Participating in politics civilly may seem like a lost art, but these three books offer different types of perspective and tips for engaging with politics.
With the U.S. political season upon us, now is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of effective ways to think and talk about politics. None of the books on this list will tell you what to vote or how to vote. Rather, they can help us think about politics in the U.S. broadly and how citizens individually can approach the ideas and conversations that inevitably come forth.
Engaging Politics Book – Our Patchwork Nation
Our Patchwork Nation by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel came out in 2011 so it’s a bit dated. However, their approach to understanding U.S. demographics is eye-opening.
Instead of attempting to understand the U.S. in terms of red and blue states, the authors use twelve different community metrics for getting a read on the voting trends of the country. Interviews, anecdotes, facts and statistics come together for a compelling look at the demographics in the U.S.
Keep in mind that Our Patchwork Nation was published almost a decade ago, but don’t discount it for that reason. The numbers have likely adjusted and maybe even shifted but beginning to think about voting blocs in more nuanced ways will challenge your own understanding of the forces at play on election day. And, thinking in these terms can bring fresh eyes to otherwise stale conversations when needed.
To see visuals of the 12 communities that the authors divided the U.S. into, visit www.patchworknation.org.
Engaging Politics Book – I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)
I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers is a book born from the popularity of the authors’ podcast, Pantsuit Politics. Sarah and Beth give suggestions and examples from their experience in having conversations across political lines.
“We don’t have to accept the unacceptable in order to maintain our grace. Grace simply means that all people are valuable. It does not mean that all opinions are valid. Grace does not mandate that we treat all sides of an issue as equally meritorious.”
I Think You’re Wrong reminds readers that it is possible to disagree with someone on political issues without yelling. At the same time they offer tips and ideas for doing so based on their years of conversation together and with listeners across the political spectrum.
Of course, it is also helpful to remember that it is possible to listen to someone disagree with you without interrupting.
Chapters include “Take Off Your Jersey,” “Embrace the Paradox,” and “Exit the Echo Chamber.”
Both authors are women of faith and that does become part of their narrative from time-to-time, but the book does not veer off of its stated purpose – to provide practical ways and ideas for engaging in meaningful conversations around politics.
The next book, however, is unabashedly based in Christian thinking and living (though some of their ideas and strategies could be applicable and effective regardless of religious belief).
Engaging Politics Book – Compassion (&) Conviction
Compassion (&) Conviction came out recently and is a powerful slim piece of writing to challenge Christians to check their political posture. It does not tell anyone how to vote or what to think about any issue, but the book does demand of Christian readers to begin thinking critically and consciously about how they engage in the civic space.
In other words, it’s not “ends” based. Compassion (&) Conviction emphasizes our role in the “means.” How we engage with conversations, legislation, and parties is a reflection of what we believe about the character of God, the reaches of government, and the dignity of human beings.
“There’s nothing wrong with being conflicted about how both options are right in part and wrong in part. The bigger problem in when Christians are unaware or
unbothered by the faults on the side they prefer.”
Chapters include “Church (&) State,” “Messaging (&) Rhetoric,” and “Civility (&) Political Culture.” Keep a pen handy and your Bible. I spent half my time reading and the other half underlining and checking references.
Which Book is for You?
There you have it – three books to read in preparation for the political season upon us.
If you’re curious about how our demographics may not be well understood by simply looking at a Red Vs. Blue map, then Our Patchwork Nation is a good place to start.
If you want to try talking about elections and still keep your friends, or if you want to be able to navigate Thanksgiving dinner towards a constructive conversation, then I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) is the book to start with.
Finally, if you’re a Christ-follower who thinks or feels that something is “off” with how Christians engage in the civic space, then Compassion (&) Conviction is your go-to book.
What other books have helped you frame a constructive perspective on elections and politics in the United States?