If you don’t know who Justin Giboney is, perhaps you should. He’s the cofounder and President of the AND Campaign, an organization that encourages a unique kind of political engagement. He’s an attorney, a political strategist based in Atlanta, and a former safety for the Vanderbilt Commodores. But most of all, he’s a Christian who puts his faith ahead of all his other identities and teaches others to do the same.
Giboney’s AND Campaign is a coalition of Christians seeking social justice in a biblical way. The message they have for Christians who are deaf to social justice is that the Bible doesn’t support their passivity. On the other hand, the message they have for social-justice activists who are overly destructive and full of hate, is that the Bible doesn’t support their hostility either.
What Giboney pursues instead is a strategy of “both/and”—both the Christian worldview and decisive action to address the racism and discrimination in our midst.
What does that look like in practice? Last July, Giboney coauthored a book with Michael Wear and Chris Butler to explain. Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement sets out a full-throated political theology centered on the Great Commission—to profess the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. Only in the light of that commission, argue the authors, and also in light of the Great Commandment—to love God and neighbor with one’s whole heart—does a Christian’s engagement in politics make any sense.
By focusing on these core Christian commitments, Giboney ends up with a political outlook and practice that is neither progressive nor conservative—not in any tidy way—but instead engages in aspects of both the left and the right while simultaneously transcending the limitations of each.
“Have you ever felt too progressive for conservatives, but too conservative for progressives?” asks the marketing material for the book. “Too often, political questions are framed in impossible ways for the faithful Christian: we’re forced to choose between social justice and biblical values, between supporting women and opposing abortion. As a result, it’s easy for Christians to grow disillusioned with civic engagement or fall back into tribal extremes.”
The book’s purpose is to help Christians navigate these difficult, false dichotomies in a fresh and biblically grounded way.
The Standard interviewed Justin Giboney this month to learn more about his distinct political outlook. One of the questions we had was whether his movement was primarily addressed to African Americans or whether it was broader than that. He answered emphatically that while the AND Campaign is rooted in the Black Church and committed to the “ethos of the Christian faith,” it is in no way exclusive to African Americans. Instead, said Giboney, “We speak to everybody. We include everybody. We have Hispanic Evangelicals, White Evangelicals, Asian-American Evangelicals. We have support from a lot of different biblical demographics.”
Using the Bible as a touchstone, the AND Campaign is about “asserting the compassion and conviction of Christ in the public square.” It is dedicated to reflecting Christ’s love through lifting up the downtrodden and addressing the needs of the less fortunate. At the same time, it promotes the timeless virtues and traditions of a morally upright life. It is a blend of “redemptive justice” and traditionalism, change and order. Most of all, it is immune to the plague of ideological extremism: “the love and truth of the Bible keeps us from going too far to the left or to the right,” says Giboney.
Giboney has thoughtful positions on some of the most pressing political issues: race, religious pluralism, and the purpose of politics.
On race, Giboney champions a disposition of resilience for African-Americans. This orientation was instilled in him by his grandfather, who preached during the civil-rights era, and other figures from the civil-rights movement: “[They knew that] you can’t make change without being resilient,” Giboney claimed. On this note he draws a sharp distinction between perseverance and our contemporary obsession with microaggressions. We should be defenders of human dignity, he believes, but we should not expect some insult-free utopia, for we abide in a fallen world: “We are in a world that is broken…we will never get to a place where everyone says nice things all the time.”
Giboney believes that sometimes, to get the work done, calloused hands are required. He also believes that our conversations about race can be refreshed by two biblical virtues: humility and grace. He recommends that we bring a “spirit of self-examination” with us to our racial engagements, dispensing with the idea that we are “above” the conversation or our conversation partners across the racial divide. Such attitudes stem from pride. At the same time, we should be merciful, recognizing that we all fall short of perfection.
On the matter of religious pluralism, we asked Giboney how the AND Campaign, which is expressly Christian and basically evangelical, might impact people from different religious faiths or no faith at all. “We aren’t trying to create a theocracy,” he replied, “or trying to force people to do things. We try to persuade people.” And for Giboney, persuasion means, among other things, manifesting to others how the tenets of Christianity have practical benefits for individuals and society. Historically, this was the apostle Paul’s approach to engage the agoras, the Greek public square. There’s no point “throw[ing] Bibles at people’s heads,” Giboney insists. What’s needed is a subtler and more impactful approach.
Though Giboney is a proponent of Christian political engagement, he approaches politics with a degree of circumspection. He sees a problem with “[putting] our faith in policies and politicians rather than in something bigger.” Giboney suggests that politics should be “de-emphasized” relative to other activities, particularly living out “the great commission,” “the great commandments,” and our calling to live a life based on the fruits of the spirit.
Our interview with Giboney concluded with the following question: “You seem in some ways liberal and in some ways conservative: could you describe your conservative side?” Before answering, he encouraged us to reframe the question: The AND Campaign “doesn’t aim to be on the left or on the right on any specific issue. If it ends up being there, then so be it.” Its primary goal is to spread the love and truth of the Gospel to the world.
This is hard to do at a time when Americans are so polarized and ideologically encamped. But the AND Campaign simply does not aim at appeasing our political tribes, nor does it aim at some “moderate” position in-between. It aims simply at a politics that is biblically grounded.
Still, while Giboney’s identity is neither progressive nor conservative, he does not sneer at those labels: “when people say they are progressive, they are saying they want certain things to change—that they want to fix things that are broken.” “That’s good,” he says. “But then, if you look at it from a Christian point of view, the Bible says that there are some things that God has already said are good. There are some institutions that, if you change them, you can make them worse.” Giboney likens such institutions to a Picasso painting: “If you have a Picasso, if you take anything away from it or add anything to it, you haven’t made it better. You can only deface a masterpiece like that, you can’t make it better.” For Giboney, “God’s truth” is like this: “you can only deface it, you can’t improve it.” This means that while we try to improve the institutions around us, we should not do so in “a way that distorts God’s truth.”
Giboney’s approach to politics is a glimmer of hope in a political landscape that seems at times irredeemably fractured and broken. Giboney simply does not accept that past injustices must tear Americans apart. Instead, he is a champion of what he calls “redemptive justice.” As he puts it: “Redemptive Justice is justice which has its ends in reconciliation, peace, and flourishing for all parties. The ‘redemption’ is not the spiritual redemption which only Christ could achieve on the Cross, but it does take Christ’s sacrifice as its model of self-giving love of neighbor.”
Elan is a senior from Austin, TX. He is studying political science and rhetoric. He is a Nietzsche enthusiast and is currently in the process of writing an honors thesis about him entitled: "Nietzsche: The Anti-political Thinker." In his spare time, he enjoys reading (Albert Camus is his favorite author), indulging in creative writing, and playing the piano.