I was nervous the first time I joined the Capitol Conversations roundtable. No matter how comfortable I was with public speaking, it was uniquely intimidating to sit in front of a mic with the red light blinking. Matt Hawkins, the podcast’s original host, invited me to report on the ERLC’s efforts serving families amid the adoption crisis in Ethiopia. The podcast was produced each week to invite listeners into our advocacy work in Washington, D.C., but recently we thought it was time to try to do something more with the show.
We live in a strange cultural time in America, and Christians need better ways to be salt and light in the American political process. My colleague Steven Harris says often that what is needed is a new evangelical imaginative. Over time, this became an inspiration for the new direction of our podcast. We wrote it down like this: our podcast exists to foster a new evangelical imaginative for political engagement.
There is a growing need to reimagine what faithfulness to the commandments of Christ should look like as American citizens in the public square. Our fractured public witness is a sign that we need to rediscover the good news of the gospel. As Russell Moore puts it in the closing chapter of Onward, in our fight for doctrinal orthodoxy and public justice, we must “labor to preserve something ancient, something ever new, not just for us, and not just for our children, but for our future brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom hate us right now.”
We want the conversations on our podcast to help evangelicals imagine a new way to engage in the public debates of our day. To do this, we discuss the news shaping our world with leaders from across the political spectrum working in ministry, media, government, and advocacy. We aim to offer listeners trusted analysis of news and public policy and then, in keeping with our pastoral commitments, connect the theological distinctives of the ERLC to political engagement in Washington.
Celebrating 100 episodes
Earlier this fall, Gary Lancaster (our audio engineer) and I saw we were nearing our 100th episode. We thought back to all of the incredible guests and wide-ranging conversations we hosted in the studio and around the country. We decided the best way to mark the milestone would be to invite Matt back as the podcast’s founder to join me for a countdown of our favorite episodes that reflect Capitol Conversations purpose.
Narrowing them down was harder than I thought. The long list of episodes offers a lot of content from which to equip a listener with a new evangelical imaginative, like the series covering the abortion debate in America or even one of our annual internship episodes, which is always a crowd favorite. Another way we use the show to equip those tuning in is by publishing the audio from our events like ERLC President Russell Moore’s interview with Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on parenting and Moore’s teaching on Christian Ethics from ERLC Academy on the Hill.
We’ve had a great time thus far, and we’re just getting started. Here’s the countdown of our favorite 10 episodes from the first 100 of ERLC’s Capitol Conversations.
#9 | August Profiles: Justin Giboney on Christian compassion and conviction in politics, published August 2019 With Congress in August recess, we took a break from our usual policy-focused conversations to bring you interviews with leaders we admire who are shaping the world of Christian political engagement. In this episode, Harris sat down with Justin Giboney, founder of The AND Campaign. Giboney is an attorney and political strategist in Atlanta, Georgia.
#8 | Meet the staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, published June 2018 Staff from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sat down with Hawkins to discuss their work and the most recent annual report from the Commission. Dwight Bashir is director of research and policy at the Commission. Elizabeth K. Cassidy is director of international law and policy at the Commission.
#7 | David French on the rise of alt-right white supremacist terrorism, published August 2019 At the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the messengers passed a resolution on the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy. When the United States was hit with more tragic mass shootings, first in El Paso, Texas and then in Dayton, Ohio, the shooter in El Paso claimed allegiance to the evil ideology of white supremacy as the motivation for his attack in the Texas border town. David French joins Pickering and Travis Wussow to discuss how this attack is connected with many others as this ideology is on the rise. At the time, David French was a senior writer for National Review.
#6 | Canon & Culture: episode with Syrian Christians Canon & Culture welcomes a Lebanese missionary to Syria and a Syrian missionary to the United States to talk about the gospel, the church in Syria, and the refugee crisis.
#5 | Kenneth Bae, the longest held U.S. prisoner in North Korea, on hope in a hard labor camp, published July 2019 Kenneth Bae is a Christian missionary and American citizen who knows all too well about North Korean oppression. Although it is difficult to enter North Korea, Bae hosted state approved tourism visits from China until the country’s security officials arrested him. After two years, Bae became the longest held U.S. citizen to be imprisoned in North Korea. He was released in 2014. Since being released, Kenneth founded the Nehemiah Global Initiative, which is devoted to remembering the 25 million North Koreans and helping North Korean refugees physically and spiritually to rebuild new lives in South Korea.
#4 | Northern Dreamer, Southern Dreamer, published January 2018 Hawkins welcomes Vanessa Gutierrez (Michigan) and Elisa Gonzalez (South Carolina) who share what it’s like to be “Dreamers” and DACA recipients.
#3 | Melissa Ohden on Surviving Abortion, published February 2019 Ahead of the Senate vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, Pickering and Chelsea Pattern Sobolik welcomed pro-life and adoption advocate Melissa Ohden to the roundtable to share her story. Ohden was born-alive after a failed abortion attempt at 7 months gestation. Her story is an awesome testament to God’s grace.
#2 | A conversation about Charlottesville, published August 2017 Hawkins, Wussow, and Harris shared a conversation as they process the tragic events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the bold revival of racism and anti-Semitism in America. Where do gospel-believing churches go from here?
#1 | A Story of Criminal Justice Reform: How the First Step Act Became Law, published February 2019 In the final days of the 115th Congress, a significant and bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill was signed into law at the White House. The First Step Act, which sought both prison and sentencing reforms, enjoyed overwhelming votes in the Senate and House December 2018. Yet the bill’s journey to passage was as unlikely as the coalition of conservatives and liberals who supported it. Heather Rice-Minus of Prison Fellowship was one of the dedicated advocates whose work ensured that this bill became a law. She serves as vice president of government affairs at Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.