By The Gazette Editorial Board
Politics and religion just don’t mix, goes the saying. And our current national climate of often polarized public debate provides ample evidence.
Nonetheless, a local group of clergy and other engaged citizens wants to help people tackle those two topics. Why?
“Because our society is sorely lacking in civil dialogue, locally and nationally, and there’s so much prejudice” that’s rooted in misunderstanding, Connie Ryan Terrell, who leads the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, told us last week.
Hard to argue with that.
The new Cedar Rapids Intersections, which the Alliance is helping organize, begins Friday. Its goal is to promote “civil conversations where religion and politics intersect.” The monthly event will be modeled after a similar one in Des Moines that’s five years old and averages about 60 people at its monthly meetings. In just over an hour, people from various faith and political walks meet for lunch, chat with someone who’s “different” from them, listen to a speaker, and wrap up with a Q-and-A session.
The subjects that have most often generated the most passionate debate at the Des Moines meetings have been the Islam tradition and lesiban-gay-bisexual-transgender rights. Passion is to be expected, Ryan Terrell said, as long as people are civil and don’t resort to personal attacks. In fact, the better they understand each other’s political positions and faith traditions, the more likely they are to develop respectful relationships.
Instead of demonizing other people and cultures, there’s opportunity to find ways to work together.
If a contentious issue is important, then it deserves robust but civil discussion, not avoidance, said Rev. Tom Capo of Cedar Rapids, member of the local Intersections steering committee and the Interreligious Council of Linn County.
Good point. Too often, people shy away from such topics or avoid people of different faiths or political backgrounds. Thus, misunderstandings simmer endlessly and sometimes boil over into destructive behavior.
Intersections can advance the community conversation — and the community. It’s a way everyone can contribute, learn, improve relationship-building skills and carry the lessons into our society’s niches.
The big question for all of us: Are we willing to reach out and risk being a little uncomfortable in order to find common ground with those who are “different” from themselves?
n Comments: thegazette.com/category/opinion/editorial, email@example.com
n What: Intersections monthly luncheon, presentation and discussion
n When: 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. the first Friday of the month, beginning Sept. 7
n Where: First Presbyterian Church, 310 Fifth St. SE, Cedar Rapids
n Cost: $10 ($5 for students) at the door (includes lunch)
n Reservations required: By Tuesday before each event; call (319) 364-6148 or email CRintersections@interfaithallianceiowa.org
n First up: Dennis Goldford, professor of political science, Drake University: “The Constitution of Religious Freedom: God, Politics and the First Amendment”