Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America

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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

Trump’s Mormon (Tabernacle Choir) Problem

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

It is no secret that Trump has a Mormon problem (see this NY Times article and this Washington Post article, for example). During the troubled campaign, the LDS Church released a statement implicitly responding to (and opposing) Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, and church-owned Deseret News published an editorial condemning Trump’s misogynistic behavior and rhetoric, calling him to withdraw from the race–something all the more notable because the newspaper had not taken sides politically for 80 years. And although Trump ultimately won Utah, Mormons (in Utah and elsewhere) opposed Trump’s presidency more than any other traditionally conservative religious group. Yesterday, it was announced that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be performing at Trump’s election. Continue reading

When did Privileged Become a Handicap?

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I don’t like how we talk about privilege. It’s like we’re asking people to apologize—please excuse my privilege. It is always evoked derogatorily as something that stands in the way of seeing clearly—something that blinds us from seeing another perspective accurately. Or it is the dynamic by which society is made inequitable. And when people acknowledge their privilege, it is seldom with adulation for the people who helped them succeed, but as a form of virtue posturing. They seem to hope that by acknowledging it, people will be able to see past it. Like it’s an ugly blemish on their otherwise upstanding character.   Continue reading

Finding Charity for Pedophiles and Rapists

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“We are too hard on them,” the man says. He wears a blue button up shirt tucked into his slacks. He practices law downtown on the 32nd floor of a skyscraper. We’re talking about one of his cases where he’s helping a man get out of jail and return to his family. The man has been in jail for 8 years and during that time he missed out on seeing his children grow. Instead his wife made ends meet. And miraculously she didn’t divorce him. People said she should, but she didn’t.

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The Problem with Charter Schools: courteous conversation #4

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Maura-Lee

For a lot of us choosing the right school for our children is an important and stressful question. We even buy houses based on school districts. This is a choice that could determine the future success of our children. So it’s no surprise that people have strong feelings around this topic. To David, charter schools offer some attractive alternatives, but Maura-Lee has large reservations.

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How to have Courteous Conversations about Polarizing Issues

Video trailer for Courteous Conversations

At the beginning of the summer, David and I set out to find a way to help people who disagree over polarizing issues—even passionately, and often angrily—talk productively together. Fed up with the antagonistic political discourse so prevalent (and aggravated by the current presidential campaign), we wanted to create a situation where people would actually listen to the other side. (For a glimpse into why this kind of conversation is so important, check out this YouTube about political discrimination.) To do this, we had to remove incentives to argue, create a situation where participants felt safe, and take away platforms for rebuttal.

Here’s what we did: Continue reading