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Perhaps because it’s part of my job to talk to strangers, I rarely do it when I’m off the clock.

When I’m getting my oil changed or sitting in the viewing gallery at my son’s gymnastics class, I’m much more likely to stare at my phone than strike up conversations with random passersby.

Last week, as I read Pew Research Center’s latest report on the favorability of various faith groups, I was reminded once again why keeping to myself in public is kind of a bad habit.

The survey showed that interacting with people who are different than ourselves helps us learn about commonly misunderstood groups and often come to like them more.

“Across the board, those who know someone from a religious group (but are not members of that group themselves) are more likely than those who do not know someone in the group to offer an opinion of the group — and usually to express more positive feelings,” Pew reported.

For example, 42% of U.S. adults who know someone who is Jewish hold a favorable view of Jews, compared to 21% of Americans who don’t know a Jew. More than 1 in 5 people who know a Muslim (24%) or atheist (21%) view these groups favorably, compared to around 1 in 10 people who don’t.

Interestingly, for evangelicals and Latter-day Saints, personal interactions don’t just boost favorable ratings, but negative ones, too. Americans who know a member of one of these two groups are more likely than Americans who don’t to hold some sort of solid opinion on them, whether positive or negative.

Although that’s more of a mixed outcome than the trends tied to Jews, Muslims and atheists, I still believe it’s better for evangelicals and Latter-day Saints to be judged on an actual interaction than whatever stereotypes are floating around in the world.

The survey made me want to become a cheerleader for in-person interactions, despite my own inclination to avoid eye contact.

Tell me: What are your socializing habits? Have you had positive experiences telling new acquaintances about your faith or hearing about their beliefs?

Fresh off the press

How Americans feel about Latter-day Saints and other faith groups, according to a new Pew survey

Term of the week: Avi Kwa Ame

Avi Kwa Ame, which is also known as the Spirit Mountain area of southern Nevada, is a spiritually significant area of land in the Mojave Desert. A number of tribes describe Avi Kwa Ame as their “creation site,” according to The New York Times.

“Their stories place it at the center of the universe,” the article said.

In the near future, President Joe Biden is expected to designate the Spirit Mountain area as a national monument and thereby protect it from development. Energy industry insiders had been eyeing it as a site for solar and wind projects, the Times reported.

“I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that’s central to the creation story of so many tribes,” Biden told Native leaders last year, per the article.

What I’m reading...

As I begin to think about how to approach my article previewing oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s Christian postal worker case, it’s been fun to see how other outlets have added context to the debate. My favorite discovery so far comes from Christianity Today, which put together a timeline highlighting the many times Christians have protested Sunday mail delivery throughout history.

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The King’s College brings young people from across the country to New York City for an intimate, but also horizon-expanding educational experience. Students become part of a very small Christian campus in a very big, diverse city and learn what they’re like in both settings (along with a number of other things). This summer, King’s is expected to close amid dramatic financial struggles. The New York Times took a look at what that means for its students.

Earlier this month, NPR took listeners (and readers) behind the scenes of a University of Maryland class on caring for pregnant sheep. (No, seriously!) The experience sounds very stressful, but also very cute.

Odds and ends

Every year at the Religion News Association conference, attendees, including me, gossip about where the next gathering will or should be held. My favorite suggestion this year came from a friend who wants RNA to host its next annual conference on a cruise ship. Little did he know that some experts on Latter-day Saint women’s history have already embraced this unique plan and will be setting sail this summer.

Speaking of the RNA conference, here’s a picture of me in action on a panel about religion and sports.

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