in the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. Abrand-new documentary from the American Enterprise Institute, titledFor Love of Neighbor: Politics for the Common Good, explores just that.
For Love of Neighbor is directed by Ryan Patch and stars three political figures who are also devout Christians: Atlanta activist Justin Giboney, rural town councilwoman Sarah Imboden, and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). The film follows Giboney, Imboden, and Scott throughout their daily activities and tells the stories of how their faith led them to and continues to influence their work in politics. It also features interviews with a diverse set of Christian politicians, theologians, and scholars.
For Love of Neighbor’s greatest asset is its focus on what Christianity has to say about political engagement, rather than its relationship with specific political issues. All of the interviewees––and all three stars––are adamant that Christians should be engaged in the public square. One would expect no less from a documentary produced by a public policy think tank. But what should that engagement look like? For Love of Neighbor highlights three main elements of the Christian political disposition.
The first is an emphasis on the common good, as opposed to narrow factional interests. Since the mobilization of the “moral majority” in the late 1900s, many Christians have become just another identity group, voting to protect or advance their own position in society. In the film, Giboney calls this the “politics of Christian self-interest,” but Senator Scott urges his fellow believers to prioritize the welfare of all citizens, especially “the least of these.” The nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights era are showcased as an example of ambitious political activism that is nevertheless grounded in universal love.
The second element is a special focus on local politics. Christian political philosophy, from the Calvinist concept of sphere sovereignty to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, has long held that citizens have “nested” duties to each level of government, beginning with those closest to them. The idea is that loving one’s literal neighbors is an integral, though often overlooked, part of loving one’s country. Councilwoman Imboden brings this home in her interviews, and she effectively demonstrates the importance of local service by her own example.
Finally, For Love of Neighbor highlights the necessity of limited goals in politics. As Christians, we know that the kingdom of God is not of this world, and that we should not put our trust in princes. Nevertheless, the temptation to view politics as ultimate is a perennial danger, one that believers can easily succumb to. In the film, various interviewees emphasize that Christians are called to faithfulness in politics, not victory. And Dominican theologian Father Aquinas Guilbeau warns the audience that divinizing specific political leaders is a form of idolatry.
Overall, For Love of Neighbor is a success. It is relatively short (the runtime is close to one hour) and structurally simple, and yet it covers a great deal of philosophical and theological ground. Moreover, because the documentary focuses on principles of public engagement rather than particular policy debates, it can appeal to people from across the political spectrum and maintains a timeless quality. In addition, Giboney, Imboden, and Scott are compelling figures whose stories are both relatable and inspiring. Patch and his colleagues at AEI could not have picked better leads to tie together the film’s theoretical threads.
At a time when politics is a source of deep division in American Christianity, For Love of Neighbor calls us back to the basics of our faith. Its three main themes––that Christians should work for the common good, that local communities are as important in their own way as the nation-state, and that politics is not and never will be ultimate––are a valuable correction to the exaggerations of our present age. And, in contrast to apocalyptic voices common on both the left and the right, the film offers a message of, if not optimism, then hope. I sincerely recommend it to any believers feeling discouraged or confused by our tumultuous public square.
Collin Slowey is a senior University Scholar studying political science, great texts, and film. He aspires to become a political journalist. In his free time, Collin enjoys reading, drawing, and exploring nature.