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The (sometimes forgotten) power of faith

Organizations working to heal the country’s political divides often lean on religious communities to implement potential solutions

Demonstrators bow their heads as Denver Broncos linebacker Jeremiah Aaaaochu leads a prayer during a rally in Civic Center Park over the death of George Floyd Saturday, June 6, 2020, in downtown Denver.
David Zalubowski, Associated Press
This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

Political polarization is on the rise in the United States and so is the number of organizations working to solve it. I met with two such groups last week and was surprised by the thoughts they had to share about faith.

What I expected to hear were the type of concerns that conservative commentator David French shared in a recent column on malice and misinformation. French wrote that faith groups are exacerbating political divides by failing to live up to the biblical commandment to love and care for our neighbors, even when those neighbors vote differently than we do.

“Vast numbers of the Christian political coalition do not even try,” he argued.

Even if the speakers weren’t that critical of religious institutions’ behavior, I figured they’d bring up data showing that many houses of worship are hemorrhaging members. Referencing such trends could be a way to discuss the potentially declining value of church-based events.

When the panel on polarization began at last week’s Faith Angle Forum conference, it quickly became clear that I was wrong on both counts. As it turns out, the organizations taking part — One America Movement and Stand Together — love partnering with churches and believe religious groups still have the power to heal political divides.

As Andrew Hanauer, One America’s president and CEO put it, the number of Americans who belong to a church may be dropping, but it’s still very, very high.

“Faith communities offer the best chance to combat our polarization,” he said.

Now that I’ve had my false assumptions corrected, I’m looking forward to learning more about faith-based efforts to heal political divides. Hanauer and the other speaker, Brian Hooks, said that churches bringing Democrats and Republicans together for service projects or discussion groups are benefitting the whole country, and I want to believe them.


Fresh off the press


Term of the week: ASMR

ASMR is an acronym that stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. It refers to the soothing and sometimes tingly feeling that may come over you when someone whispers in your ear or massages your scalp. It’s kind of the opposite of the shudder that run downs your spine when you think of nails scraping across a chalkboard.

ASMR-related videos are very popular on YouTube, since some viewers find them as relaxing as doing a guided meditation or reading next to a warm fire. Religion News Service recently reported on the rise of Christian ASMR content, which features people offering quiet prayers or whispering Bible verses.


What I’m reading ...

Ryan Burge, a political scientist and pastor who pops up often in this newsletter, released a fascinating new analysis last week on birth rates and religion. Using data from the Cooperative Election Study, Burge explored which faith groups have the most kids and what this information tells us about the future of religious practice.

Earlier this year, I wrote about Native Americans battling to retain access to sacred sites and the reasons why their religious freedom claims sometimes fall on deaf ears. One of the groups I wrote about has a hearing coming up later this month and, in preparation, some of the people involved are trekking from Arizona to northern California to raise awareness of what’s at stake in the case. Religion News Service previewed their “spiritual convoy” last week.


Odds and ends

Last week, Fox News Channel celebrated the 25th anniversary of its launch. My colleague, Jennifer Graham, marked the occasion by speaking with four people who’ve been with Fox News the whole time and analyzing how the network has changed the country.

Halloween will be be here before we know it! If you’re looking for a mystery book that will help you embrace the season, I recommend “Hallowe’en Party,” which is part of Agatha Christie’s “Hercule Poirot” series.