When the bridges between groups of people collapse, civility breaks down and polarization breads hatred and violence. Political and religious polarization in the United States will become even more heated as people move toward another presidential campaign and election year. “Project 2025,”for example, led by the Heritage Foundation, is a coalition of more than 65 right-wing organizations putting in place personnel and policies to recommend to any Republican who may win in 2024. Supporters of “Project 2025” have embraced the antidemocratic ideology of authoritarian leaders like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán.
In a highly polarized society, people revert to a kind of primitive tribalism with a strong dogmatic intolerance: the tendency to reject, and consider as inferior, wrong, or evil any ideological belief that differs from one’s own. Right now I can think of some highly publicized politicians as well as some contemporary Catholic and Protestant “leaders” caught up in strong dogmatic intolerance. In today’s Catholic Church, for example, it is easy to recognize strong polarization. Archbishop Timothy Broglio (b.1951), is the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as Archbishop for the Military Services, USA. Broglio is a culture warrior who blames the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis on gay and “effeminate” priests. As Archbishop for Military Services, Broglio voiced opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and he showed strong support for the Donald Trump administration’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the United States military.
At the end of June 2023, Archbishop Alexander Sample (b.1960) of Portland Oregon, closed the Department of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Portland, because school officials revolted against his guidelines on “gender ideology.” Two Catholic school principals have resigned and teachers have had their contracts terminated after refusing to sign an archdiocesan statement promising to uphold the Archbishop’s directive. The Portland Archbishop attributes the increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ to Satan. Blaming Satan, of course, is a convenient way to avoid any serious discussion about an issue.
It was also in June that the US Supreme Court, on June 30, 2023, decided in favor of a Christian web designer in Colorado who refused to create websites to celebrate same-sex weddings out of personal religious convictions. This Supreme Court decision opens the door for supporting — as First Amendment rights — other discriminatory acts launched by white supremacists, antisemites, Islamaphobes and other hate-filled individuals and groups.
People with dogmatic rigidity in their mindsets have difficulty processing opposing ideas and information, and a tendency to denigrate those who oppose their position. People have strong “feelings” about other people and issues, based on ideological, racial, religious, or gender issues. Facts are distorted or ignored. And what is missing, of course, in so much of today’s polarized rhetoric and behavior is a focus on basic moral values: Treating each other with civility and respect.
So what do we do? Here are my brief suggestions for combating polarization:
We need to promote good continuing education for people at all levels in the Christian community. Yes there is a lot of ignorance.
We need to be good listeners. We have to first of all humbly listen to the other if we want the other to listen to us.
We must stop using denigrating language. This becomes especially important, for example, when telling jokes. The dumb blond jokes? The Jewish jokes? The Polish Jokes? Or the Stupid Republican jokes? Or the Subversive Democrat jokes?
We must decide to be part of the solution. When questioned, we can explain why we think the way we do and respectfully ask others why they think the way they do.
We should use social media wisely. These days, social media may have done more to promote polarized taking sides than seeing the world through the eyes of another.
We must be alert to phony facts and dishonest information. Finding the truth these days can be difficult. Truth twisters – like FOX NEWS — can be very popular and appealing.
Last but not least, we need to be humble truth seekers. It is absolutely essential to remember that no one has all the truth. No political party. No particular church. No particular religion. No particular country or nation.
And I conclude with my favorite quotation from Walter Brueggemann (b.1933) United Church of Christ ordained minister and greatly respected Hebrew Scriptures scholar: “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in an illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”