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How political polarization turns people of faith against each other

People with different religious beliefs need to recognize the power of friendship across party lines, according to legal experts

The Word of Life Mural on the Theodore M. Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
The Word of Life Mural on the Theodore M. Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In today’s religious freedom battles, faith groups struggle to find allies across party lines.

Political allegiances outweigh religious principles, and everyone is worse off as a result, said attorney and scholar Asma Uddin during Monday’s Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

She illustrated her point with the experiences of the American Muslim community, of which she is a part. In the aftermath of attacks on mosques or other hate crimes, Muslims rarely enjoy the support of Americans who, in other contexts, advocate for strong religious rights, Uddin said.

“Many of the folks who support and even drive these (anti-Muslim) attacks are very concerned about their own religious freedom,” she said.

Asma Uddin, a religious liberty attorney and scholar, speaks during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Asma Uddin, a religious liberty attorney and scholar, speaks during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This hypocrisy is one of many problems created by growing political polarization, according to Uddin and other speakers. Across America, people of faith won’t step up to protect those who vote a different way.

“If a conservative (Christian) is going to oppose liberals, he or she is also going to oppose Muslims,” since they’re associated with the Democratic Party, said Uddin, who is the author of “The Politics of Vulnerability.”

To combat this toxic dynamic, religious freedom advocates must do more than simply raise their concerns. They need to start breaking down barriers between political and religious groups, said the Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, noting that this process can start close to home.

“We all should make friends with someone who is very different than us,” the pastor said.

The Rev. Edmonds-Allen, who is nonbinary and bisexual, spoke on seeing the power of friendship at work in ongoing conflicts between religious freedom and LGBTQ rights.

Through personal connections, we can all overcome the temptation to love and serve only people who think, vote and act just like us, the Rev. Edmonds-Allen said.

The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, executive director of Parity, speaks during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, executive director of Parity, speaks during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Forming deep, transformative friendships with members of other parties and faith groups is just one step toward resolving issues facing the country today, said Justin Giboney, co-founder and president of the AND Campaign.

He encouraged conference participants to also start taking action to ensure that religious freedom protections are available to all people in need.

“Rather than just saying something like, ‘I’m sorry for what happened in the past,’ you say, ‘I’m going to do something about it,’” Giboney said.

And by doing something to defend another faith group, you may, in the end, benefit yourself, conference speakers said, noting that the pursuit of true religious freedom is not a zero-sum game.

“We need each other,” Giboney said.

Justin Giboney, co-founder and president of the AND Campaign, speaks during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Justin Giboney, co-founder and president of the AND Campaign, speaks during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News