by the staff of ICJS

From Supreme Court rulings to January 6th hearings, we have had a bright spotlight on the political and social polarization in our country. Emotions are raw and discussions quickly turn into arguments. Many of us are asking ourselves, as people of faith who believe in an interreligious society where religious difference becomes a powerful force for good, what do we do? How can we respond?

We cannot ignore or paper over the controversies and conflicts facing us as a country—but we are in a moment when we can do this differently. Instead of shouting at one another, taking to Twitter to attack those we disagree with, we need to disrupt the polarizing narrative.

One of the most disruptive things we can do in this moment is dialogue—to talk with someone who disagrees with us. We need dialogue instead of debate.

As a staff, we collected our own hard-won ideas on how best to do this. Here are six ideas (plus some links to news stories or articles we’ve found compelling) to get you started:

1. Recognize internal religious diversity.

There is no such thing as the Christian opinion — there is only a Christian opinion, for example. Religious communities hold diverse views on issues like abortion or prayer at school, and it is unhelpful to assume one position is normative for all.

2. Acknowledge emotions.

Strong feelings are rampant— anger, frustration, even despair. Name the emotions in the room, your own and those around you. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with the question: “What are you feeling?” This will be more disarming than the confrontational question “What do think?”

3. Listen for stories.

Aim to become a “story collector,” asking others for how they experience these issues. Then stop and actively listen to what they say.

4. Carry that story with you.

After hearing a story, keep it with you. It might lead you to think differently—or at least more compassionately.

5. Live with complexity and paradoxes.

Although binary categories are simpler, they aren’t helpful. Resist the stereotyping that comes from lumping people and opinions into simple categories. Know, too, that religion itself is a complex paradox: It has been the source of violence, while also fueling reconciliation, justice, and mercy.

6. Tap into the wisdom and hope from your religious tradition.

This is the time to call on those religious teachings, prayers, songs, practices, traditions, and rituals that have supported people facing challenging times.

Ultimately, we engage in dialogue to transform ourselves, realizing that we may not change the other person. But if we discover our shared values, we might find the common ground that is the beginning to building an interreligious society.