How Did We Get Here? With Pete Wehner
How did we get here? In our divided nation – and in our fragmenting churches – fear and hatred are running rampant. This week, Dan Allender speaks with Pete Wehner, who is an in-residence Senior Fellow at The Trinity Forum, an author, and a contributor to publications such as the New York Times and The Atlantic. Their conversation is an invitation to those of us within the body of Christ to consider the factors that influence our own stories, our faith, our political views, and our relationships with others.
About Our Guest:
Peter Wehner is an in-residence Senior Fellow at The Trinity Forum, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, and a contributing editor for The Atlantic magazine. He has written for numerous other publications—including Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Financial Times, The Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary, National Affairs, and Christianity Today. He has also appeared frequently as a commentator on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CBS, PBS, and C-SPAN television.
Wehner served in the last three Republican administrations, including as Deputy Director of Speechwriting and later Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for President George W. Bush. Wehner is author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael J. Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur C. Brooks). His most recent book is The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.
Dan: Well, it is a delight to be with a friend of a dear friend, and Pete Wehner, welcome to this Intrepid and shall we say, effortful podcast to invite you to think with us a bit about the state of the church and the condition of the human heart in the midst of a post-Trump era? How about that for a beginning?
Pete: That sounds like a great beginning. It’s terrific to be with you, Dan. I’m a great, long-time admirer of your work. So is my wife. So I’m just thrilled to be on with you and to be in conversation with you.
Dan: Well, it, it is equally if not more so an honor for me, and I’m gonna introduce you, uh, for the few in our audience who may not know your name, but let me just say as a beginning, what I’ve noted about your writing, and your speaking is that you’re a man who loves language, loves words, loves truth. But I think what has most captured me is that in that there is a level of both humility and kindness with regard to people who, are not fond of you and people who differ with you, people who have actually maybe at one point been friends, but, turned against you. So, uh, the formal introduction, uh, I think is very impressive, but what I’ve just discovered and, attempted to put words to is, you’re a remarkable human being, and I’m sure that one level that’s moderately awkward and weird to be introduced that way, but you, you obviously are a writer, an essayist, I would say a pundit, former speech writer for three very renowned presidents. You are currently a Trinity Forum Senior Fellow. There are so many things to be said, people can read you in the New York times, Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, which is one of my favorite places to read you. But, pundit, you know, comes from the sanskrit word, pandita. And, what it seems to imply, I think is very true of you is that you are a wise man, a skilled wise man. And so for that, what I would say is what an honor to be with you, you’ve kind of kept me, most of our audience would never call me sane, but at least on the border of sanity, in an era, that has been, so freaking polarized, divisive in some ways cruel, and your writing and your thought, has been a centering, a returning to, what, what I would hope for the church, what I would hope actually, if we could create tens of thousands of Pete Wehner, we’d be in a far better world than what we are now. I’m not sure that would please you to have other 9,999, other of you around, but I think it would be a gift. So as we begin, love to know how you react to that introduction.
Pete: Well, I’m touched by it, and, moved by it, and a little overwhelmed by it. I appreciate what you say, and I wanna accept it, graciously. Like everybody else I’m a fallen person and have my struggles. And I think to the degree that I reflect any of the things that you said, um, it’s because of the people that have walked a journey with me and who are the models in my life, um, and that I’ve imperfectly tried to mirror, in terms of their sensibilities and their, their outlook, intellectual, theological, personal. So I’m, to the degree that any of those things are true, I’m the product of, of a lot of different hands and a lot of different, a lot of different hearts, and I do appreciate, those people throughout my journey of life and my journey of faith.
Dan: Well, I discover that introductions are one of the more awkward portions of any conversation, especially to an audience that may not may have read you, but a lot of times we read without actually knowing the person behind the words. And, you know, I, would imagine that you have been referred to as a pundit. And how often do you get, the accolation of a very wise man.
Pete: You know, once in a while, but I get other accolations to, I promise you that I’ve, I’m somebody who’s, you know, who writes what’s on my mind and heart. And I write in the realm of politics and the realm of faith and theology, realm of culture, uh, which are meaningful to me, but they can, it can also be contentious, territory as well. So I suppose to some extent, it depends on, on, uh, on who’s the person that’s issuing the moniker.
Dan: Indeed, indeed. Well, it, one of the things that I find very, very intriguing in terms of your life is that you are an essayist, you are a writer, pundit, but you began at least formally, in your work as a speech writer, you know, for Ronald Reagan, for both Bushes and speech writing, I have never done will never do, but in some ways it, it feels like the labor of a translator. In that you are not meant to write merely your own opinion, you’re meant to reflect something of what you know, of the person who is giving the speech. And yet you are writing the speech out of your own understanding of them well, enough to write in your own language on their behalf. Is that a fair way of putting it?
Pete: Yeah, that’s a very insightful way of putting it. Um, just to clarify one thing, which was, I was in the Reagan administration, I wrote for a cabinet secretary, actually, Bill Bennett, when, when he was Secretary of Education, I was in my mid-twenties at that time, it was my first foray into government, but I was a deputy director of speech writing for president Bush, during very eventful times, including, 9/11. Speech writing is very much what you describe. It’s actually of all the different kinds of writings that I’ve done, which is, you know, columns and essays and books and monographs speech writing is probably my least favorite. And the reason is partly because of what you alluded to, which is your writing in the voice of another person. And so what you have to do is you have to learn what that individual likes and what they don’t like, there’s not necessarily right or wrong to these kinds of things. Some people, for example, may like rhetorical questions, and others, others do not. So you have to take that into, into account also with speech writing, you’re writing much more for the ear than the eye, right? you’re writing with audiences, and then you could have a whole array of audiences. You could do a, you know, a partisan political event. You could do a joint session of Congress event. You could do as president Bush did a few days after 9/11, a speech at the national cathedral, which is an event for national healing. And so you have to take that into, into account as well. And then there’s just the whole speech writing process, which certainly if you’re in the white house, you’re getting input from all sorts of people and all sorts of different offices. And as you said, you’re a translator. And so if you are getting input from policy experts on speech writing, they know they’re subject, but they’re not necessarily very good at translating their expertise in accessible language to the public. And you, as a speech writer have to be that translator. You have to have integrity when it comes to conveying accurately what the policy is and what, what they’re trying to convey, but you have to do it in language that ordinary people can, can hear. So it requires a lot of different, a lot of different, sort of skills, I guess, to try and pull it off. And then when you’re in a white house, you know, you’re in a pretty, highwire act.
Dan: I would say with maybe not a net below you, and given that you’re, you’re literally, in some ways the center of contention, drawing forth symmetry from how a person speaks, how they think, but also doing the work of bringing together. So in that sense, you’re you’re centric. And yet I can’t help, but think that there are a lot of divergent if not contradictory voices. So if, that’s a fair representation, how do you think that shaped how you became a writer as you have actually moved from speech writing into, as you said, essays, articles, books, et cetera.
Pete: Yeah,that’s a very intriguing, intriguing question. Um, I think probably it’s the way it’s shaped me as a writer is that, I, got a lot of, you get a lot of input as, as a speech writer and, um, you know, unless you’re really dull, you’re going to be better because of the input of other smart and wise people, but, since I’ve left the speech writing, world and even, I was having a conversation, my wife and I, and my daughter with Philip and Janet Yancy, they were visiting Washington a few weeks ago. And we were talking about writing and I found myself telling Philip and Janet that I feel like I’m a different, somewhat different writer now than I was 10 or 15 years ago. I’m a less certain writer than, than I was, I think when I was younger. I wrote with more certainty and more toward advocacy, as if I’m trying to tell people what to think. I, you know, I still do that. I mean, when you’re a writer, uh, you’re paid and published to have opinions, but, I think I’m more inclined these days to bring readers in with my own thought process. And then life touches you, and, you know, when you’re a writer at least certain kind of a writer, your own life circumstances, probably, almost inevitably shapes the way you write, not necessarily the topic, although it can be that, but sometimes in your tone and your tenor. If, for example, you have a person who has been more acquainted with, with sorrow or grief that can, that can make its way through, through one’s writing, as well. So it’s, it’s a fascinating process, the writing process, and what eventually emerges is, you know, partly a product of the mind and partly a product of the heart.
Dan: Yeah. I love that. Love that. Let me quote back to you what I’m hearing you say through a section of your book, Death of Politics. You’re right, too often we tend to deny to those with whom we disagree, any benefit of the doubt. We assume they see facts, events, and justice, just as we do, which makes their differing conclusions very nearly inexplicable. This in turn makes it easy to characterize one’s opponents as malignant to think that only a credent could hold views at odds with ours. And that that’s that intersection. Again, you are an opinion writer, you’re a pundit, but nonetheless, there is a humility, that somehow that there isn’t the exactness of this is the correct view, but a willingness to ponder, which is both compelling, but also in some ways, dissatisfying for people who are wanting certitude and the confidence that they indeed are right. So I can’t help, but think that in some ways you disturb the left, you disturb the right, in ways that I just find very, at least as I imagine, the effects of your writing, I find it very enjoyable to know that the kingdom is meant to disrupt everyone. The kingdom of God is meant to disrupt me. What are you seeing as you interact? And I think one of the privileges of your job is you get to meet a lot of freaking fascinating people. So like, what are you seeing with regard to where is the church? And, before we end, because I know you are not merely positive, I believe that you are a deeply resurrection hopeful, man. Like, what is it that we can begin to engender to grow within us, to, move toward, even if we don’t have a skill or a job to write as you write, but to live as you live. So what are you seeing?
Pete: Yeah, it’s um, when it comes to the church, particularly the American church today, what I’m seeing is of course, a complicated picture, but it’s in many ways, a troubling picture. You know, I thought the other day, Dan, that we have had scandals in a relatively recent time, which has visited and to some extent fell, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, in the Southern Baptist convention, one of the largest Christian universities, in the country, at Liberty, one of the largest apologetics ministries in the world, Ravi Zacharias, one of the most popular contemporary Christian music groups, Hillsong, not the singers and musicians themselves, but the churches that from which they came and one of the largest and most popular Christian camps in the country, Kanakuk. And then you add on top of that the way that I would say the white evangelical church has conducted itself in politics over the last half century, we’ve seen the rise of this Christian nationalist movement, which is often violent, or in some, sometimes violent. We saw the manifestation of it in January 6th. So there is a lot that is happening that is really unsettling, I would say. And to a watching world, particularly a watching world that itself is not a world of faith this is tremendously discrediting. I think especially to young people, but not only to young people. And I just feel like those of us who are followers of Christ and particularly other leaders of the church need to name that name that it’s going on and, uh, and think deeply and carefully, and prayerfully about what is, what is happening, why is it happening and what we have to do now, having made that sort of indictment of the church, it’s of course, a complicated picture because there are countless Christians that, in our country, and in the world, whose lives have been redeemed and made fuller and, more whole, who are agents of reconciliation and grace I’ve been the product of, those as I was alluding to earlier. And I would never want to deny that. So those things are happening all at once. But, you know, I did an article for the Atlantic, back in October called, The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart. And I started with this supposition that the American evangelical church was fracturing. And I reached out to, I would guess probably, I dunno, between 50, 60, pastors and theologians, leaders of different ministries, to ask for their thoughts on that. What struck me, Dan, is that I don’t think a single person took issue with my premise. That is, I didn’t hear back from anybody that I recall who said, you know, Pete, I think you’re overstating it. I think you’re taking a few high profile examples. And, uh, and it’s is a misleading portrait of the church. If anything, I heard mostly from pastors, I would say, who said, basically, you don’t know the half of it. And they talked about how the divisions in our broader culture have, found their way into, the church itself. And in some respects how the church is driving our cultural divisions as well. That it’s a kind of engine of antipathy in our broader society. And this is not just political though often it is political, but there’s a temperament or a disposition, with people within congregations of sort of divisions and acrimony and agitation that seems to be happening. And it’s really complicating the life of pastors and making it, making it difficult. So that I think is just, is just a reality. And as I said, I think it’s important that we name it, not that we, avoid it, or we create a kind of Potemkin village, Christianity. But there are leaders and voices out there that, are concerned about the same, same thing. Um, and, and so, you know, there are ways to get regeneration.
Dan: Well, and let’s use two different categories. Scandal is different than just a stance of antipathy and, that you speak about in your book about the reality that populism is in so many ways, driven by both fear and hatred. And in that intersection of fear and hatred, you have some of the strongest structures for human motivation. And, you know, the only thing I might apply as well is that, when there is fear and hatred underneath it is the constant fear of shame.
Dan: Like you step outside and you will be shamed by those who hold the power to be able to announce whether or not you are in or whether you’re out. But as you look at those two worlds scandal that has gone on in the Southern Baptist church at one level for not just the recent past, I mean, in some ways you look at the history of how the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in the context of ultimately supporting slavery. And even though there’s been a renunciation, the actual origin story is a long history of attempting to cover over something that is egregious, and, vilifying the dignity of the human conditions. So at one level, yes, but you’re looking at so many different institutions that have covered over the level of human brokenness, but then a stance toward others, which then demonizes the way, like we’re denying what’s true of our own self. And then we demonize others. How in the name of God, did we get here?
Pete: Yeah, it’s a very good, elegant, description of what’s, what’s going on. Unsettling, but I think accurate. How did we, how did we get here? It’s such a complicated question. I’ll tell you one thing that has struck me more in recent years than in my earlier years. So I think I was aware of some of what was going on in my earlier years too, is I think a lot of this comes down to core identity. I think a lot of us who are followers of Christ say that Christ and Christianity is core to who we are. And we really believe that we wanna believe it’s true. And we do believe it’s true. I think in reality, that there is a lot more that is going on, and you’ll know more about this than I do just based on your own work and writing and reflections. But each of us is the product of so many different things that we’re often not consciously aware of our family of origin, the communities that we were brought up in. The tribes with, within which we live our race, our gender, the country, in which we live the era in which we live. And all of those things go in to shape who we are. And then we’re also products of our temperament and our disposition. And then we, I think, take Christianity, faith, the Bible, and we engraft it on those things. And we, in a sense, think we’re sanctifying them. But what’s most core is not necessarily faith itself. It may be cultural identity. It may be a political identity. It might be a sociological identity. And Christianity is a kind of veneer, or something that’s secondary, but the way we process as the people of faith is we think that, that it’s Christianity, that is core to who we are, and that’s the interpretive lens. And we think we’re faithfully applying these things, and that leads us to do proof testing of the Bible. And so I think part of it is, that I think part of it is what you alluded to, which is fear. I have a sense with a lot of people of the Christian faith these days, that there’s an almost existential fear of what’s happening to our country and our culture. And when people feel that degree of fear, it can catalyze a whole series of destructive emotions. And it can also lead you to very dangerous, moral and ethical down dangerous, moral, and ethical alleyways in which you begin to suspend the normal rules of human decency and conduct, because you say this, this is a crisis. And and we have to win this. And if we… And then I would say on top of that is the sense that we have to win in the name of God. That is that, that there’s a feeling that God’s purposes depend on us succeeding. And of course they don’t. But when you think that that’s, what’s happening, you move almost immediately into this mindset of the children of light, against the children of darkness and all of those things, I think together can push people, who do want to follow Christ and who would say they love Jesus, and in fact do in important ways, but it can lead them into all sorts of areas. I mean, I struggle with this too. I’m sure that there are these areas that I’m, that I’m blind to. And that, I think in some respects, I’m sort of detached in what I’m seeing. And I’m seeing, you know, I’m seeing Jesus in the Bible the way that you should, and that others should. So seeing those blind spots in others is pretty easy, but seeing them in ourselves is harder. And that’s why I think it’s really important to surround ourselves with, with people whom we trust, who have standing in our life to speak to our life and who also see the world somewhat differently than we do. You don’t, you don’t have to carry that to an extreme, we all need a kind of community of like-minded people. That’s part of what it means to be in a community. But we also need people who have different angles of vision than we do, and can, can help us see things that we would otherwise not, not see.
Dan: So, as you, as you think about what you would hope for, I’ve dreamt that we could multiply you 9,999 times. What do you envision with regard to your own, your own life, your own world, but as well, you write for all of us who are willing to at least engage an opinion within that realm of openness to multiple views. And yet with convictions that actually are disruptive, as I’ve said to both often the left and the right, like, what are you hoping for and what are you working toward?
Pete: Yeah, I think, I mean, part of, you know, what I do when I write is just to write what’s on my mind and heart, in any given moment. So in some respects, it’s not that, that strategic it’s… What do I see or feel? Where I, that and I feel that I want to kind of share that. So part of it is that I would say in the realm of some of the things we’ve talked about, you know, maybe to convey that sense of what’s happening and what we can learn from others, the kind of, epistemic humility that’s, that’s in that’s important. Why certitude itself is not, is not always necessary, and not, not always called for, and I would say in terms of my faith writing, because I’ve, I’ve written, I would say probably 15 essays for longer op-eds but, you know, 1800 words or so reflections for the New York Times, on just on faith that is not on the intersection of faith in politics, but on the resurrection and the crucifixion, and the incarnation, and where’s God in the midst of pain. And what is grace, and why did Jesus use, parables and questions in his, in his discourse? And, you know, for me, I’m trying to explore some of these questions and to convey a certain understanding that I have a faith because it’s most central to my life. And I do feel like in many respects that faith is not being conveyed in the public arena in a way that aligns with how I understand it. And, and so I, I hope I’m able to write in a way that people, even who, who are not, themselves, people of faith can hear it. And it somehow has resonance, with them. I just, as an anecdote on that, you know, when I did, this piece, “Where is God in the midst of pain”, I was struck by the number of people that I heard from over the transom notes. I mean, I got hundreds of notes, and how those people shared their own stories of pain and grief. I heard a lot of stories about, individuals who had close relatives, commit suicide, for example, and, illnesses. And again, these are people that I didn’t know, and I was struck by how, if people feel like there’s a listening ear out there, they want to tell their story and how many of our lives, so many of our lives in some respects, probably all of our lives are hidden in shadows. And I don’t mean that, that when I say that hidden shadows, I don’t mean scandal, I mean, struggles and pain and, sorrow and grief. You know, we feel like, well, we’ve gotta, we gotta make our way through life. I don’t wanna burden other people and so forth, but those things exist and they’re important to process. And so I think, and again, you would know this much better than I would. And, your healing touches has gone out to many more people than mine. But I do think that, you know, when faith is, framed in that way or understood in that way, I think it’s just a very different thing. It’s certainly I think, a more inviting community for people to be a part of, because I think part of the problem is that what we say our faith does and, often what the church, how the church acts is at odds. And when that happens, you know, people aren’t gonna join a club if they think it’s a moral freak show. And there’s just too much of that that’s going on.
Dan: Well said. Yeah. I think that just brings me back to those two categories of if we’re scandal written and on the other hand, we have a posture that is so antithetical to the life of Jesus, living out fear of the other and turning what we fear into the other that we then demonize and hate. Again, I think even a very cursory reading of scripture leaves you in a position of, well, if this person is my enemy, how do I love them? And, if I’m operating out of fear and hatred, it’s hard to define that as a reflection of something of the character of Jesus. So I, think that that sense of you keep calling worlds that often are so disenfranchised from the gospel in part, because of this salacious, but also seditious commitment to annulling and destroying the other. You just know that there has to be somebody who’s inviting us, like a Tim Keller, in the context of the community, the ecclesia, but you’re more in the realm of Chesterton. Muggeridge. Is that fair to say?
Pete: Well, yeah, except that they’re a thousand times better writers and thinkers than I am. It’s interesting, Malcolm Muggeridge did have an impact in my early journey in the Christian faith. I still remember, a conversation he had with William F. Buckley on firing line. I was in college at the time and I was home for Christmas break. And it, I think the title of the episode was “How does one come to faith?” And I was, I was early in my Christian pilgrimage at that point. And I remember being struck by how I thought enchanting and winsome Muggeridge was. How erudite he was and his capacity to connect faith, to sort of larger stories, and human events. And I remember thinking, gosh, this, this, this was a powerful voice. So it was funny. I remember actually one part of that interview, and it was, Buckley was, was, talking about how you couldn’t at a dinner party, mention Christ. He said, you could get away with it maybe once, but if you tried it a second time, you wouldn’t be invited back ’cause you would be labeled a Christer and everybody would roll their eyes and so forth. And I remember Muggeridge taking gentle exception, to Bill Buckley and saying, you know, Bill, I haven’t done this often enough, but the times in which I’ve done it, I found that it actually invigorates and inflates the conversation rather than deflates it because the topic of faith is touching on the deepest things of human life and human meaning, this is my words, not Muggridges. And you know, and Buckley kind of took exception and I thought, well, these are two, individuals who see faith in a different way and talk about it in a different way. And I thought the way that Muggeridge was getting at it was inviting and Muggeridge was also just a beautiful, beautiful writer. And so I fell in love with his, with the elegance of his words.
Dan: Well, obviously I know neither of them, other than the experience of reading and also occasional glimpses, you know, in recorded history. But I think I would rather, have a glass of sherry with Muggeridge in a way that, though I’d be absolutely intrigued to be in the presence of Buckley, I would keep my mouth shut. Listen. Learn. But there would not be an invitation for conversation. Uh, the fact that I might have two or three gifts talents, and he is, gifted with 10 or more. I did not have the sense that Buckley when he spoke Christ was revealing Christ. And again, no judgment of him beyond just that sense data, but you know, to go back to that question of, you know, I will differ with you with regard to your writing, but I think you are a humble enough man to question, being in that set of luminaries, but you do play that role in the context of our culture and what, what weight does that bring you?
Pete: You know, it’s, that’s an interesting question. The first thing I should just kind of admit is, I feel like, as I said earlier, I’m the product, both of, a lot of different people and a lot of breaks and, you know, I look at other writers and I just feel like I, including other columnists, and I feel like I’m just not in that category. And I, and I’m not saying that as a false humility, it’s just sort of how I’m, how I’m kind of wired. And the way I think I view writing is, I just try and put things into words that I feel like have meaning to me and might have meaning to other people. And I know it’s not gonna have meaning to a lot of other people, right? We reach people on different frequencies and some people may read me and they feel like, oh, that resonates with me. And others would read me and think, no, that doesn’t interest me or that person’s mindset is different than mine. You just don’t speak to ’em. So, but I hope I’m able to, you know, offer some degree of enlightenment, a bit of enlightenment and they maybe nudge the needle somewhat along in the in the right direction. And I hope I stay on the right side of when it comes to you know, staying away of ad hominem attacks or to personalize. I mean, there are issues in which I have strong convictions, and anyone who’s read me would know. But I do try and ask myself, have I said anything that’s crossed a line and I, and I’m sure I’ve done that over the years, but I think I’ve done it less than I would’ve done if I weren’t a person with a Christian faith. And then there’s just sometimes I think about my writing, if it’s on the topic of grief or pain or sorrow, where I hope I’m able to find the words that people would either feel some degree of comfort or some degree of being, um, known not that they’re gonna be life changing. But you know this as a writer and also just in terms of your profession, if you feel like you can be something of an agent of healing or understanding or reconciliation. Help bind up somewhat somebody’s wounds, however you do it, whether it’s words spoken or words, written actions that you do, leaning into people’s lives, you know, that matters, and matters, ’cause we know it matters when we’re the recipients of that.
Dan: Yeah. Well, and again, I don’t wanna be in a debate about the quality of your writing other than I think your writing is beyond just the word excellent. Nonetheless, the reality that you live with a generosity and an intrigue and openness to other ideas and people, but there seems to be a deep commitment not to join structures or people of contempt and that, you know, it, there has to be an intentionality, a kind of clarity of, yes, we have different views on X, Y, or Z, but I have something to learn from you. And I am wanting to welcome you to whatever table I have. I may have a very humble meal, but you are welcome to join me. And in that, even where you may become my enemy, I will not engage you with contempt, even if I differ with you. Those are qualities that when I say, could we have 10,000 more of you? That is the very essence of what, what I think you bring into very complex topics, into difficult, difficult discussions where the animosity, fear, hatred, often gets felt again from the left and the right. So I think in that generosity, you welcoming, is what I would say. I read when I read Muggeridge, when I read Chesterton, maybe Chesterton, a bit more playful, cynical, but nonetheless, still compelling in that sense. So when you think about the cost for you, but the cost for our listeners, like if you want to engage your world, whether you write for the New York Times or not, if you’re open, if you’re kind and you have a deep commitment to not salaciously distribute contempt in the way that I see so often my own temptation and others’ temptation to, there’s a cost. And just before we end, I just, what is it cost and what is it that you would invite our listeners to engage in order to become that?
Pete: Yeah, you know, in terms of the cost, I would say that here speaking autobiographically, you know, for me, there’s probably been a, been a cost. I don’t think it’s a huge cost, but it’s been a cost of a community that I was a part of. Because I was a lifelong Republican, I served in three Republican administrations and that was the world that I, that I that I had known. And, you know, so many of my friends and community were a part of that. And when I broke with the Republican party during the, during the Trump era, because, I just felt like I couldn’t be a part of that, you know, there was, there was a cost to that. It wasn’t an overwhelming cost. I was able to find communities with other, you know, other writers too. And honestly, Dan, just as it related to me, I think if you had asked me in the pre-Trump era to identify the, say the 20 or 25 people that I felt like, knew me best, cared for me most, and the people that I respected the most, and if I had canvased them, I think the overwhelming number of them would’ve been disappointed in me if I’d have taken a position other than, you know, than I had, that would’ve been a much higher cost, you know to me than, you know, feeling like you’re on the outs with the party or you’re being criticized, you know, for taking this stand or that, but I also agree with you, you know. That this is such an angry time or so much antipathy dehumanization of other, other people going on that, um, you know, in some ways I think we probably have to bend the other way, maybe even more than we might naturally do to listen carefully to other people, to engage with, people, to try and hear their story, to ask them, what do you think that I’m missing? What do you think that I don’t, what do you think that I don’t see and really actually listen to that, you know, years ago? I was much more, inclined to be, just in terms of personal interaction if I had, you know, email exchanges with, with people who took issue with me or, or something I could write, you know, a 6, 7, 8 page email point by point rebuttal, you know, trying to blow apart that person’s argument. I’m much less inclined to do that now. Probably because I’m not sure I have the time, but also I’ve just found that it’s not terribly effective. I think I’ve learned more. In fact, I’m sure I’ve learned more, from psychology over the last 10 years, in terms of my understanding of both theology and politics than I have from theologians and from politicians. I’ve learned a huge amount from the social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt who’s helped me understand confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. You know, he’s, I’m sure you’re familiar with the elephant and the writer analogy where we’re driven so much by our emotions, things that are trans-rational, sub-rational. We think we’ve come to these places through, through cognitive awareness. And in fact, there are a lot of other things, and I think that’s just helped me understand, um, other people it’s helped me understand myself better, and it’s certainly, I hope helped me understand how to stay in relationship with people, with whom you have, you know, with whom you have, have disagreement. So I think for, you know, we can all do that better than we do in our own lives with our own families, with our own communities. And I’m sure you’ve heard an awful lot of stories about families being divided in these times in ways that are really, unprecedented in terms of my lifetime parents and children, not talking to each other siblings being broken, broken apart. Even marriages being strained by differences in politics. And when politics takes that large, a place in the life of a country or the life of a family or the life of an individual, it’s just too big, it’s not meant to, it’s not meant to do that. And human relationships are, are gonna mean more than political differences, even though politics matters a huge amount.
Dan: Well, there is so much wisdom in all that you have said, but if I go back to that one simple, brilliantly clear, what have I missed? What do you see that I am not seeing? That changes the structure of conversation. Cause you’re, if it’s sincere, or at least even largely sincere, it invites that engagement that, a I know I’m, I’m blind on many levels that I know, but I’m obviously blind on so many other levels that I don’t know, and that invitation for help. You know, I go back to that phrase often of, you know, I would say I’m a believer, but I also know I’m an unbeliever, that there are just levels of unbelief within me, but the operative word is, I believe help my unbelief. And so the operative verb at that point is I need help. And to invite your enemy so called to engage you, to offer help, humanizes. It may not go well, but at least humanizes the, engagement. And I think in that regard, what I would say to our audience is, oh, you need to know this man that I’m interviewing. And if you have been in the post-Trump era, or in it, and experienced a great deal of, conflict, heartache, uncertainty, then we need, I need, people who have thought things through as you do in The Death of Politics, not my area, not an area that I’ve done hardly, any real thought in. And I find myself again, being centered and in a character, you, but in the characterization of what it means to be a man of the kingdom of God, as you relate to complex matters and deeply divergent, and sometimes disastrously conflictual people. So that invitation to a kingdom way of being. Most of us will not write for the New York times. Nevertheless, there’s something about the way you are choosing to live that again, I would invite our audience to say, what does this man know? How does he work? How does he write? And do we have models in our day? And given a scandal-filled, oftentimes cowardly church, the invitation to us within the church to consider what this looks like. I just think, your presence within the world is a gift and particularly a gift in our era. So to that, I’ll say, look forward to having you back sometime relatively soon.
Pete: Thanks. It’s been a delight to, speak with you and, even learn from you in this conversation. And I’d be honored to join you again at some point.
Dan: Thank you, Pete.
Pete: Thank you, Dan.