David Corey

Season 3 - Episode 343

October 30, 2020

David Corey
David Corey

How can we model charitable discourse that bridges political, ideological and theological divides? Dr. David Corey serves as director of the Baylor in Washington program and professor of political science in Baylor’s Honors Program. In this Baylor Connections, he analyzes our political climate and tone, examines how Christians can forge a different path in the midst of the current tenor, and shares how the Baylor in Washington program builds leaders as it promotes opportunities for students to work in the nation’s capital.

Transcript

Derek Smith:

Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and our guest today is Dr. David Corey. Dr. Corey serves as director of the Baylor in Washington program, and is professor of political science in the honors program at Baylor. Dr. Corey joined the Baylor faculty in 2002 and became part of the Baylor in Washington program in 2015, taking on the role of director last year. He's a two time winner of Baylor's outstanding teaching award in 2008 and 2018, and twice was recognized by Baylor student government as faculty member of the year. The Baylor in Washington program extends Baylor's campus into our nation's capital, providing students with opportunities to serve in Washington, expanding Baylor's research and mission into important conversations, and providing a model for charitable discourse through conversations and programming, designed to bridge political, ideological, and theological divides. Dr. David Corey, busy guy, and he's with us today on the program. Thanks so much for taking the time to visit with us, especially as we are so close to a presidential election here. We really appreciate it.

David Corey:

Thank you, Derek, and thanks for that kind introduction.

Derek Smith:

Well, it's obviously a lot of exciting things, and I feel like the Baylor in Washington program, it may be a little bit of a hidden gem, is that fair to say? I think people might know it exists, but maybe not know a lot about it.

David Corey:

We're trying not to hide it. Thanks for doing this program. This will help us get the word out, but I think it's growing very rapidly, and so people are definitely discovering it.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. Well, it's been growing over the last few years. And as mentioned, you became director last year, and people might not know about your role. You commute back and forth from Waco to Washington, teaching here on campus and spending time in DC. Of course, obviously COVID has changed that a little bit. But I'm curious, having spent a lot of time in DC, can you paint a picture of it in this type of season for those of us who spend less time inside the beltway? And I know you're not there right now in these final days leading into the election, but what's your sense of what it's like there?

David Corey:

Yes, right. I'm in Waco right now, but the city is incredible right now. I mean, it's sort of surreal. COVID has had a major impact on the city, and people are not as out and about as they normally are, and yet the election season is such that citizens are on edge. They're very engaged, they're reading and digesting news with sort of avid anticipation. And then also we have our sort of reckoning with questions of racial justice. And so we have protestors in the city on the mall, and you're really seeing, I think in a way that is very rare and occasional of course, but you're seeing democracy in action in the city right now. It's a very exciting time to be there. And we considered maybe not sending the students up this year, because we were of course worried about their health and safety, but the students would have none of that. The ones that applied to be there this semester are so excited to see Washington DC undergo these sort of constitutional processes that are at the core of who we are as a people. So it's a very exciting time to be there.

Derek Smith:

Well, and you talked about the important things that are taking place in our country right now beyond the presidential election itself. And I briefly outlined at the top of the program a little bit about Baylor in Washington, but could you take us more deeply inside the program? How it serves students in the university, particularly in helping provide people with opportunities, and helping those formational events to take place that helped them speak into these things and learn from them in constructive ways?

David Corey:

Oh, I'd like to, yes. It's a very interesting program and very exciting. We're doing a number of things simultaneously as it were, and you're right that at least half of our attention is devoted to the students who go there, and the community we build for them with Baylor alumni, and mentors, and the program we put on for them. And I'll say a bit about that, but we also are simultaneously staging important events in the city where we hold panels on issues where Christianity has something to speak into the dialogue among policy makers and experts in the city, who might not otherwise hear a deep, reflective consideration from a Christian university, and the kind of experts we would want to put on a panel. And that sort of, that brings a great recognition to Baylor as a university, and in fact, our goal there is not just to draw attention to how excellent Baylor is, but actually to make a difference in policymakers' judgments as they go to craft legislation, and decide the policies that will affect all of us as citizens. So we are actually having a political impact. I'm always excited to see that people who attend our events are high level people on congressional committees. They're people who are actually making law, and they attend our events, and they learn from what we bring to the city. On the student side, wow, it's such an amazing program. The students come up, and they get a full-time internship that we help them get. And these are, I won't go into details, but these are the highest level internships conceivable in the city. So Senate and House, and thus we place them in the Supreme Court and we place them in the White House, or also the Department of Justice. I could go on and on, but they're there in full-time internships, except on Friday where we take them around the city to what we call site visits. Maybe they'll visit the FBI, they'll visit the CIA. They'll get to see all the places where they're not interning, but are also very important places in how our nation governs. And then we put together three classes for the students that they work through in the evenings, so it's very intensive. One class is a class called Public Policy and the Common Good. And we present the students with issues, where such as for example, human trafficking, income inequality, faith and politics, issues where Christians will be curious to know more about how to be political in a relevant way. And we put before them experts from around the city, so they'll hear from a congressperson on a specific issue. They'll hear from somebody, like a reporter who's covering the courts. They will hear from somebody who's on the Religious Liberty Commission about international religious freedom. So they're talking to the real decision makers and experts in the classroom, and getting to meet them and know them. And so another class we do is a research and writing class where they learn how to be very effective writers on policy issues, doing research, using the resources that are there in the city, like the Library of Congress, or interviewing experts. They learn how to write at a very proficient level where on issues where maybe their mind isn't made up. And we can show them how to investigate a question in an earnest way, and not be ideological, and assume at the outset that you already know all the answers to these questions. So very robust curricular structure, as well as very hands-on practice in the context of internships, yeah. And so, it's such a powerful impact on the students. We also assign them mentors whom we've cultivated over the years, who are Christians and experts in the city, who talk to them about how to come forward oneself in a career in politics, and preserve one's Christianity, and how to most make an impact in the city. So it's a life-changing event for these students.

Derek Smith:

Well, you painted a picture, Dr. Corey, there of all the great skills that you work, to help them develop as they're there getting these fantastic opportunities. And you mentioned the leadership aspect, leadership and mentorship. And I'm wondering if you could even dive into that a little bit more as you and Dr. Hibbs before you, have spent time in DC, and you've to students about their experiences. What are some of the challenges that you help them navigate, or what are just some of the ways you think about being proactive? Maybe not even facing a challenge, but being proactive about helping them realize the role they can play as Christians and young leaders in that environment?

David Corey:

Well, the leadership question is a really interesting one. I think so many of our young people today suffer from some degree, it varies, but some degree of what political philosophers call alienation, which is sort of the belief that this is somebody else's country. Washington is a far way away. I certainly could never have an impact, nobody knows who I am. I could never be a leader in any meaningful sense in politics. And that misconception falls away very quickly when you get to Washington and you realize that these are just normal folks in these positions where you're going to work daily and your internship. These are not superhuman people, these are normal people like you, and the opportunities are actually right there. I mean, one thing I can say is that we were always combating in a good way, the problem of our students being offered jobs when they've finished their internships. And that can be really fun if they happen to be a senior, but if they don't, then we have the problem of trying to keep their connections and kind of delay things so that they can take the job. But it's such an active city, and there are so many things going on. I like to say, it's hard to initially break into DC, but once you do, and our internships help, they achieve that for the students, once you do, it's very easy to move from job to job. There's a lot, there's of kind of motion that you can, career wise, that you can engage in. So I think to your question of leadership, one thing is just combating this kind of alienation that I think so many young people feel. But beyond that, I think if we don't have the best professional development that Baylor has to offer going on up there, it's got to be close. The students get into town a week or a week and a half before the semester starts, and we put on a professional development workshop that is full-time every day, where we help the students understand the importance of timeliness, competence, looking people in the eye, doing what you say you're going to do. Really doing even menial things with a high degree of excellence, so that you get noticed and people begin to trust you. So, these kinds of career workshops, I think they sort of fall through the cracks at a normal university. On the one hand we're doing our academic work, and on the other hand, we're doing fun things, sports, and other kinds of recreations, and student life. But a sustained effort with the urgency that you have right before you're starting a new job, to do professional development, I think is something that is, it's not unique to Baylor in Washington. It's at least something we do very well, and it helps the students get on their feet and feel very confident.

Derek Smith:

That's great. And if people are listening and they might be interested, baylor.edu/Washington, and they can take a look at some of what you're talking about, and learn more as we visit with Dr. David Corey here on Baylor Connections. Dr. Corey serves as director of the Baylor in Washington program, and is professor of political science in Baylor's honors program. And Dr. Corey, I want to shift gears a little bit because you mentioned, you put on a lot of great programming as it relates to topics of a political involvement, the role of faith in politics and leadership. I know you had one just last week, a render unto Caesar, that talked about Christian engagement in politics. And let's talk about that a little bit as we look at discourse in this country, not only related to the election, but political discourse in general in years past, certainly continuing now. From your role and standpoint as a political science, how do you frame the current moods and current methods by which you see people engaging politically these days?

David Corey:

Well, that is a question Derek, that's so close to my heart. I'm really thrilled that you asked it. And I think all your listeners will be sympathetic if I say that we've seen over recent years, a kind of breakdown of political discourse. It's become more vitriolic, and incredibly less productive as a matter of fact, because a democracy that has to deliberate together to make sound policies, has to be able to talk together about those policies, and we are failing to be able to do that. Even, and empirically speaking, especially political elites in our legislature are more ideologically hardened into their positions than ever, and we see less bipartisan legislation than ever. And this trickles down into our communities where neighbors have a hard time talking to each other, and friendships are broken over these sort of doctrinal differences. So this is something that anybody who takes our country seriously, I think needs to be very concerned about. I try to tell the Baylor in Washington students that a healthy polity ought to have a party of progress, and a party of conservation. This is normal. It's just, it's absolutely essential to a polity just as it's essential to an individual, to be capable of forging new directions, but also capable of conserving what's good and what is there to hold onto. And the relationship rhetorically between these two parties ought to be dialogical. All that I mean by that is it ought to be conversational. The two parties ought to be in conversation, deliberating together about the dangers of pushing things forward, but the hopes and goals of pushing things forward, the dangers of not changing. This is a conversation that has to be had democratically, and against that backdrop, you can see that we're failing at that. And so we at Baylor in Washington, we who run the program, are constantly trying to model and encourage the kind of civil discourse that I think is a duty of ours as Christians. Now, I think all of citizens have a duty for civil discourse, but especially in Christians, because our highest calling is charity, to God of course, but also to our neighbors, and I think that charity extends to how we talk to each other. And I think that's especially true in a liberal democracy where we should assume, we do assume of our fellow citizens, that like us, they are free, and like us, they are formerly equal. And so how do you engage in people who are like you, have the same political rights as you? You have to listen to them and engage with them as you would want them to engage with you. And so I think we're at a sort of a crisis level with this in the country, that's the dark way to look at it. But the bright way to look at it is our work is so clear right now. Our work is to demonstrate how to talk to people who differ with us politically, and just show that we can cooperate, and make compromises, and find common ground.

Derek Smith:

Visiting with Dr. David Corey, and Dr. Corey, sometimes it's good to look at if we're navigating something, to know what potential pitfalls are. And for people who are trying to bring something different to the conversation, to engage others in a Christ-like way, what are the challenges, and maybe even opportunities amidst those challenges, that are good for people to be aware of? Maybe even if they're not actively thinking of it when they're in conversation, that's maybe helpful to meditate on or ponder, so that we can provide something different, an alternative, and pushing against that tide.

David Corey:

Yeah again, that's such a good question because the models that people see, not only our students, but our adult fellow citizens, the models of political conversation that they see are very limited, and they're frankly combative and antagonistic. And you see that even on our news channels now, with very few exceptions, you see a kind of a grilling and interrogation with people who don't agree with you, and it's extremely competitive, and even war-like. And I think this way of viewing politics as war is an obstacle. If you want to name some obstacles, we've increasingly come to view our political participation almost as if we're two football teams fighting against each other, and we were going to cheer for one side and not the other at all, or worse yet, as a kind of war where we intend to demolish and annihilate the other side. Which of course, I shouldn't even have to point this out, but in the context of civil society where we can't move away from our enemies, war is really the wrong model for thinking about politics. I think the right model is a kind of a dialect, or dialectical conversation, where we're constantly negotiating ongoing truce among people with different interests, and trying to find things that they have in common. I think another obstacle, a kind of, maybe I'll try two different terms for it. One might resonate, or another one, but a kind of an ideological hardening of opinions. Another way to put this is to call it a kind of an intellectual arrogance that you consider your positions as settled in, and frankly insoluble. And I've had a lot of success in the classroom juxtaposing that way of thinking with a kind of an opening move with my students where I say, "Why don't we all admit that there's a lot we don't know, and that we would benefit from communicating with each other, and collaborating in a sort of posture of humility? And so that we could learn not only of what might be true or false in politics, but if we can't agree on what's true or false, we might at least come to an understanding of why we hold different positions." And that's actually a thing in itself because then Derek, then we actually have something in common at that point. Even though we differ in our opinions, we have in common, the effort we underwent to understand why we differ, and we have in common, this understanding. The Germans had a word for that and it comes from German political science, it means understanding, and it's a position you can get to, and it's very calming. And I think it alleviates a lot of our fraught dialogue when the people you're speaking to suddenly are people you know and understand, even though you don't agree. And so I think those are two obstacles, and I think those are some ways we try to overcome those at Baylor in Washington.

Derek Smith:

That's great. Dr. Corey, thank you. As we visit with Dr. David Corey and head into the final few moments of the program, I want to ask you, as you've demonstrated, as you kind of talk through that for us, I know you have some great programming that dives into that, to topics like that even more deeply. I mentioned last week, render unto Caesar. I know you had a program over the summer, a Christian leadership amidst COVID-19, that President Livingstone was a part of. Could you tell us just briefly a little bit about those programs, and if there are any things in particular as of late that have stood out to you as being particularly relevant now?

David Corey:

Yes, let me tell you two that that stood out, and then I'll go back and answer your first question about just sort of how we're doing all this. But I think two that really stand out, one was last night. And it doesn't just stand out because it was last night, I'm really proud of this event, and folks who want to hear it can go to the Baylor in Washington website. Go to past events, and there's a Zoom video is right there. But we had a Melissa Rogers, who in the Obama administration was the chief executive for the office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships. Democrat I assume, I didn't ask her, but I assume. I know she's a Christian, and she's a Democrat. And we had her on a panel with a man named Kelly Shackleford, who's the CEO and president of First Liberty, which is a law firm here in Washington, DC, that does more religious Liberty advocacy than I think any other law firm in the country. And he's, I take it he's a Republican. I didn't ask him as I say, but they definitely, they don't agree on everything. And we put them together and asked them some questions about how Christians should think about being political, and recognizing that there are quite a number of different ways that different kinds of Christians will answer that question. But what's so interesting about these two, they answered the question I think differently, but they both went to Baylor, and they're both first amendment religious freedom lawyers. They have so much in common, and if you want to see a generous, philosophical, charitable conversation across the divide, you watch that event from last night and it's frankly hopeful. And the other event that really stands out is from a year ago, and it's also on our website, but we did an event dedicated to the concept of rational disagreement. And we had two panels of folks, and the famous psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, who's written very much about how people come to hold different political positions, Jonathan Haidt was on the panel, Candace Vogler. It was a terrific panel, and again, a lot of clarity about how people can arrive rationally at different positions, and what we should do about that as a sort of pluralistic society. These events, maybe we put on about six a year, but on the one hand, they celebrate Baylor scholarship. They celebrate our Christian mission, they celebrate the history and traditions of our university. We used to always hold them in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill. We're now getting used to Zoom and it has its downside, but it also has its upside. We had an event with over 1,000 participants at the end of last year, over 1,000, which was just impossible. You can't do that in DC, we don't have a space like that. So there's an upside to it, but besides really highlighting Baylor's excellence, like I said before, we are trying to affect change for the good in the city. There aren't very many people in DC who are going to put on a Christian panel on Capitol Hill, and really weigh in with some wisdom about current policy issues that are actually being decided, so the space is just wide open. We should have been doing this our whole history. It's just wide open, and it's very exciting frankly, to be able to feel the impact of these panels, and to see Baylor really leading this way.

Derek Smith:

That's great. And you mentioned those panels, well worth people's time at baylor.edu/Washington. You mentioned you can see them under past events. Well, Dr. Corey, we are just about out of time, but I know as we look past this election and into 2021, honestly, there's still a lot that we don't know exactly what things are going to look like as we head into a new year. But as we look ahead, are there any programs or opportunities as you look at Baylor in Washington that you are excited about, particularly excited about in months ahead?

David Corey:

Oh yes, always. We've got to plan ahead. Of course, we plan to keep the semester program going semester after semester, and we're experimenting with dedicating some semesters to certain sub fields. For example, we've got some friends in environmental science who are going to participate in the leadership and the teaching of the Baylor in Washington program in the fall. That's exciting, I like being able to do that. Maybe we'll do something with our art history programs because of the museums and so forth. But you're right, with the election season leads us to maybe delay certain things that we can have a better conversation about after the election, than right now when everything is so politicized. And I think some of these things, just to give you one example, I think as a political theorist, certainly also as a Christian, I'm very interested in the question of income inequality in this country. And I think that that's something that some people think oh, only people on the left are worried about that, and people on the right aren't worried about that, and that's not true. And I want to, we're going to have panels that really look into, at least one, and I think two panels coming up, that we'll look into the extent to which we should be worried about inequality, economic inequality, what its causes are, and whether, and to what extent anything can be done about that without undermining and forfeiting the ways in which lightly regulated liberal capitalism actually does generate wealth, and does a tremendous amount of good. So these are really interesting philosophical, but also practical questions that I think Christians will be interested to hear people take seriously, and not just have talking points, but actually explore the issue deeply.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. Well, we will look forward to that, and hopefully see more on that as we move into the new year. And in the meantime, appreciate what you are doing and the opportunities that your students are receiving. I appreciate you taking the time to share with us. Thanks so much for joining us today.

David Corey:

Derek, very kind of you to throw a spotlight on Baylor in Washington. Thank you for your great questions.

Derek Smith:

Thank you very much for your great answers. Dr. David Corey, director of Baylor in Washington, and professor of political science in the honors program at Baylor, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.