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
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
Actually, a surprisingly amiable conversation. We release this fifth Courteous Conversation about minimum wage fittingly on Labor Day. Today celebrates the contribution of laborers—sometimes underpaid and overworked—to our nation’s prosperity and wellbeing.
It was not easy to find people like Dan and Jonathan.
The first thing to know is that Dan and Jonathan are both Mormons, a generally conservative group, and yet they disagree over whether homosexual marriage should have been legalized. Dan is strong, confident, and has a beard while Jonathan is clean shaven and skinny.
David explains the rules of Courteous Conversations and then pauses. The camera is already rolling, but as David is about to ask Jonathan to state his beliefs about homosexuality, he second guesses himself, fumbles a little, and then says, “you’re on camera, so we understand if you don’t want to say something.” Continue reading
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
I’m jealous of my liberal friends. I’m jealous because they seem to have a corner on the compassion market. Their political representatives champion the poor, minorities, and marginalized, while mine seem intent on invoking Reaganomics and the importance of a balanced budget. Although the economy is fundamentally important, the rhetorical superiority of the liberals should be evident. (Rhetoric 101: When you want to create a following, you should not turn to your accountants for most of the speech material.) It may well be that a more conservative fiscal and economic policy will end up benefiting the most people, but the people, not the policies, should be the focus. As I have written, I tend to believe that conservative principles will ultimately be more beneficial than liberal policies (although I think there are exceptions); however, I find liberal rhetoric much more compelling–it feels more altruistic and mission-driven: Let’s make this a truly equitable country! While equality is not an infallible ideal, it is a powerful rallying cry. Continue reading
I get it. The bad guys in these movies are like the Nazis (that means they must be really bad). Nothing is more frightening to the contemporary Western psyche than the rise of another Hitler. In our mind, Nazi Germany is the quintessence of evil. Although there was undoubtedly evil in the Nazi regime, I wonder if our obsession with Hitler and the Nazis has become unhealthy. Continue reading
I recently learned of the passing of Steven H. Webb, a relatively obscure theologian who taught at Wabash college. Although he had a successful academic career, you probably would not have heard of him unless you have an academic interest in Karl Barth and the metaphysics of matter, or happened to attend one of his lectures or stumble upon his writing. For me, it was the latter. I don’t know how exactly I discovered his book Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from Latter-Day Saints, but I devoured it upon discovery. The acknowledgements begin with the phrase, “Studying Mormonism has made me a better Christian,” and Chapter 1 starts with, “I am not a Mormon, but sometimes I wish I were one.”
I actually cried as I read Webb’s examination of my religion simply because it was kind. (It was also insightful and informed, but the kindness is what set it apart.) I had grown so accustomed to reading commentary on Mormonism that I found short-sighted, biased, condescending, and demeaning, that this open-armed and nuanced discussion felt like the first warm day after a long winter. I didn’t even realize that I had been figuratively clenching my teeth, and tensing my shoulder and neck muscles against the cold until I sensed that it was no longer needed; I relaxed into the warmth of Webb’s writing. Although we never met, I mourn with his loved ones for his death. I did not feel comfortable writing my condolences in the online guestbook alongside those who actually knew him, but I wanted to honor him for the grace he showed me through his kind and thoughtful dealings with my community of faith. Continue reading
Loss of Civil Discourse
As I think about tonight’s presidential debate, I bemoan the loss of civil discourse—though my imaginary age of civility may be romanticized a bit. It is, however, true that over the last fifty years we have become more polarized. But it is also true that in the 1840s and 1850s “partisanship was so extreme congressmen took guns to the House of Representatives to protect themselves.” Continue reading