How to equip yourself—and your kids—to engage in civil political

Written by Dan Panetti
Published on October 16, 2020

When I was in fifth grade, I watched a debate between a prominent evangelical leader and someone (probably from Planned Parenthood) on the issue of abortion. This was in the late 1970s, and abortion had only been nationally legalized since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, so things were heated and intense (so not much different than today). 

I watched as the evangelical leader, taking the pro-life position, was getting angrier and angrier with his pro-choice opponent. His face was red from emotion and frustration, and his language became nearly as colorful as his complexion (without swearing, of course). 

I looked at my mom and said, “I know that what he is saying is true, about abortion being wrong and the taking of an innocent human life, but I sure don’t like the way that he is treating the other person.” 

My mom looked at me and simply said, “Then you do it better.”

Living in uncivil times

I’ve always had a love for politics.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to run for office and serve as a legislator. I participated in several youth-in-government programs over the years, and this same passion is why I went to law school. 

After law school, I worked for a nonprofit organization to educate and equip the church to be “salt and light” in the community. I’ve been active in my statewide political party. I serve on my church’s Community Impact Team. I have walked neighborhoods for numerous elections, and I even teach government as an adjunct professor at the college level. 

Suffice it to say that I enjoy talking about government and politics. 

But, like many of you, I’ve noticed the overall lack of civility in our current cultural conversations, and it concerns me greatly.

6 ways to engage in civil conversations

When I think about this lack of civility in conversations about political issues, I’m reminded of my mom’s advice: “Do it better.” 

As Christians, I believe we are called to: 

  • “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
  • “Sit at the gates” (Proverbs 31:23) of our communities as we engage in the exchange of ideas. 
  • “Seek the welfare of the city . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jeremiah 29:7). 

I believe Christians ought to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, and persuasive conversations from a biblical perspective on issues of our day. 

To better equip you to do so, here are a few helpful suggestions on how to engage in these conversations and how to train your children to do so as well.

1. Educate yourself on the issues. 

Proverbs 19:2 reminds us that “zeal without knowledge” is not good. 

How many Christians do we know who more than make up in passion what they lack in knowledge? 

We don’t have to be “experts” in a field or subject to speak our opinions, but we should do our best to make sure that we have a well-informed opinion. 

There are some great books to help you as you wrestle with these cultural issues:

  • A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle
  • Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues by Joshua Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior
  • Culture Wise: Thinking Rightly About Seven Societal Wrongs by Jack Graham
  • Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry (sexuality and gender issues specifically)
  • Oneness Embraced by Tony Evans (racial reconciliation specifically)

2. Ground yourself in the word of God. 

Many of these cultural issues have roots that run counter to a comprehensive biblical narrative. Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ.” 

The Bible speaks to issues such as marriage, criminal justice reform, poverty, gender, abortion, economics, sexuality, race and ethnicity, and so many more concepts. Spend time in the Word so that you will be better equipped to engage the world with wisdom.

3. Read a good book about how to better engage in these cultural conversations

Dr. Jim Denison recently released Respectfully, I Disagree: How to Be a Civil Person in an Uncivil Time

Also, Os Guinness has a great book called Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.

4. Gain a broader narrative of the Christian worldview.

Do this not merely in terms of cultural intersection on a variety of issues, but in how the larger picture of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration helps you understand these cultural skirmishes and equips you to engage in a more meaningful manner. 

Helpful books include: 

  • How Now Shall We Live by Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey (an updated work of the great Francis Schaeffer’s classic How Then Shall We Live?)
  • Serious Times by James Emery White
  • The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (not a Christian book, but it has profound implications)
  • Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
  • Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

5. Learn to listen to arguments from those who do not share your particular viewpoints on issues. 

James 1:19 reminds us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” and that’s solid wisdom when engaging in these controversial conversations. 

Learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Remember: we ought to desire to manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” which includes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).

6. Finally, model these things in your home and with your children. 

As Deuteronomy 6 reminds us to teach God’s word to our children diligently by having continual conversations with them throughout the day. 

When I was younger, it was often said that it was impolite to talk about religion and politics at the table or with guests—which is ridiculous! Take the time to engage in meaningful dialogue with your own family about these important issues of our day and spend time praying for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

Of course, in addition to engaging in meaningful and civil conversations about political issues of our day, as Christians we understand the privilege and responsibility to be good citizens of this country—a country that protects life and human dignity, a country that respects religious freedoms and expression, a country where hard work is honored and those in tough times are not forgotten. 

Let us not take for granted the privilege and opportunity we have to express biblical principles at the ballot box and remember that we are blessed to be a blessing to others!

Live perfectly imperfect

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Dan Panetti

Dan Panetti serves as the Worldview Director for Prestonwood Christian Academy. He and his wife Tricia have four wonderful children and have been married for almost 25 years!

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