Out of all the sessions at the American Enterprise Institute‘s recent Purpose and Prosperity conference in Washington, DC, I identified personally the most with the Politics and the Millennials discussion panel. In their talk about the voting habits and political positions of today’s young evangelicals, the four speakers described me perfectly: confused and uncertain, unwilling to fully embrace a full conservative or liberal ideology, hesitant to identify with a political party, yet still leaning conservative at the end of the day.
Since spending a semester in Washington DC last fall at the Washington Journalism Center, I’ve felt the weight of my own ignorance more and more. Almost all of the black and white views that I brought in to the program last fall turned to gray. For the most part, I’ve considered this a liberating experience. It opened my mind to accept new ideas and freed me from any sort of allegiances or need to defend a person or policy.
Amy Black, a professor at Wheaton and one of the Politics and the Millennials panel members, said that one of her goals is to introduce a little gray–a few new, valid, perspectives–when teaching students. In principle, that’s a good thing. A good education should shake and challenge students’ views.
However, she said, the point is not to leave students in political limbo, unable to find their way out of a maze of muddled opinions and sound bites, yet that is where I was at prior to the Purpose and Prosperity Conference. My study of journalism had turned me, for all points and purposes, into a political agnostic.
Another one of the discussion panel members, Matthew Anderson, said that these young, confused evangelicals need to develop some sort of concrete framework through which to view and interpret politics. Political engagement and understanding, he said, starts with having a lens of coherent beliefs and values. It reminded me of something G.K. Chesterton said: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
That captures the essence of what I learned from the Purpose and Prosperity conference. Each session set up a clear framework through which to view matters of public policy and faith. Arthur Brooks redefined the way I look at the debate over capitalism. Alex Brill and Andrew Biggs described tax policy and social security in concrete numbers. Steven Hayward spoke on environmentalism with a balanced presentation of facts. Every speaker, in fact, clearly sketched out the present political situation in their respective fields.
The beauty of this is that once you have a framework in place–a reference point through which to view today’s political debates–then you can start asking good, informed questions. For an aspiring journalist like myself, this is huge, because now I know better how to categorize and study all these areas of public policy. I’ve learned what it means when Republicans talk about reforming Social Security, or when Democrats talk about renewable energy.
Better yet, I have taken a few more steps toward the one thing that hopefully all of us are looking for: the good old truth. Truth with clarity, fairness, and faith.