This episode was also published on Michael Wear's Faith 2020 podcast.
Obama's 2012 director of faith-outreach, Michael Wear, joins theologian Miroslav Volf for a conversation on faith and politics in 2020 and beyond. They discuss the connection between the personal and the political in their own lives; why Christians should care about politics; the public responsibility that comes with democratic citizenship; compromise and personal integrity; the challenge of religious and political identity that converges around the common good; ambivalence and political homelessness; and the important challenge and prospect of finding joy in what is, while hoping for what seems impossible.
About Michael Wear
Michael Wear is a leading strategist, speaker and practitioner at the intersection of faith, politics and public life. He has advised a president, as well as some of the nation’s leading foundations, non-profits and public leaders, on some of the thorniest issues and exciting opportunities that define American life today. He has argued that the spiritual health and civic character of individuals is deeply tied to the state of our politics and public affairs.
As one of President Obama’s “ambassadors to America’s believers” (Buzzfeed), Michael directed faith outreach for President Obama’s historic 2012 re-election campaign. Michael was also one of the youngest White House staffers in modern American history: he served in the White House faith-based initiative during President Obama’s first term, where he led evangelical outreach and helped manage The White House’s engagement on religious and values issues, including adoption and anti-human trafficking efforts.
Today, Michael is also the founder of Public Square Strategies LLC, a sought-after firm that helps religious organizations, political organizations, businesses and others effectively navigate the rapidly changing American religious and political landscape. Michael previously served as Chief Strategist and member of the executive team for the AND Campaign, and is the co-author of Compassion and Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement, alongside Justin Giboney and Christopher Butler.
Michael’s first book, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, offers reflections, analysis and ideas about role of faith in the Obama years and how it led to the Trump era. In 2020, Michael was the co-author, alongside Professor Amy Black, of a major report on “Christianity, Pluralism and Public Life in the United States” that was supported by Democracy Fund. He also writes for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Catapult Magazine, Christianity Today and other publications on faith, politics and culture. Michael is a Senior Fellow at The Trinity Forum, and he holds an honorary position at the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Center for the Public Understanding of Religion. Michael and his wife, Melissa, are both proud natives of Buffalo, New York. They now reside in Northern Virginia, where they are raising their beloved daughter, Saoirse.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. For more information, visit faith.yale.edu.
Michael Wear: We need to ask ourselves why it seems laughable that even in the tidal waves and the throws of politics, that Christians might be able to bring a sense of joy with them that perseveres and actually provides the foundation in the background for their political engagement.
Miroslav Volf: Even the most intimate of my desires, I have discovered, have a political dimension. They have political horizon. They have economic horizon. Indeed, entire globalization processes have shaped and can refract themselves in my very desire.
Evan Rosa: This is For the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity. I'm Evan Rosa with the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. These are tense and fraught times. And now two weeks away from the 2020 election, the peculiar anxiety that comes with combination of exhaustion in the unknown leaves us wandering. The feeling of political homelessness, being in tension with your own tradition, whatever that tradition is, is common and it's bewildering. It comes with a feeling of being a stranger in your own home, your own environment, your relationships, your community, your very place and being in the world. So it's very tempting to disengage, withdraw, abstain, disconnect. But even withdrawal is an essentially public and political act. This reflects a core commitment of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture that Christianity has an inherently public and political dimension—Christ as the center and norm for Christian public engagement.
And these commitments might be widely held, held in common even by people with vastly divergent political philosophies, policy stances, and moral priorities. So you can see why uncovering the meaning and implications of the inalienable public dimensions of Christianity remains a basic task of life today. With that in mind, for today's episode, we've partnered with Michael Wear's Faith 2020 podcast. You could hear this conversation between Miroslav Volf and Michael in either of our feeds. And we would encourage you to check out Michael's show, which tracks the tumultuous waters of faith and politics throughout this political season, through interviews with journalists and politicians and religious leaders.
Michael Wear is uniquely qualified for such a task, having directed Barack Obama's Faith Outreach during the 2012 presidential campaign, following his work on faith-based initiatives in President Obama's first term. Michael is also author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America. And you could subscribe to his regular email newsletter, Reclaiming Hope. And you can find links to each of these in our show notes today. Miroslav and Michael discussed the connection between the personal and the political in their own lives, why Christians should care about politics, the public responsibility that comes for religious people as democratic citizens. And they talk about compromise and personal integrity, challenge of religious and political identity that converges around the common good. And they close with reflections on ambivalence and political homelessness and the important challenge and prospect of finding joy in what is, while hoping for what seems impossible. And special thanks to Michael for partnering with us on this episode. And thank you for listening. Enjoy.
Michael Wear: I'm so excited to be talking with someone I've admired for a long time. And it's great to be in conversation especially in this moment, in the life of the church and the life of the nation. Miroslav, is it okay if I call you by your first name?
Miroslav Volf: Absolutely. The only possible thing you can do and you should know, admiration is mutual.
Michael Wear: I appreciate that. It's so good to be with you. Your work has been an inspiration to me in a number of ways. I wrote a book called Reclaiming Hope and you've written on hope a great deal, and hopefully we'll get to that in our conversation. But you edited a volume called The Future of Hope, and I don't think I've had the opportunity to tell you that was one of the most influential volumes as I was trying to work through hope and its implications for public. And so I just want to thank you for all that you've contributed to the public square and to my life personally. So thank you. I would love to just ask you how you found yourself in this work. We are, for a lot of reasons, culturally, socially, theologically, particularly evangelicalism in this country can tend to be individualistic, personal, and yet you're someone who's brought evangelical thinking, Christian thinking, into public and applying it to public questions. Where does that come from for you? Why do you think that you've been drawn to that work?
Miroslav Volf: That's very interesting what you described because my father was a Pentecostal minister. My grandfather was a Baptist minister and living in former Yugoslavia. And it was very much a pietistic kind of environment. And this is not to disparage it in any ways, because I was nurtured in a very important ways in it. But certainly we did not think in terms of politics and political engagement, except that our entire life was lived under the oppressive cloud of a state, which we could influence in absolutely no way, so that you had this situation of personal piety under conditions of political impotence. And then there's always something, obviously, graining about that. And then, I had a fortunate of course to study with Jürgen Moltmann. And Jürgen Moltmann describes himself as a political theologian. By the way, he moved from very personalist to much more political way of thinking under the influence of his wife.
And then for myself, I've done a doctoral dissertation that deals with economics and with political issues as well. But I have in most recent years then discovered how I want to marry the two—kind of the pietism and the kind of political engagement. I can put it this way: even the most intimate of my desires, I have discovered, have a political dimension. They have political horizon. They have economic horizon. Indeed, entire globalization processes have shaped and can refract themselves in my very desire. And so between my own steerings of my heart, as well as the largest global environment one can imagine, is where our lives is being lived. And I think we've got to work on the inside of the cup, but we've got to also work on the systems in which this cup, so to speak, sits.
Michael Wear: Yes, absolutely. My story is pretty reverse of yours. I was from Buffalo, New York. So the Rust Belt and I was raised in a Catholic family, but religion wasn't too important to me growing up. I was interested in civics though, in politics, and I became a Christian after reading Romans when I was about 15.
Miroslav Volf: Wow! That's great! So you've got to tell me a little bit of that story? What happened with Romans? Because I love apostle Paul. He's my favorite theologian.
Michael Wear: Obviously it's a bit of a longer story. My sister became a Christian a few years before I did. And so she had been working on me. There's a through line of—I probably first heard the gospel through the black church and black music because the radio stations I've listened to, they play R&B music, which I loved as a child. But then if you were listening on Sunday, it became a gospel station. And so I'd be hearing gospel music and preachers as I waited for R&B music to come on. But, when I was about 15, my sister dragged me to her youth group and I didn't like it. But that's a whole other story. But on my way out of the youth group, a volunteer was just handing out tracks of Romans. No commentary, no nothing. Just Paul's letter. And I took it home and read it again.
And, I had been a pretty conventional—I had a pretty like pseudo intellectual sort of all religion is a crutch. There's no there there. You could reject Paul's argument. You could reject what Paul lays out in Romans. But you can't read Romans and continue to say that there's no there there in the Christian faith. You can't read through Romans and not have to at least look Jesus in the eye and either tell him yes or no. And that's the experience that I had. I read Romans and got a sense of the full sweep of what God has done and is doing in the world. And it captured me. And so at that point, I thought everything needs to change. I probably need to go to seminary, become a pastor. You just want to do the most Christian thing possible. and thankfully I had a pastor in my life who said, "Michael, if you look around, turns out not every Christian is a pastor." And I thought that's a good observation.
And so, Miroslav, the vocational question that has guided my life basically from that time has been what does it mean to be faithful in public things. That question, that vocational drive put me in DC and school and sent me on a trajectory where I worked in politics and to some extent, continue to work at the intersection of politics and culture, and helping Christians navigate cultural and political landscape. That is very complex as well. I'm sure we'll talk about. So for me, it was politics first and then I became a Christian and thought I probably needs to change. But then I looked and saw, it really looks like Jesus is claiming Lordship over all things.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. And if you go back to Paul, read through certain eyes, you discover him, "Wow! There's a whole political dimension of his thought that is amazingly important."
Michael Wear: Absolutely. So that's a bit of what's brought us both to this point in our lives. I think, Miroslav, you've helped so many Christians and the broader public think through the implications of their faith for public life. The dialogue around this question is changing, especially over the last few years, but I know it's still a pressing question for many: like why should Christians even care about politics? Is there anything in the Christian faith that would motivate one to politics or is it just a mind field that Christians should try to avoid it at all costs? How have you thought about that question?
Miroslav Volf: It seemed to me that a little bit prior question to that would be the question are there public goods for which Christians should be concerned. Is Christian faith something that has to be thought of as having a political dimension and my mind immediately goes—it has gone for some time—to the teaching of Jesus who at the center of which was the kingdom of God. Now, if kingdom is anything, it is a political concept. So the whole idea of Messiah, of the reign of God, of God as a King already is a political concept. And I think behind that is a sense that the salvation is not a salvation of individual's soul, although that it is as well, but rather something happens in the world.
In the Book of Revelation, you have a new Jerusalem, a city coming down from heaven and becomes this public reality rather than each individual soul beholding the beauty of God and maybe lined up like chairs of people watching a beautiful sunset, and that's the extent to which there is something common, commonly human about it. So I take Christian faith to be both concerned with the very materiality of our world, and also as being something that has inherently political dementia. I would even say put it this way. Maybe some people will think of it as heretical, but I can't quite come into fullness of being who truly I am and God intends me to be without the entirety of the world relations being what they're supposed to be. That's why Hebrew prophets speak about the peace, which is Shalom of the whole realm. That is the salvation and individual and the whole community and the entire earth finds their salvation together.
Michael Wear: That tension is, as you're indicating, part of what drives us to politics. Politics is a realm that is addressing these questions. And, it's interesting that you brought up your background in Yugoslavia and I've always had the caveat when I make the case for Christian political involvement. I'm speaking specifically in an American context and specifically in a context of a representative form of government, because I'm frankly not sure that there is a sort of a transcendent call for Christians to be invested in politics no matter what the system of government, no matter the time or the place. And so it's interesting you raised that.
But in this country, we all hold a political office of being citizens and we all have a responsibility that is inherent to where God has placed us, that isn't really a choice of whether we have it or not, but it's really about how we steward that influence, how we steward that responsibility. And this, I find myself drawn to politics because of that tension of knowing that things are not as God will have them, that there's injustice that is not in line with God's will. And that politics is not the only sort of forum for addressing those things, but it certainly is one of them and politics is something that not only seeks to address injustice, but can also—as you've alluded to and in the history of your life and your family's life, politics can perpetuate injustice in really profound ways.
But Miroslav, I find that many people don't think about politics that way, and it's understandable because frankly, the practice of politics, those who are elected officials, the way that politics is discussed in media, doesn't seem to focus on these discreet but important ends of politics, but to a whole other set of cultural and personal functions that in my view, detract from, again, the discreet but important sort of purpose of politics. How do you navigate through these sort of various meanings and uses for the realm of politics?
Miroslav Volf: So it seems to me that politics is one of the means, and that's what I've heard you say right now, if I heard you rightly, that politics is one of the ways and means by which we can discharge our public responsible—not the only one but certainly very important one because it has a significant impact, not simply on our life, but on lives of all of our neighbors for whom we should care. And so my sense has always been, and maybe that partly describes both my passion for it and bit of a homelessness in it—because my sense was I've got to keep the means and the ends together, that is to say I want to achieve certain goods that are defined by the Christian faith, but I also have to achieve those goods with means that are in sync with the Christian faith.
And, I, unlike at least some circles that I observed, which somehow think and at least act as if means are outside the scope of our responsibility, that is outside the scope of the content of the Christian faith, I find the means extremely important. And that's what then shapes whether, and in what way, I might be involved in politics, in addition, of course, to the particular calling that I have. But all of this is just to say, we should think about ends, which we need to achieve. And we should think about what are the best means to achieve them as well.
Michael Wear: Yeah. One sort of way that I've tried to describe how many American Christians in particular think about politics is you get the sense, and sometimes by the way people talk about it, as if politics is the one area of life that is cordoned off from God. God can be trusted when it comes to your finances, your personal relationships, but when it comes to politics, Oh gosh, it's so good dark. It's so complicated. There's so much going on there. Does it really have anything trustworthy to offer there?
There are all kinds of prudential, sort of practical ideas I have about what kind of policies I think Christians should support, sort of what Christian priorities should be. But really quickly when you investigate this kind of intersection between faith and politics really quickly, it becomes a discipleship issue. Really quickly, it becomes like a spiritual formation issue. And what I mean by that is if you were a pastor and you were speaking with someone who was coming to you for spiritual guidance. And there was any area of their life in which they said, "I think Jesus would have me act this way, but I don't think that's the safer, appropriate way to go," you'd immediately identify that is a real problem, as a problem of the integrity of the person as a follower of Jesus. And those kinds of questions creep into our politics all the time.
Now, just to be clear, I'm not suggesting there's a one-to-one application. I think the way that we apply our faith to politics is complex and needs to be sensitive to, again, time and place and the sort of the circumstances we find ourselves in. But I do think there's this sort of post-World War 2 notion that religious, moral knowledge just cannot be trusted when it comes to public things. And that's infected not just our broader culture, but Christians themselves, who—Dallas Willard calls this the disappearance of moral knowledge. And I think that affects quite a bit of Christian political thing, so that you end up in an environment where you have broad swats of Christians who will sort of consciously accept things in politics that they would not accept in any other area of life, condone things in politics but they would not condone in any other area of life. Does that sort of match up with some of your reading for how Christians in this country are thinking about politics and approaching political engagement?
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, what was interesting to me in terms of how you diagnose this and described it is a de factosecularization of the public space in the course of—modernity kind of gets to be internalized by Christians, so that they intentionally then leave their faith outside of their either workplace or their political engagement, and consider these two realms the private realm and the public realm, as two separate realms. I obey the inner logic of political engagement when I'm in politics; I obey the inner logic of economic engagement when I'm in the workplace, and then I have my family and kind of private life. That seems to me quite right that there is a—and you see here again the influence of outside on how Christians perceive their own responsibility.
What struck me also with some of this, especially with those who are maybe with slightly different sense thing. "Oh, the politics is too contested. It's too dirty. You've got to make compromises and so forth. So the politics ends up being this sinful world and the presumption is that the interior life and family life is then somehow pure and can be pure and is pure. Whereas if you observe, it's very hard to say whether more violence happens in the living rooms or on battlefield, or in other public domains. Private domains can be extremely violent, which is to say sinful, not to speak all other forms of sins.
And so I come more to this from Luther's side, which deems every person always already as sinner and justified so that in personal life, there aren't these purity spheres that then can be preserved there, and then we can allow ourselves to let go in the public domains. So I think we discover also that sin runs through the middle of our hearts. It will be easier to live in a situation—an ambiguous situation outside in the political realm as well—while we resist that trend that you described of almost like self secularization in public sphere.
Michael Wear: I think you're right about this related stream of Christians just viewing politics as dirty and an area rife with opportunities to compromise one's faith. And in a way, that's right. There are all kinds of temptations, in political life as a citizen, certainly working in politics. I think I was glad that you brought in the notion of vocation and work because when people raise with me the compromises, intentions and politics, I will often ask them what they do for work. And, one time I was speaking in New York and very similar, someone came up to me, he said, "Gosh, it seems like you held it together, but how did you do it being a Christian in government?" And I asked what they did for a living. And they said, "Oh, I'm on Wall Street." And I thought, that's a real conversation we can have. "How do you do what you do?"
Miroslav Volf: People conveniently forget that greed is idolatry in the New testament.
Michael Wear: And so I'm sure that person faces all kinds of temptations that are both unique and universal at the same time. We're in the middle of a presidential election right now. And so this is something that comes up in the context of voting, in my experience, this idea that if you vote for a candidate, you're on the hook for everything they are and everything they stand for and everything that they do in the future, whether you know it or not. And then party identification. If you are registered as a member of a party, that party owns your identity and you have to answer both to the public—and the suggestion is, at the Pearly Gates, so to speak, you will have to answer for your party registration. I don't mean to ask for a rhetorical question here, but is that right at all? And if in your point of view, assess how Christians ought to be thinking about things like voting and party identification.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, that's interesting. Somehow I tend to distinguish between kind of normal times and the times that we live now. In the context of culture wars, as in the context of any war, fronts ended up being very rigid and very hard. And so that as soon as you are not fully committed, you are perceived as betraying the cause because the cause is tenuous and the struggle is fierce, and we don't quite know how it's gonna end up. I've experienced that in former Yugoslavia where I couldn't support the kind of nationalist government. Exclusion and Embrace was written and was seen as, "Are you sitting between chairs? You can't do that right now, even though it's an engaged text."
And so my experience was, and I'm experiencing something of that in today's environment as well, you are almost expected to embrace with full force everything by both of the parties. And that I find a difficult situation in which people find themselves. And I think we've got to resist this sense that I am on the hook for everything if I choose a particular party, or vote for a particular candidate. And I've tended always to think that there are a host of whole series of moral issues that concern the vision of public and common life that we ought to aspire to have together. And then I have to vote not with regard to a single or a couple of issues, but that I have to vote in the light of how all these issues come together, and while realizing that no party will necessarily cover the vision, be completely identical with the moral vision that I embrace.
And so I take to heart this statement of Karl Barth that Christians are unreliable allies. You can't count on it that I will do always what you need me to do in this particular situation. And I think that you have to live as a Christian in that setting and the people with whom you collaborate, that they have to count on that. Put differently, politics is not my god or your nation is not my god, that there's a kind of ultimate seat of allegiance that might call into question subordinate allegiance.
Michael Wear: Yeah. There's an integrity at play for Christians that doesn't have as it's metric faithfulness to the cause or to the political party. That we're unreliable allies in politics because we're hopefully pursuing a faithfulness that transcends all those kinds of things. I think that's right.
Miroslav Volf: But at the same time, ultimate allegiance to God does not exclude differentiated assessments and alignment with what on the whole we perceive will be more aligned with God's intentions for the world.
Michael Wear: Yeah, and this is really key. I think in America, especially among young Christians, we're experiencing something of a resurgence of civic interest and involvement that for many, I think, originates from a critique of their parents' generation, that the political priorities and the political expression that had existed was not right. I think there's encouragement to be found in that. What I am concerned about is this sort of over-identification with Christianity with a particular political program. C. S. Lewis has this essay, called "Meditations on the Third Commandment" and he's considering the creation of a Christian political party in the UK as existed in other countries and in Western Europe at the time. And he ends up generally signing against it, but more importantly, offering the warning that even if it did exist, he says the temptation when you combine faith and politics is to claim that God has said when He has not spoken.
And, Miroslav, you're pointing out this tension between this imperative we have to bring our faith to politics, but what our friend Jimmy Smith refers to in his relatively new book, Awaiting the King. Something that I think is exactly right. He says, "Our politics should be tinged with a level of ambivalence." And what I think he means by that is there's an understanding that the translation work that we do from ultimate things to prudential political decisions—that we're imperfect translators. And we could feel very convicted about a particular policy instrument or a particular election, but we as Christians, we just have to do our best, I think, in general, to create enough space to not conflate, for instance, the words of the gospel, the truth of scripture, with the same level of authority that we'd give to a political prescription.
And I'm worried that—I think that's always a concern, when it comes to mixing faith and politics. And I hope it's something that we can guard against because in the past, I don't think it's been guarded against effectively and there've been repercussions to that.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah, I liked it. I liked this idea of a certain level of ambivalence, holding these convictions, even advocating for convictions with a certain provisionality, if you want. That's what life in this world in many regards is. And hopefully also this provisionality includes something like willingness to learn, to be corrected, without necessarily compromising the agency that is required. And I think, one of the concerns that I have is this conflation between Christianity and nation, so that then the service to the nation becomes almost identical with the service to God. And that's deeply problematic.
I'm really fond of this statement of Nietzsche that national god cannot be god for everybody, cannot be good god, cannot be forbearing and loving towards both friend and foe. So if you make America a Christian nation and align God's purposes with American's, with your vision of American’s purposes, you're going to have a pretty distorted vision of who God is. You're not going to have a god of unconditional love. You're going to have a fierce deity. And I think consequence of that tomorrow is going to be that a lot of people who've been disappointed in the political project will be as well disappointed in God. And that's too bad because I think it's going to have a further secularizing effects.
Michael Wear: So I should say that concerns me too. And I am, in some ways, all for aligning the nation with God's will. History suggests that even if the aim starts out that way, all too quickly, it becomes aligning God to the nation's will and the nation's interests. And that's a dangerous place to be.
Miroslav Volf: I think God's going to align the world with His will, and we can in a broken way participate. But when God is made guardian of social order, atheism becomes condition of social change, some will say and I think that's right.
Michael Wear: Miroslav, I think that many people, including young people, but I think this is a widely felt sort of feeling that politics is placing too much of a burden on people's lives. I've said that politics is causing spiritual harm in people's lives in American's lives. And a big reason for that is that Americans are going to politics to get spiritual and emotional needs met, and politics is not fit to bear those burdens, but politicians will attempt to at least be perceived as meeting some of those needs if that's what we go to politics looking for. And there is just this tension that many Americans feel when it comes to politics that this idea of political homelessness has become really common, and people identifying as politically homeless. And I think there's something worthwhile there. But what I've said is that the crisis for Christians is not that we're politically homeless, but that we ever thought we could make a home in politics at all.
Miroslav Volf: That's good. That's a perfect way to put it. I love that way of putting it.
Michael Wear: Yeah. So talk about how do we deal with the tension of life, Miroslav. I just think it's so important that these tensions are not unique to politics. Like in my view, we need to identify this as a subset of discipleship questions. but when it comes to politics, how do folks deal with the tension as Christians without, as we've discussed, provoking either withdrawal or these sort of rationalizations in which people end up eventually giving themselves over to the gods of politics.
Miroslav Volf: I'm thinking aloud now, because it's such an important and almost viscerally felt question. And I think it's felt viscerally because people see that something really important is at stake. But on the other hand, they feel either impotent or when they get involved, it's not fully them. They're not at home. They're homeless even in this endeavor. And I'm wondering whether that homelessness. As you said, we shouldn't expect to be at home in politic. It's a roll up your sleeves. And if you endure sometimes work that is very hard, that is not immediately terribly rewarding, and you're doing it maybe with somebody who you do not necessarily agree with, but you're doing it not because you feel at home there. You do because you're trying to make this country or your town a home that is worthy of everybody's dignity.
And so it seems to me like take a shovel and shovel that stuff. You're going to get calluses. And then, if you have a place to be at home, to be at one with yourself, to be one with the community, that's a great place to be. And maybe churches can be that. Maybe families can be that. But if we think of political spaces of engagement as such, maybe we are setting ourselves for disappointment, or maybe when I expect that, and sometimes I do, maybe I have to tell myself I just need to grow up. Everything isn't home.
Michael Wear: When I think about home, I think about security. And so let's maybe close with joy. And I've talked about this before, so I'll just set it up. And there's a reason why I talked about this before, because I just think it's absolutely central. I mentioned Willard before and I do that often. Dallas Willard is someone who's very influential in my life. And, he defines joy as a pervasive and constant sense of wellbeing. And Miroslav, for the last five, six years at my events, I've asked folks, "how many of you would describe our politics as being full of a pervasive and constant sense of wellbeing?" And it's an absolute laugh line.
But I think we need to ask ourselves why that is. We need to ask ourselves why it seems laughable that even in the tidal waves, in the throws of politics, that Christians might be able to bring to politics a sense of joy with them, that perseveres and actually provides the foundation and the background for their political engagement, that they get that pervasive and constant sense of wellbeing from outside of politics. And so therefore when they engage in politics, they're not looking for that ultimate security. Do you think joy can be a resource for where sort of Christian political engagement needs to go and what other sort of distinctly Christian resources are on your mind and heart right now when you think about what is available for Christians in public life?
Miroslav Volf: I think you earlier mentioned also hope as one of those Christian virtues stances that we have. And I think I would put hope and joy together. I think any form of engagement, life itself, requires hope. It requires hope sometimes against hope as Apostle Paul says, even when things look they're going all the wrong way, even we know that tomorrow weather, political weather is going to be bad forecasters. As such, we still have hope. How does one have that kind of hope that is against circumstances. And I think that's a key to the Christian understanding of hope. And I think our hope is not in the certain course of events or even in our ability to control a certain course of events. But our hope is ultimately in the possibility of something new because God is present and God is active in the world.
And to me that's tied to the question of joy. You're right that it's very difficult, certainly in political engagements, but in general in our lives to have this kind of sustained joy. What I find that people often have hard time rejoicing even in a kind of particular things and stay for a while enjoy. And one of the reasons for it is that we are a terribly perfectionist society. Modernity is perfectionism, to express it. But perfectionist can never rejoice because joy says, "Oh, this is great; this is good enough. Something incredible has happened. It's great. It's very good." That's when some great joy happens. But when ordinary Joyce happened, "Ah! Fantastic!" I can stay with it. And I think it's this sense of both appreciating what is and rejoicing in it, and then hoping for the impossible and holding tension between joy and hope, or letting two inform each other—one which is about the goodness of present and the other one, which is about goodness of the future. I think if we have these two virtues, it's gonna propel us and it's gonna free us from fear and we'll be active on behalf of the good that God is doing in the world.
Michael Wear: Yes. Yeah, I think that's a wonderful place to end. Miroslav, can't thank you enough for this conversation. Speaking of joy, it's been a joy talking with you and thank you for your work and excited to share this with folks.
Miroslav Volf: Thank you very much also for your work for the year so forth that you have done and that you continue to do. You've been so great in the forefront of political activism and presence and thinking through the issue. So thank you.
Michael Wear: That means a lot. Thanks.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the world is a production of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured theologian, Miroslav Volf, and the political strategist, advisor, and author, Michael Wear. I'm Evan Rosa and I edited and produced the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu. New episodes drop every Saturday and you can subscribe through any podcast app. We hope you're enjoying the show and we hope that you'd consider supporting us. Three ways that you can do that are as follows. You can share the show with a friend by text or email, and then I hope you talk about it. You can post on your social feed. Or you could open up Apple Podcasts right now, just after listening, to review and rate the show.
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