Politics at Trinity School

Last Monday (August 27), two members of the Trinity community sat in front of about 160 people in the Great Room and talked politics.  Margaret Frothingham is a Trinity alumni parent--she and Rich were founding Trinity parents, and all three of their children have attended Trinity at one time or another.  Margaret, a nurse and now a minister of congregational life at Blacknall Presbyterian Church, is a registered Democrat.  Peter Feaver, also a Blacknall member, is a current Trinity parent, professor of political science at Duke, and a Republican.

The goal of the evening was not to hold a debate on issues, top to bottom, but to hold a conversation between two people who share a faith but disagree about political means and ends.

One of my goals for the evening was to model civility.  As Peter pointed out, civility does not mean compromise; in fact, it presupposes disagreement and a certain conflict.  But it seeks to form relationships and on the basis of those relationships, through trust and generosity (our theme for this year), civil discourse promotes mutual respect and understanding, if not agreement.  I think Peter and Margaret pulled this off wonderfully well.

We faced several challenges, but I think Peter and Margaret navigated through them well.  One was that it would be easy to agree too much and not to press our disagreements--because of the friendship and respect that was already well-established in Peter and Margaret's relationship.  We could have probably done better at picking fights, but on balance I am glad that the two of them held their ground (no waffling on their differences) and yet managed to convey trust and respect.  The other challenge was that politics is Peter's trade and it's hard for anyone to match his 10,000 hours of reading, study, and experience in two Presidential administrations.  In this way, I think Margaret was both courageous and brilliant: She didn't try to be the Mark Shields to his David Brooks; she was delightfully herself.

Trinity's official Non-Partisan Policy reads like this:

Trinity School is a Christian school.  As an ecumenical school, our community includes Christians and non-Christians from different political parties and persuasions.  The school neither takes nor promotes a particular political party or ideology.

The mission of Trinity School is to educate.  One of the important subjects of education is politics, and as a Christian school we are keenly interested in the intersection of Christian faith and conviction with politics, both in our own country and across the globe.  Accordingly, we aim to introduce and explain political issues, parties, and candidates, without promoting any one candidate.  We want there to be healthy and robust conversations about political issues, elections, candidates, etc.  But we want this debate to be civil, respecting always the rights of others to hold contrary views, and acknowledging the right to privacy that all citizens have.  Most importantly, we seek to teach our students what it means to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.  We affirm that our allegiance to country and to political alliances is secondary and relative, whereas our allegiance to the Lord Christ is primary and absolute.

It's amazing how quickly nearly two hours of conversation goes by.  We ran through some questions I had prepared, and then we took some from the audience.  We took questions texted from the audience during the conversation, and I regret that we were not able to get to more of those.

We recorded and video-taped the evening, and we are looking for a way to make that more widely available to people.  Stay tuned.

Several book recommendations came out of this evening. 

Peter recommends City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner.

Margaret mentioned James Skillen's The Scattered Voice: Christians at Odds in the Public Square.

I would recommend a collection of readings newly published as Trinity Forum Readings Collection on Faith and Politics.  The Faith and Politics Collection includes selections from some key texts: 
  • Politics, Morality, and Civility by Vaclav Havel 
  • The City of God by St. Augustine
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • William Wilberforce: A Man Who Changed His Times by John Pollock
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • To Bigotry No Saction: George Washington and Religious Liberty by Paul F. Boller, Jr. 
  • Abraham Lincoln: The Spiritual Growth of a Public Man by Elton Trueblood

An Exercise in Civil Dialogue*
Sometime between now and the election, we suggest you reflect on the following questions regarding a political issue.  Write out your answers.  Then meet with two or three others and share your responses.  Observe basic ground rules of civility.  You might be surprised by your time of reflection and by the perspectives of your friends.
1.      Select a political issue. What is your position? 
2.      What are the factors that contribute to your position? These might include events in history, personal experiences, or parental, educational and spiritual influences.
3.      What does the Bible say?  How does the Bible inform your position?
4.      What are your fears about the other position(s)?
5.      How should we conduct ourselves if we discover that we think differently.
*This idea is from Betsy Poole, through Margaret Frothingham.


Richella said…
I was privileged to attend a Trinity Forum event at which Os Guinness spoke about civility; I'm glad to see that you referenced TF readings here. Please do let us know when recordings of the Feaver/Frothingham conversation are available!

Popular Posts