Many of the tensions among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and between members and those that do not (or no longer) affiliate with the Church seem to boil down to different understandings of revelation. For example, questions about anachronisms in the Book of Mormon or the early Church’s practice of polygamy are fundamentally questions about the nature of revelation, the authenticity of purported revelations, and one’s obligations to those who claim the titles “prophet, seer, and revelator.” These questions have been simmering since the First Vision, flaring up from time to time in response to any number of issues, including, for example, the recent policy change regarding children of same-sex couples (i.e., How can you argue that both the original policy and its retraction are revelations or the result of revelation?). Continue reading
“Shame on everyone who allowed Trump to come to power! Because you didn’t vote for Hillary, you are guilty of, at best, accessory to crime or criminal negligence.”
Outbursts like this appear somewhat frequently on my social media feeds. Frustrated or frightened by the Trump administration, members of my network chastise the voters (i.e. small-minded fools or bigots) who brought Trump to office. Because a Republican president was elected, much of this kind of shaming currently comes from left-leaning folks, but I’m sure many conservatives do the same when the tables are turned, blaming an undesirable political outcome on the ignorance, stupidity, or moral depravity of the other side. I refer to this tendency as “voter shaming,” whether or not the shaming is made explicit, because its aim is to change political opinions/behavior by making certain voters feel ashamed of the way they voted. The perspective underlying voter shaming implies that the root cause of Trump’s election is the cumulative bad decisions of individual voters. Coming from a group of people who consistently assert that the root cause of outcomes other than the election (like poverty, for example) is ultimately not individual decisions but an inequitable system, this seems somewhat inconsistent.
In this post, I explore what it might mean to apply the same kind of system-level thinking to the election that Democrats generally apply to other social phenomena. What would happen if we viewed Trump’s election as the emergent result of a complex system, and not the additive sum of individual votes? Continue reading
In these divisive days, I’m drawn to the U.S. Civil War. Not only are its monuments a matter of debate, but something about that quintessential national division is cathartic to the sense of animosity and alienation that plague me every time I scroll through my newsfeed. Recent events like those in Charlottesville echo many of the motifs that played out in the Civil War, reminding us once again that our history is never entirely buried in the past. As in the days of Lincoln, the United States is in a moment of (re)definition, something David Brooks has referred to as an “national identity crisis.” Although the current crisis is not necessarily about federalism, states’ rights, and slavery, it certainly implicates race relations and the role of the government in legislating morality, and ultimately boils down to what it means to be American. The current contestation and negotiation of these questions may not culminate in war, but the battle lines are being drawn—gay marriage, abortion, immigration, health care, welfare—our own ideological Mason-Dixon lines.
I have turned to the Civil War to learn what I can about a divided America, and its ultimately victorious refusal to remain divided. Continue reading
In my previous post, I listed a number of tools we have discovered for resisting polarization on social media. In that search, we also came across a number of other groups and resources that seem to have similar goals, but are less interested in online spaces. As before, we are not associated with any of these groups, but like to think of this blog, with its aim to provide thoughtful, respectful, and nonpartisan (though admittedly somewhat conservative) commentary about contemporary issues, as very much aligned with their work. Check them out, and let us know what you think. And if you are aware of any other groups doing this kind of work, please let us know. Continue reading
If, like me, you’re tired of the seemingly unceasing stream of polarizing commentary and interactions, you may be interested in the following resources that seek to change the current trajectory of our social media discourse. We offer this as an initial collection of depolarizing resources. There may be more (and if you are aware of any, please let us know). As far as we can tell, however, this is the first compilation of an emerging toolbox for resisting polarization. Check them out and let us know what you think. Continue reading
I just finished watching Dean Ryan’s speech at the commencement ceremony of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in which he encouraged the graduates to “lead with grace.” I’ve always liked Dean Ryan, and I’ve been particularly impressed with him on multiple occasions. For example, although he is a rather liberal leader at a rather liberal institution, he has resisted one-sidedness by inviting conservative speakers to campus and holding real debates over sometimes partisan issues like charter schools. As a “conservative with liberal friends,” I consider Dean Ryan a liberal friend to conservatives–something that feels quite rare to me these days, especially in higher education. One of the things I appreciated about his speech is the way he was able to talk about his catholic upbringing and the theological connotation of the word grace in a non-religious setting–that alone was striking–but he was also able to do it without alienating a religiously diverse and secular audience. The speech itself was an example of bringing together differing perspectives into a unified whole, a rhetorical e pluribus unum. In a time of division, that kind of synthesis is lovely. Continue reading
[We’re happy to publish this guest post, written in response to “Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America,” by John Griffin.]
In his March 20 post, David takes on a hot topic of late: whether religious views should be granted a more prominent and respectful place in American political discussion. David’s answer – from his opening account of a God-fearing African American taxi driver to his warning that “failing to validate” religious voices will lead to social fragmentation – is an emphatic YES. Without a place for such expression, David argues, the public sphere would become exclusionary and – with respect to fostering social cohesion – ineffective.
Historically, David would seem to be arguing the obvious. After all, religious elements have always played a major role in American politics, and to deny them significant voice ignores history and reality. It turns out, for example, that one of the most religious groups in the American polity – measured by church attendance, prayer and members’ own self-identification – is African American Protestants, also one of the most loyal Democratic voting blocs. Why then should those who champion progressive causes and view such groups as important political allies go to such lengths to exclude religious views from political discussion? Continue reading
This resonated with my thoughts in my last blog post, so I thought I’d share it here. I stumbled upon this video, which appeared at the bottom of an article I was reading that also seems very much in line with The Brothers Sabey: Do the Culture Wars Really Represent America? Check both of them out, and let us know what you think!
Hakim’s car smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, but it was clean and he greeted me warmly. Hakim was an African-American man with a raspy voice and a slight southern accent. This was my first experience riding Lyft, and it was a pleasant one. He asked me about my work and told me about his—he recently retired as a parole officer, and drives for Lyft on the weekends. Our conversation eventually turned to politics. I didn’t know what to expect. In the wake of an election that had been described as a “whitelash,” I wanted to tread carefully. I tried to say things that would assure Hakim that I understood something about the racial tensions that were unsurfaced and aggravated during and in response to the election. I wanted him to know that I appreciated President Obama and that I had not supported Trump’s candidacy. I was surprised when he said, “You know, I had a real hard time with this election. I actually voted Republican in the last two. Just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Obama. Religious reasons, you know? I had the same problem with Hillary. But Trump?” The way he said “Trump,” sliding into a raspy falsetto, made me laugh. That and my surprise: a middle-aged, middle-class African-American man voting for McCain and Romney rather than Obama, due to religiously-motivated objections (to gay marriage and abortion, as it turned out). Serendipitously, perhaps, our destination was a church. As I got out, he said, “God bless, my friend.”
I know that people of color are not monolithic, just as I recognize that many are forced to uncomfortable compromises when voting, trying to participate within a system that has often explicitly discouraged their participation, voting for what seems to be the lesser of two evils and the least likely to provoke direct harm to them and their loved ones. It is very likely that Hakim is not consistently conservative. But in a defining moment of American politics, he voted Republican. I’ve often wondered which candidate he voted for in 2016. He never told me, but apparently it wasn’t a particularly straightforward question for him. Continue reading