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Gerson on Christianity and politics

Columnist Michael Gerson lectured as part of the January Series on Thursday.
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Michael Gerson

Gerson is the author of two books, including the recently published City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era and Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America's Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don't). He regularly writes columns for the Washington Post.

Nationally syndicated political columnist Michael Gerson brought his vision of Christian political engagement to Calvin’s Covenant Fine Arts Center on Thursday as part of the college’s 2012 January Series. Gerson, coauthor of City of Man:  Religion and Politics in a New Era, delivered a lecture that, like the book, centered on the Augustinian concept of “dual citizenship:” how to live as a Christian and a member of the state in a changing political climate. Gerson’s remarks were geared towards Christians living in a shifting political atmosphere. His lecture, though specifically delivered, hit listeners with lasting concern and relevance.

In addition to the recently published book and his position at the Washington Post, Gerson’s credentials include experience as one of President George W. Bush’s top aides and key bipartisan contributions to several social justice issues like poverty, global sex trafficking, AIDS and malaria. 

Gerson’s commitment to the Christian political engagement is in that vein; he cites the necessity of sociopolitical reckoning with issues of social justice because, after all, “the public expression of the faith reveals the nature of the faithful.” 

All of this comes, he says, at the dawn of a new epoch for politically oriented Christians. Christians find themselves at a unique spot in “sorting out the proper relationship between religion and politics.” The era of the religious right, so often characterized both rightly and wrongly by the polarizing voices of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, is passing. While Gerson praised the ideology’s democratic progress and its ecumenical inclusivity, he also noted its “apocalyptic” and divisive rhetoric as self-destructive. 

As the religious right fades and the new identity of Christian political action remains unformed, Gerson noted the potential for Christian political advocacy. He elevated the benefits of taking a broader Christian lens to politics by highlighting Christian imago dei theology that all humans are created in God’s image. This system of thinking, he posed, is directly relevant for “matters of human worth and destiny.” In vocalizing these ideas, he called for a tone that is “amicable and peaceable.”

Gerson’s lecture concluded with several examples of heartening political moments. He recalled sitting in the Oval Office as President H.W. Bush signed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). He implored Christians, especially students, to heed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s jail cell declaration for immediate action. “Retreating from the cause of justice is only conceivable for those who have no need for justice,” he said.

Finally, Gerson evoked his most potent memory from a life in politics, one that took place not in an office or a post-election celebration stage, but at an AIDS camp run by nuns in Africa. A decade ago, he said, before the enactment of PEPFAR, he saw nuns who could only touch their AIDS-stricken patients with a deathbed handhold. Now, he sees a successful clinic where one can personally and physically tend to the needs of children with AIDS. 

“That was the closest I have ever come the seeing the wonders of the New Testament,” he closed.

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