[Check out my blog article about Ryerse and his book here.]
Ryerse, Robb. Running for Our Lives: A Story of Faith, Politics, and the Common Good. Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. 165 pp.
“1 You’ve Got to Do This: Rethinking My Call to Ministry and the Gospel”
Robb first heard of a new organization called Brand New Congress on Inauguration Day in 2017. Soon he was contacted by them, asking him to run for Congress. He then tells about his conservative background. When he was sixteen, he “skipped school to call in to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and actually made it on the air!” (7). He attended a “small, fundamentalist Baptist Bible college.” After college, he spent the next decade serving as pastor of “conservative Baptist churches.”
After reading authors such as Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell, he and his wife decided to move to Fayetteville in northwest Arkansas where in 2006 they started a new church they called Vintage Fellowship.
Robb began adopting more of the social gospel understanding he had been warned about earlier. He noted, with disdain, how it is “not uncommon to hear people who receive government assistance disparaged in sermons in fundamentalist and evangelical churches” (12).
He asserts, “The gospel may not be partisan, but it is unquestionably political” (13).
“2 Congress Camp: Coming Together for a Common Purpose”
Robb went to the Brand New Congress’s “Congress Camp” where people who wanted to run for political office could get training. When he got home he told his wife that he “had met someone I thought could end up a president of the United States someday. Her name was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” (18).
In this chapter, Robb decries “identity politics,” “the term used to describe the segmentation of people into separate groups and the attempt to appeal to them on issues about which they uniquely care” (19). The problem is: “identity politics reinforces tribalism” (20).
“3 Christian and Candidate: Questions at the Intersection of Church and State”
Robb notes that many Christians argue that “taxation is, at worst, theft, and, at best, compulsory charity” (28). But he asserts, “It is simply impractical to suggest that churches should provide a social safety net because it is ‘not the job’ of the government to do so” (29). He believes that paying his fair share in taxes is one of the many ways he can love his neighbor as himself (30). He and his church “believe that political involvement can and should be a part of what it means to live out the gospel” (30). He says for him “faith is the motivation to build a more just and generous society in which everyone has the same liberty and opportunity” (33).
“4 Don’t Read the Comments Section: Vitriol, Social Media, and Suspending Judgment”
Ryerse launched his campaign for Congress on May 23, 2017. In reflecting on the negative things he often saw on the comments section of internet articles, he wrote, “It took a run for Congress for me to realize that we all need to slow down before making judgments—to practice suspended judgment. . . .
“The key to suspending judgment is empathy for other human beings” (42).
“5 No, Really, I Am a Republican: Partisan Stereotypes and Evolving Orthodoxy”
Ryerse emphasizes that he shares “the deeply ingrained Republican values of liberty from the tyranny of the government, optimism about each person’s opportunity in America, and responsibility and accountability” (46). He also clearly states: “I am a Republican who is profoundly troubled by my party’s nomination and ultimate election of Donald Trump” (47). He was also much unlike most Republicans in other ways.
“Advocating for Medicare for All was a central theme of my campaign. I had to take this position for moral reasons” (51).
“6 The Myth of Objectivity: Bias, Echo Chambers, and Life under the Camera”
Ryerse asserts that “true objectivity is a myth” (60) and writes that “all of us need to remember the myth of objectivity whenever we consume stories, especially those told by the now-ubiquitous twenty-four hour news cycle” (61).
“7 House Parties: Curing Political Cynicism”
Ryerse says, “Campaigning for Congress didn’t make me cynical. It fueled my hope . . . .
“The cure for cynicism is creative engagement in a difficult process for the good of others” (73).
“8 Follow the Money: Treating the Symptoms and Ignoring the Disease”
At the end of his campaign, Ryerse said that the issue that mattered to him most is “the way we fund our political campaigns” (75).
“If you want to understand why your representatives aren’t taking action on the issues that matter most to you, follow the money” (81). He wants three policies to be enacted: elections publicly funded, campaign spending limited, and Citizens United repealed (81-82).
“9 Being a Bivocational Candidate: The Challenge of ‘Regular People’ Running for Office”
“10 The Emotional Roller Coaster: How Authentic Do We Want Our Politicians to Be?”
“Everyone wants to vote for an honest politician. . . . We crave relatability and authenticity in our leaders” (102).
“The health of our democracy depends on having leaders who are willing to be honest about their positions on the issues” (104).
“11 Blood on My Hands: From Silent to Strident on the Issue of Gun Control”
“12 The Only ‘Never Trumper’ in the Room: Insiders, Outsiders, and the Trouble with Tribalism”
“Politics needs to be about more than just winning; it needs to be about how we connect with one another for the common good, even when we come from different points of view and parties.
“. . . For me, the fundamental presupposition of politics is that we must elect leaders who will put the needs of people first” (123).
“13 Why Do You Vote the Way You Do? Personal Interest or the Common Good”
Ryerse clearly states one of his central convictions: “I think people ought to vote based on the common good.
“Letting the common good motivate our Election Day decisions means voting for the candidates who are advocating for policies that will do the most good and have the greatest positive impact. . . .
“The common good should especially be the motivation for Christian voters” (131).
He states that “the most loving thing I can do when I enter the voting booth is to cast my ballot not for my own interests but for the common good” (134).
“14 Election Day: Magic Wands and Mustard Seeds”
Robb writes, “When I think about what we attempted to do in Northwest Arkansas and what my Brand New Congress friends all across the country were attempting to do, it was to bring greater peace and justice into the world. That started off as planting a seed” (140).
“15 Lost: Learning to Rethink Failure”
In this chapter Ryerse writes about how he reacted to the reality of losing decisively. He concludes,
“If we only ever invest ourselves in sure things, we’ll never develop the courage to overcome our fears and dare to do something great. I may have lost, but I won too” (152).
“16 Getting Back on the Campaign Trail: We Have a Lot of Work to Do”
In August 2018, Ryerse became the political director of Vote Common Good (VCG). In November 2018, sixteen of the candidates VCG has supported on their nationwide bus tour were elected to Congress.
He concludes, “I ran for Congress because someone needed to challenge the political establishment in my state and give people the choice and voice they deserve to have. I went on the Vote Common Good tour because religious people need to be reminded that the example and teachings of Jesus call us to care for others above ourselves. But there is still so much work to do. That’s why we can’t give up. We need you now” (161).