David French, an author and political commentator, appears as part of the McClendon Scholar Program
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — David French, a decorated military veteran and former litigator who’s now a New York Times columnist and, last week, the McClendon Scholar at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., borrows from the prophet Micah for his three commandments for Christians in politics.
Walk humbly with your God.
View the 90-minute online talk, attended by about 800 people, here. French is introduced at the 11:40 mark.
French, author of the 2020 book “Divided We Fall,” noted the “lethal mass partisanship” that now plagues the political landscape. When pollsters asked respondents if the world would be a better place if a large number of their political opponents died, about 20% said yes. Christians are told to pray for their enemies, but “we’re beginning to see a lot of rage and fear, rather than love and faith. God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and sound mind,” French said.
“We over-apply the Bible,” when we’re talking about policy, French said, “and under-apply the Bible when it comes to virtue. That’s exactly backwards from scripture.”
Micah 6:8 is central for our time because, among other things, “it addresses those who say Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics.”
“The call for justice is throughout scripture. It’s an inescapable aspect of obedience,” French said.
In conversations, French sometimes rearranges Micah’s three commandments. “I don’t know all the answers, and so I lead with humility,” he said. “When you walk in humility, kindness and mercy flow naturally from it.”
As he touts these three commandments, he receives pushback, of course. People tell him that kindness and humility just don’t work in politics, “a rough and dirty business. It ain’t beanbag,” French said. “Or they say, ‘It’s pie in the sky. Show me an example of a Christian movement like this.’”
His answer is, “We have to think hard about what it means to work. Look at the life of Jesus, who was unjustly executed, then resurrected … The Romans seem to have won,” but Jesus “does provide us a profound example of what working means in God’s economy. He is the singular figure of the 1st century, resonating forward for 2,000 years.”
A more recent example is the civil rights movement, “one of the single most successful social movements in the history of the United States,” French said. Alongside “many non-Christian allies,” members were “committed to justice to the point of personal peril and danger … It was sacrificial, loving and forgiving, and it pursued justice unfailingly,” French said.
If people of faith follow Micah’s three commandments, we’d “return to the blazing countercultural radiance that Christianity should represent,” French said. “If we form that right-sized vision in politics, we can be countercultural in exactly the way this country needs us to be.”
During a question-and-answer session following his talk, French was asked what it would look like if political leaders walked humbly with God.
“The number one marker is, have you heard them say, ‘I was wrong?’” French said. “Apologizing? Explaining how they got something wrong?”
“When I know I’m wrong, I want to say the right thing as clearly as I said the wrong thing in the first place,” French said. Another marker is, “Do they have a posture of openness and receptivity, or are they there to lecture you? Do they care what I say? That’s a great test.”
‘You see their heart, and it’s so many times drawn to what’s good and beautiful.’ — David French
When he served in Iraq as a squadron judge-advocate, “we confronted terrorists who did many of the things Hamas did on Oct. 7. They were unspeakable atrocities, and we had the responsibility to protect innocent people under our care,” French said. “At the same time, you cannot and must not lose sight of the humanity of even the most vicious of your enemies.” The army was using deadly force to protect people, “but when terrorists fell into our hands, no matter what they’d done,” they were given food, medical care and safe accommodations and treated with “decency and dignity,” he said.
“It was both justice and mercy working in the darkest of circumstances,” French said.
Asked how Christians can help bridge the polarized parties, French said neither side in American politics can win “without the support of their Bible-believing Christian bases.” White evangelicals are “the most powerful faction in the GOP,” and Black Democrats “attend church faithfully. Without the Black vote, you don’t have much of a Democratic party. It’s still a religious country,” he said, and “the Bible-believing bases are a veto power.”
“People of faith with a deep belief in virtue have the power to destroy both political parties, and yet they act like victims when in reality they’re the captain of the freaking ship,” French said. “You’re not a victim; you’re a leader. Don’t believe you’re a bit player in politics. Christians are central.”
Those supporting Christian nationalism “are a small minority and they’re not going to run the place,” he said. “It’s not really serious, but it’s very dangerous at any given moment. Anytime you have a group of people who believe they have a divine right to rule, it’s a recipe for violence and war.”
Even though many people worry about what the next election could bring, “for Christians, no matter how this election goes, it is not as perilous for us as much of the sweep of history has been for believers,” French said. “We cannot approach it with a spirit of fear, but we have to properly address the peril.”
French said his closest friend from their time in service together in Iraq “is as different from me as a human can be, and yet we have a bond. If I can have a bond with someone so different from me, how can I view my political opponents as enemies?”
“I try to intentionally seek out people who offer the best expression of the opposing point of view. “They will raise questions you haven’t considered,” French said. “You see their heart, and it’s so many times drawn to what’s good and beautiful.”
Watch previous offerings by the McClendon Scholar Program at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church here.
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