The common advice is to avoid mixing faith and politics.

On Tuesday night, however, Concordia University Wisconsin embraced the two as four political leaders delved into a candid conversation about the place of virtue and values in public and political discourse.

Put on in partnership with WisPolitics, the Freedom of Conscience, Civility, and the Common Good event welcomed a panel of notable guests, including:

  • Tim Goeglein, vice president of external and government relations for Focus on the Family, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and former deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison
  • Scott Neitzel, founder of Wilson Wells and former secretary for the Department of Agriculture under Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
  • Peter Barca, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue
  • Rep. Jason Fields, Wisconsin State Assembly 11th District

The event, moderated by Jeff Mayer of WisPolitics, kicked off with opening remarks from CUW Senior Vice President Gretchen Jameson and introductions by Student Government Association leaders Skylar Petrik and Megan Schmitz.

It was Fields who kicked off the panelists’ discussion for the evening: “When you start with ‘how can I help?’ you remove the political barriers. For me, that’s always been the starting point.”

Even though the panelists represented a variety of political backgrounds and opinions, they each expressed a shared devotion to the Christian faith and a common desire for civility amidst political discourse.

“It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart,” Barca said. “I think true leaders should be pointing out when there are people operating in the extremes. I hope and I pray that people in this room, myself included, can correct people in our own tribe when they go too far.”

Neitzel positioned the importance of widening one’s perspective and circle of sympathies.

“As people of faith, it’s not about you; it’s about others,” he said. “The thing we have to guard against in this culture is, ‘It’s all about you.’ We have to guard against becoming high-tech hermits. Purposely follow people on Twitter who you disagree with.”

Goeglein, who identified himself as a ‘genetic hopefulist,’ closed with an expression of appreciation for the evening’s discussion.

“I really listened and absorbed what you all said tonight and I am a better man for it,” Goeglein said. “The beautiful thing in the Christian life is that we’re only passing through. Christ is risen. We are marching from the greatest victory in human history—Easter morning.”

From left: Scott Neitzel, Peter Barca, Tim Goeglein, and Rep. Jason Fields

Tim Goeglein: Concordia’s Christian Citizenship Fellow

Earlier in the day, Goeglein drew a crowd of nearly 100 CUW students and employees for a one-hour presentation on his book, “American Restoration: How Faith, Family and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation.” Published last July, it was co-authored by Goeglein and Craig Osten, a former political reporter and the author of more than a dozen books.

The book talk and Tuesday evening panel discussion are part of Goeglein’s contributions as Concordia’s inaugural Christian Citizenship Fellow. He’ll spend the remainder of the week engaged in lectures and presentations in classrooms.

“I’ve visited this campus across nearly 20 years now and one thing that strikes me is that the students here are remarkably thoughtful,” Goeglein said during his book talk Tuesday morning.

“Today is like the 7th inning stretch of a baseball game when it comes to the November presidential election. Contempt is ripping our country apart,” Goeglein continued.

The big question, according to Goeglein, is how our nation is going to deal with this. It’s one of the reasons he co-authored a book with Osten, because as he spoke around the country at universities such as Notre Dame, Asuza-Pacific and Brown, he kept hearing people say how deeply worried they are about the United States and what kind of country will be there for their children and grandchildren.

In their book, Goeglein and Osten make the case that an American restoration is not only possible, but probable—if we act now.

A friend of the university, Goeglein was CUW’s commencement speaker in 2003. He then planted the seed for President George W. Bush to become Concordia’s May 2004 commencement speaker.

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