Public Faith: An Interview with Michael Wear

kjyffPublic Faith is a new organization for “Christians who share a commitment to orthodox Christian faith and a belief in working toward the common good through politics towards a just and flourishing society.” One of the founding members is Michael Wear, the Founder of Public Square Strategies LLC, and the author of the forthcoming book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Wear on Public Faith:

How did Public Faith come together, and what was the impetus for creating it?

Public Faith came together as a result of a shared sense that there is a broad swath of Christians out there who do not feel represented in our politics–they feel alone. And yet they are not content to withdraw from politics. They’re looking for solidarity with other faithful Christians who agree on core implications of Christian teaching for our politics, and to join their voices with others to influence our politics. This is very much the concrete reality of how Alan Noble and I started to discuss the idea of Public Faith. As we developed the idea we consulted with others, many of whom are our Founding Members, and decided this was a key moment to step out and offer a different vision of politics in what is a very cynical environment.

The mission statement calls for strengthening efforts to combat poverty and advance human rights around the world. With ‘America First’ and similar nationalistic and isolationist sentiments seemingly on the rise, why it is important for Christians to stand up for these types of global efforts?

As Christians, we recognize the dignity of every human being, not just Americans. We have been blessed as a people and as a nation with great resources and a great responsibility comes with that. We have an obligation as individuals, through our churches and charities, and yes, through our politics, to advocate for and come to the aid of those who are suffering. I’d also just add that as people like Michael Gerson, Brian Grim, and former USAID Administrator Raj Shah have so persuasively pointed out, global poverty and human rights violations have real economic and national security implications for our nation that require our attention.

In most of the world, climate change is not a partisan or ideologically divisive issue, like it is in the United States. Is there a role for Christians to play in breaking the deadlock on this issue here in the US?

Of course there is, and we can do this by offering a narrative that affirms neither the narrative of complacency on one side, nor the narrative of scarcity and materialism that is represented by others in this conversation. This world is God’s, He made it, and we have a responsibility to be good stewards of it. In other parts of the world, climate change is not partisan because its consequences are so apparent and threatening.

I sometimes see people cringe when they hear the term ‘pro-family,’ often because they have seen it used as a euphemism for culture war-style campaigns against same sex marriage to the exclusion of any other efforts to address threats to the family. Public Faith endorses the “traditional definition of marriage,” but seems to take a much broader approach on how to strengthen the family. What do you see as the most serious issues facing American families? Do you think the solutions will be found in economic, policy, or cultural changes, or that all three are necessary?

Well on this and other policy issues, I want to be clear that I do not speak for everyone who has joined our effort. We are held together by our vision statement. Part of what I love about Public Faith is this sense that the vision statement sets our direction, but we have well-meaning people who might have different views on how to get there, and there is a humility inherent in the group where while I might have an opinion, I know I have so much to learn from those who would take a different approach.

So with that said, I believe and have written that the future of the family should be at the center of our political conversation. Our view of work in this nation has changed drastically and with insufficient regard for how those changes affect families. More couples are delaying marriage, more couples are delaying childbirth, and marriage itself is quickly becoming a luxury for the well-off. Our tax code penalizes marriage. Our work culture too often forces parents, especially mothers, to make impossible decisions, and the broader culture and our policies do not do enough to address those tensions. Too many children in this country go to school hungry.

These issues are not purely, or even primarily, in the realm of politics, but neither are they completely separate from politics. I do not believe there is a truly neutral set of policies toward families—we either make a conscious decision to support family formation and the health of American families once they are formed, or the unique challenges families face will continue to be inadequately addressed.

Public Faith says abortion must be addressed holistically, from the economic patterns that often drive the practice to the societal values that justify it. Some in the pro-life movement, myself included, have called for a comprehensive approach to abortion and a whole life approach overall, as an alternative to the partisan, culture war strategies of the past. Is it fair to say that Public Faith is seeking a new approach on abortion and even something like a whole life approach?

We believe abortion is a grave evil that denies basic human dignity, and we seek the end of abortion in this country. This will require change in a number of areas: legal, cultural, economic, political. Because our opposition to abortion is rooted in the dignity of the human being, we cannot view abortion as separate and distinct from issues like how our society considers pregnancy in this country. It is not separate from issues of poverty, opportunity, sexual ethics, and issues related to the overall health of the family as we discussed earlier. We want to support life-affirming policies in all of these areas. We reject and will continue to speak out about those in both parties who view the issue of abortion as a way to stoke conflict when it benefits them. The culture wars are for the benefit of politicians and the advocacy groups whose financial models rely on raising money off of demonizing people. We care about abortion, because we care about human life at all stages.

It seems to me that there is a growing level of toxicity in our national dialogue when it comes to the issues of race and racism. Without drawing a false equivalence, I see many Americans across the political spectrum who are more interested in scoring points with their ideological allies than in actually persuading others to think differently on these subjects. Is there an approach that Christians or people of faith can take to get people to have hard conversations, to listen to things that might make them uncomfortable, to be open to changing their views, and to be willing to consider measures that might reduce racial injustice and create a more just country for all Americans? 

There is a lot to say here, but I will just offer one thought. Christians should be free to earnestly, openly confront racism in society and racism in our own hearts, because our identity is not grounded in our racial or ethnic background or in tribal politics, but in the life and person of Jesus Christ who has brought us into one body with people of all backgrounds. Now, we’re still human, and these issues are deeply rooted, but if we come to the conversation rooted in Christ, we will be able to be open to pursuing truth in what is one of the pivotal conversations of our time.

Many Christian organizations seem to fit quite comfortably with a political party. Public Faith’s vision statement, meanwhile, seems to allude to the difficulties many devout Christians feel when it comes to voting and calls on Christians to follow their conscience. Why is this approach more appropriate? What role should Christians who are committed members of a political party play in promoting Christian values within their own party?

Any Christian who feels they fit completely comfortable in a political party should ask themselves whether their political views are deriving from their faith or from a political platform. I am a strong advocate for party identification among Christians, but that is because I believe our parties need voices within them who have higher obligations and aspirations than the good of the party.

The website says Public Faith’s “immediate purpose is to provide a platform for evangelicals.” Have you had any Catholics endorsing the vision statement? Is there a place for Catholic with Public Faith?

We do not request religious affiliation from signers, only that they can affirm the vision statement. We would love and welcome the support of all who can endorse the statement, though we do not seek to be everything to everyone. As a non-Catholic, I am deeply grateful for the work of the USCCB and bishops around the country like Archbishop Gomez, Archbishop Lori, Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal O’Malley, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal McCarrick, and so many others, as well as organizations like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, NETWORK, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic hospitals and universities, and so many other Catholic institutions and leaders. I believe that the questions facing this country are becoming more and more fundamental, and this will require the entire catholic (lower case “c”) church to be in prayerful solidarity in every way we can be, while continuing our family conversation about theological truths.