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

Why I’m Jealous of Liberals, and What Conservatives Can Do About It

painted hands

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

“Reductio ad Hitlerum”


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

In Memoriam: A Plea for a Different Discourse

tug of war

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

Resolving gun violence with passionate polemics wont work


I am sobered and frustrated by the news of recent shootings, and headlines cacophonic to the carols we sing at this time of year. And although I believe there are conversations to be had about gun control, I am also frustrated with the rhetoric from both sides of the debate because they so often employ alienation. Arguments laced with othering terms like “stupid liberals” and “clueless conservatives” may seem benign, but perpetuate the alienation that is epidemic in our politics and communities, which fertilizes seeds of hatred that eventually sprout in blossoms of bullets. Continue reading