Meet the Democratic activist who wants to change how Christians look at politics

Justin Giboney
Justin Giboney at the 2019 Beloved Benefit in Atlanta. (Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

In an age of runaway political polarization, Justin Giboney thinks he may have found an agenda that can bring Republican and Democratic Christians together.

The hard part, of course, is that both sides will need to compromise.

The 41-year-old lawyer and Democratic political operative leads an organization of activists, artists and pastors called the AND Campaign, established in 2015 with performance artist Sho Baraka and the Rev. Angel Maldonado of Atlanta. They are trying to fuse commitments to racial justice, antipoverty policies, pluralism with their conservative views on social issues.

Giboney’s grandfather was a Baptist preacher who was “born into a country where an African American was hanged or burned alive every four days,” Giboney said recently. Giboney himself is Black, and he says America’s Black churches have long maintained a method of political engagement that gave it freedom and independence to critique both political parties.

But Giboney and his organization believe American Christians, broadly speaking, have largely lost that capability. “One of the big things we want to do is help Christians reframe how we look at politics,” Giboney said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.

“Are you willing to look at your side and say, ‘We’ve got some things we have to do better’? I think that’s one of the major problems that we have,” he said. “Nobody has credibility with the other side because we're completely dishonest about our side.”

Like nearly everything else in American life, Christianity in the U.S. has become increasingly divided along partisan lines. Appealing to Black churches remains a cornerstone of Democratic outreach efforts. Predominantly white mainline Protestant churches have also tended left. But evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics remain heavily Republican and deeply influential within the GOP, even as the nation becomes less religious.

Giboney, who played football at Vanderbilt, got his start in politics working for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and has worked in Democratic politics for years. He was a delegate at the 2016 Democratic convention. But he and the AND Campaign are pushing American Christians to examine how much of their thinking might have been “captured” by the party they belong to.

Giboney wants to “raise civic literacy, help Christians get more engaged in a better way, understand how the system works, but also not accept how our ideologies frame certain issues,” he said. “I don't have any allegiance to either side of the culture war.”

Giboney does not pull punches when it comes to critiquing conservatives on issues around race and poverty.

“The American church was a bulwark of Jim Crow, of congregational segregation, and today, a bulwark of the ‘Big Lie,’” he said in a recent debate, referring to the baseless belief pushed by former President Trump and his Republican allies that the 2020 election was illegitimate.

“The American church indeed has done some good works, and there are many who are doing good work today. But on the whole, it has been an abject failure on racial justice,” Giboney added.

The AND campaign supports expanding voting rights, including for convicted felons who have been released. They also want criminal justice reform, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and paid family leave.

And Giboney has argued in favor of reparations for historical and systemic racial discrimination. “White supremacy is real,” he told Yahoo News. “It played a role in the shooting in Buffalo. It's something we need to talk about.” Yet Giboney also takes pains to use language carefully. He refers to white conservative Christians as “the majority church” and says regarding the term “white supremacy” that “it's thrown around so much that it loses its meaning.”

When it comes to abortion, Giboney’s views don’t have a lot of support among elected officials in either party. He supports the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. But he is not optimistic that Republican politicians who have mobilized supporters around the issue for decades will act to provide support for women who often turn to abortion out of desperation.

“This is one of the mistakes ... [of] how the right has handled abortion. ... It’s like ‘Hey, let’s make sure that she has this child, and whatever happens after that is on you,’” Giboney said. “That’s not a whole-life perspective.”

Anti-abortion advocates have also demonized women who have had abortions, Giboney said.

“This is a complex moral question. The decision isn’t easy for a woman,” he said.

“So, just going around telling people they're murdering something, it's like, well, it’s a little deeper than that. There should be an understanding for those very tough situations, of a woman who has no support and doesn't have the resources that some rich woman might have. ... We have to be compassionate towards that, while at the same time understanding that that is a life.”

On the other hand, Giboney argued that the pro-abortion-rights side has also been one-dimensional in its approach.

“I think progressives can make this conversation sound very easy when you say ‘my body, my choice.’ That's true, nobody should be telling a woman what to do with her body. The problem with that is, there’s another body in this conversation,” he said.

“We make it too easy on both sides. I think it’s one of those issues we have to let be hard, and use principles and work together to get to the best solution,” Giboney said. “If and when Roe is overturned, that doesn't end the conversation. I think the conversation has to go on.”

The AND Campaign, which has begun to train 15 people in how to run for office and oversee political campaigns, will also advocate for a more robust social safety net for women in poverty, who often turn to abortion because they cannot afford another mouth to feed.

“We want to limit abortion as much as possible, but we don’t isolate abortion and take it away from other issues like paid family leave, like health care, like child care.”