Newswise — To figure out how to talk about politics without getting in
virtual—or actual—fist fights, Wake Forest University School of Divinity
professor Michelle Voss Roberts says we should take our cues from a surprising
place – religion.
Religion and politics are notoriously divisive topics.
With the November elections on the horizon, discussing politics with friends and
family can be challenging. Many avoid conflict by talking only with like-minded
But Voss Roberts suggests we can learn something from what has
worked to encourage civil conversations about religion. She says the following
ground rules for interreligious dialogue are relevant for creating more peaceful
1. Assume the best. Be honest and sincere, and
expect the same intentions in those who differ from you.
2. Allow others
to define themselves. You are not talking to a stereotype or a caricature, but a
living, thinking person. When you describe their position, they should be able
to see themselves there.
3. Compare apples to apples. It is unfair to
compare the lofty ideals of one side with the missteps, gaffes, and constrained
actions of the other. Policy proposals belong beside policy proposals, track
records beside track records.
4. Develop a capacity for self-criticism.
We can only learn from one another if we are able to acknowledge our own
mistakes and admit that we do not have all the answers.
Why bother? “If
we set out with the purpose not of changing our dialogue partners but of
learning from them, what we learn changes us,” says Voss Roberts, assistant
professor of theology and culture. “We become more likely to see others as
complex, thoughtful human beings.” She adds, “Political and religious
affiliations form the bedrock of deeply held notions of truth, authority, and
identity. The entire world is at stake in political and religious disagreements,
yet genuine interchanges can surprise and delight us.”
This article was first published at www.newswise.com