Associate Director, Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Georgetown University
Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
Kim Daniels, associate director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, discusses how political polarization effects the American religion community. This conversation is a continuation of our last Religion and Foreign Policy webinar, entitled “Faith, Polarization, and the 2020 Election."
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy webinar series. I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. As a reminder, the webinar is on the record and the video and transcript will be made available on our website CFR.org and on our iTunes podcast channel, Religion and Foreign Policy. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
So we're delighted to have Kim Daniels with us today. Kim Daniels is the associate director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. She partnered with the Initiative to help lead the “Convening on Overcoming Polarization in 2018” and is a key contributor to all Initiative programs. Ms. Daniels was appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication in 2016. She's a consultor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty and has been a lead advisor to the U.S. bishops and Catholic organizations on issues where Church teachings intersect with public life, including immigration, human life and dignity, religious liberty, and care for creation. So, Kim, thanks very much for being with us. It would be great if you could talk a little bit about the effect that political polarization is having on the American religious community and how you think we should all come together.
DANIELS: Sure, thanks so much, Irina, and thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this discussion, and thanks to all of you for being a part of it. I'm so glad to have a chance for this conversation on faith and polarization 2020. It's a topic that I work closely on in my two professional roles. As Irina mentioned, I'm with Georgetown's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. And we work to promote principal dialogue on Catholic social thought and national and global issues in a polarized nation and Church. We try to build bridges across religious and ideological and political divisions. And we've tried to encourage a new generation of Catholic leaders to see their faith as an asset in public life, because we think that bringing in new and diverse voices is one real tool to combat polarization. I'm also a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, as Irina mentioned, and that role has given me a lot of perspective on this topic that we're here to discuss today. I've learned so much in it. I've first of all gotten a renewed perspective on the global nature of our church. It's not too long ago that we were a few hundred million mostly European church, I would say, and today, we're a global church with 1.3 billion people around the world. And U.S. Catholics, of course, are just a small part of that. And so it's really given me that broader perspective. I've also learned from Pope Francis, who I think really offers a model for how to deal with very difficult issues and how to bring our principles to public life regardless of your faith.
And so with that, I look forward to opening up this conversation to questions. But first, I'd like to give my own thoughts for a little bit and some initial remarks on the topic. And first I'd like to talk about our current context of division and polarization. Next, potential responses to polarization. And in particular, I'd like to draw on Catholic social thought and Pope Francis's recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. And finally, as the new administration takes office, I'd like to talk about maybe some hopeful avenues for finding common ground. So with that, let's get started.
First, our current context of crisis and division. We're facing several crises all at once, as you know, right? COVID-19 has been a medical and social and economic crisis. It's revealed a lot of underlying problems that we have. The economic crisis stemming from COVID-19, or revealed by it, has seen more and more people suffering from job loss and a housing crisis, they are needing food and sustenance and stability. And faith-based ministries, of course, have seen an increased demand because of this, and at the same time, decreased funding. So our schools and hospitals and social service agencies are all suffering through this. We've obviously faced a crisis of racial injustice, and we're continuing to face that now. And it's been brought and renewed attention to this critical problem. And I could add many, many more issues to this list, of course, that [inaudible] today. At the same time, I want to focus on one in particular and that's this crisis of hyper-polarization that we've been talking about, especially in the context of this election. I don't have to tell you that our current environment is hostile and divisive and tribal and toxic. There are many broad forces that drive this—globalization, the crisis of institutions, a crisis of community and solidarity, and a loss of social trust. In particular, we look to a widening gap between people based on their partisan allegiances. And of course media, and in particular, social media, amplifies this sense of division and crisis and that in turn erodes trust and undermines authority. President Trump has spent the last four years stoking division, stoking anger at every turn, and weaponizing issues, and this has helped fuel this division and, of course, he's often provoked the response as well.
The Catholic Church provides somewhat of a case study in polarization and the lessons that we've learned from thinking about how to resist that in our church, I think, can be applied more broadly. We see that politics drives too many people's faith instead of faith driving in politics. And this polarization just seeps into our church as well. We see disaffiliation of young people. We're facing a loss of a generation and young people are stopping [inaudible] with our institutions, including the church, and we're really feeling in particular the loss of young women very strongly. In our church, the abuse crisis has led to anger and anguish among Catholics—just this past week we saw the McCarrick report released by the Vatican. And we see a movement towards responsibility and accountability and transparency. But there's so much more to be done. And of course this has also sparked a lack of trust and a lack of credibility that has led to increased polarization. And of course, COVID-19, as I mentioned earlier, is a social and pastoral issue. It's caused a loss of community and isolation as people can't go to church and being with people who are in their parishes or in their communities. And it's a financial crisis as well.
So what are some responses to this polarization that we see both in our nation and in my faith community but I'm sure in your faith communities as well, because I know it tracks across different groups? I think, in general, our initiative has learned a number of different lessons. I want to talk about, first, spotlight another colleague of ours, Amy Uelmen and Michael Kessler. Their work has really pointed to a response to polarization in the classroom that has lessons that go more broadly. And that's, first, to focus on strengthening relationships, to think about not changing other people's minds about substantive positions so much as complicating the way that they think about it, approaching those as real relationships. So thinking of people you're talking with, thinking of your interlocutors as people who have real persons who you disagree with and come with a full complexity of ideas and backgrounds to the conversation. And they also call for a hermeneutic of goodwill. And that means obviously not rushing to judgment, not imposing preexisting frameworks on people, and prioritizing reflection over reaction.
I also want to talk about the lessons we've learned in our initiative. The first is that there's a real hunger, there's a hunger for principled dialogue, and there's a hunger for ending this polarization or at least minimizing it. The hunger is growing. We see it not just in DC, but we see it nationally and globally, as well. Our last gathering on the subject, an online gathering and dialogue, had a call in from a refugee camp in Uganda. I think people are really, really looking for a way to talk about this issue regardless of where you live. For us, we've learned a lesson that we want to root our response to polarization in prayer and the sacraments and the principles of our faith. Pope Francis says in Fratelli Tutti, this new encyclical that I'll talk about in a minute, "If the music of the gospel ceases to sound in our homes, and our public squares, and our workplaces, and our political and financial life, then we will no longer hear the strains that challenge us to defend the dignity of every man and woman." And it's that that we want to bring to public life. We want to bring our principles and we want to root them again in our faith.
And again, I think that applies across faith communities. For us, it means bringing the principles of Catholic social thought to bear in public life. We see it as critical to resisting polarization in our current environment. We feel that Catholic social thought provides a moral vocabulary and architecture for assessment, analysis, and action. And we believe that the principles that we look to, the equal dignity of all, the responsibility to work together for the common good, the special responsibility to care for the poor and vulnerable and resist the throwaway culture as Pope Francis says. And most of all, the desire to work for solidarity and community are principles that extend again across faith traditions, and to people of no faith. And we believe that that is a common ground on which people can come together. In focusing on that we often find ways to come together around issues that are very difficult to talk about. Another principle that we look to when we think about how to resist polarization, another lesson that we've learned, is that dialogue is crucial. It's central to our approach and our initiative. And it's our sense of what we talk about when we talk about dialogue is principled dialogue. So we're not looking for a least common denominator or a mushy middle, but we know, that again, as Pope Francis says, “in a pluralistic society, dialogue is the best way to realize what ought always to be affirmed and respected apart from a femoral consensus.” So we think dialogue itself has an impact that when you model dialogue, you're showing people that hostility and division does not have to be the approach that we take.
We're showing people that we don't have to stay in our own isolated bubbles and listen to our own media or our own allies, but instead can branch out and learn from others. We show people that you can hold fast to your principles and still engage with others even when they disagree. And we show people that building relationships is crucial. We really believe that building face to face relationships is important. And obviously, that's been very difficult in this time of COVID. And at the same time, when we can do it, we know that it bridges racial and ideological and political divides. Particularly generationally, I think, it's important to bring people together. We had a reinvention, a national convening on overcoming polarization that we had at the Initiative.
One of the best images that I take from that we brought together about a hundred leaders from around the country, Catholic leaders, to talk about how we can work against polarization in our church so that we would have a more effective public witness. And after three days of being together, people really were becoming closer. And one of the images that we all took away was Professor Robert George of Princeton, a well-known conservative leader, and Father Jim Martin, who is a progressive Catholic in many ways, and both of whom, of course, share so much because they share our Catholic faith and they share a belief in our principles and they share a common baptism and creed. And even though they disagree on many issues, there was a moment where they put their arms around each other, took a selfie, and posted it on Twitter. And of course, it made both of their sides blow up, both of them say, how could this be happening, but in fact, what they were doing was modeling the friendship and modeling the kind of engagement that gets us together over our differences.
And finally, we also think one lesson we've learned is that diversity is crucial and young people are crucial. We really make an effort at the Initiative to lift up the voices of young people, the voices of women, the voices of people of color. We believe that this makes the conversation richer, it brings people out of their lanes and makes them have a conversation that is robust. And it's really, really worked for us. We just in the past, I think in the past, since we went online for COVID, I think almost 50 percent, of our participants' discussants have been people of color, 50 percent women. That wasn't a target, that wasn't in our mind as a number we had to hit. We just were really working to broaden the conversation and make interesting and bring excellence to it and also bring a rich diversity of voices.
The final lesson I think that we've learned in the Initiative, and then I'll just move on to Pope Francis really quickly, is that rooting our efforts in service to the poor and vulnerable is key. Sister Norma Pimentel runs Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and she was at our convening on polarization. At Georgetown, where here we all are talking about polarization and these high-level issues and many of the conversation somewhat abstract, and Sister Norma's turn to speak came and her panel came and she stood up and she said, "I can tell you that there's no polarization at the border. We're too busy. We're just getting together. We're trying to help people in need." She said, "I work closely with Border Patrol agents. They call me when they need help with someone who is in need. I call them when I need some flexibility. We work together to respond to people in need." So I think for all of our faith communities, rooting it in service to the vulnerable can often help us overcome polarization.
Now, as I said earlier, I think Pope Francis is a real model for us on how to engage with people even when you disagree with them. He shows instead of telling, right? He uses actions instead of words. And he really does, again, prioritize service to the least of these, [inaudible] church for the poor, going out to the margins and meeting people where they are. He’s recently written an encyclical, a letter addressed to all people of goodwill on the current moment in the context we're in called Fratelli Tutti, and it's directly addressed to the problem we're here today discussing, which is faith and polarization. He talks about it in the context of our current moment. He talks about crisis and division and polarization. That's what drives and shapes this document, this new statement. It's obviously in the context of the pandemic and this idea of hyper-polarization. And I want to set the stage for it a little bit. This is coming out, Pope Francis spoke in Bari, Italy, last February right as the pandemic was sort of starting to hit its stride and he said, "The solution is not to draw our sword against one another, not to flee from the times in which we live, but active love, humble love, and love to the end." And it was this idea that drove his reflections throughout the spring and summer and now into the fall with this new document, Fratelli Tutti. And so we can remember that he was in St. Peter's Square, I'm not sure if all of you might remember this image, in March, giving an Urbi et Orbi address, an address "to the city and to the world." He was standing alone, in the dark, in the rain, an address that said be not afraid, right, focus on that, that we are all in this together. Over the summer, he talked extensively about principles of Catholic social thought in his Wednesday audiences. He brought them to the fore, and again, he talked about community and solidarity and standing with the poor and vulnerable.
And then in October, Fratelli Tutti was published. And that drew all this together. And in that its themes were very much in line with his priorities in his other major works like Evangelii Gaudium [The Joy of the Gospel] or Laudato Si' [Praise Be to You]. So he looks outward, not inward. Instead of focusing on what's going on in the church, he looks out to serving the poor. He sees us all as one part of an interconnected world and family. And he raises up the poor and marginalized. He focuses on the parable of the Good Samaritan. And he says: "The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project." So it's basically in this reflection on how the Church is to be in the world today. And the answer to that reflection, I think, is so beautiful. He says, "It's a home with open doors. We're not a fortress. We are a home with open doors. Everybody has a home here with us." And he says that that's part of how we respond to polarization. We reach out to others, we welcome others, and we welcome dialogue. How should we engage in public life? He sees it through the lens of what he calls political fraternity. And in that political fraternity, he says that we look for, again, keeping the poor first, renewing the voice of principles like equal dignity of all human persons and solidarity and community in our public conversations, resisting division, recognizing the tension between local and global issues, and recognizing that prioritizing the local can often bring people together. But most of all, and this might be the most countercultural thing that the Church teaches, he recognizes that politics is a good thing, that there's something there that's more noble than posturing or trying to win a debate or an argument or cynicism in division. And he says, and he raises a question, he says, "Here's what we should ask. How much love that I put into my work? What did I do for the progress of our people? What mark did I leave on the life of society? How much social peace did I sow?” Some of you might recognize that because it was quoted by President-Elect Joe Biden, then a candidate, in October just after Fratelli Tutti was published, and he said he was going to be looking to those questions. And again, he really did prioritize this idea that he would be working towards healing and working towards ending division.
So I want to end by just talking about some hopeful avenues that I see for resisting polarization and finding common ground as the new administration takes office. Of course we share, there are many commonalities, many areas for common ground. For my faith tradition, the Catholic Church and working with our second Catholic president, that of course is a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all, caring for the marginalized and poor, working on issues of migration and refugee issues as well. President-Elect Biden has already promised to lift the refugee cap and he did that at a gala event—an online gala—for Jesuit Refugee Services hosted by the wonderful Catholic laywoman, Joan Rosenhauer, who heads that organization. So there's much common ground. Other issues will be more difficult, of course, again, for my faith tradition, and that's abortion and then a certain set of religious liberty issues. I think our general approach when we talk about these kind of difficult issues should be to engage and persuade, to look for dialogue again and not demonization, to collaborate where we agree, to dialogue where we can engage, and to respectfully disagree where we must. But most of all to always sit at the table with each other and not to question other people's motives. There's been some particular success already, the National Task Force on Election Crises brought a lot of religious leaders together. I know that Melissa Rogers was on the first part of this presentation, and she and E.J. Dionne have done a wonderful report that has many areas of agreement in it on religious liberty issues that we can all come together on. Of course, there will be issues of disagreement as well. And again, those will surround issues regarding religious liberty here at home. Of course, there'll be many areas of agreement in terms of increasing religious liberty for people, communities who have not felt it during this last administration. But my main hope for the new administration is that it follows through on this idea of healing this idea of seeking common ground, because I think that will build trust with those who come at this discussion cynical, fearful, on the other side of that divine. So that's where we end. And again, I hope we can talk a little bit more about places where we might find common ground, about how all our fates enrich public life. And I look forward to that conversation. So thanks, Irina, whatever, I'd love to have some questions.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Kim, appreciate it. And now we'll go to all of you. You can raise your hand by clicking on the participants icon at the bottom of the screen and I will call on you. Or if you're on a tablet, click on the "more" button on the upper right-hand corner to raise your hand there. And then you can also submit your question in the Q&A—write it. And when I do call on you, please, if you could identify yourself so that it gives us context of who you are. So I'm going to first go to Azza Karam.
KARAM: Thank you very much indeed. It's such a brilliant presentation, Kim. And thank you, Irina, for organizing yet another brilliant conversation and discussion. Kim, I just wanted to point to the fact that you very eloquently analyze the series of things that came towards Fratelli Tutti, the Pope's latest encyclical. I wonder if, perhaps I overlooked, I didn't hear you, but there was also a very important step there that I think also speaks to social cohesion dynamics, which is that there was a document on human fraternity that was co-developed between the Holy See and the pope, in particular, and the imam, Grand Imam of al-Azhar. Now I think there's two elements, if I may, and please do feel free to either correct me or speak to it. But overlooking that, as part of the steps that were taken to get to Fratelli Tutti is slightly akin to silencing a very critical conversation with Muslims, which I think form part of the American public and should not be ignored because this isn't just about the Catholic or just about the Christian context, right? But then there's element of how incredibly historic it is, now, in our time. I mean, the last time something like this happened was centuries ago, that how incredibly historic this particular conversation between the two largest religious groups in the world and their official institutional representatives, what that actually means for how the United States is currently perceived outside of its own boundaries, but also for the general social cohesion dynamics within the United States itself. And I think we probably could just explore that a little bit more like what is the Catholic—
DANIELS: I'm so glad you brought that up. I was watching my time and so I was skimming through it. Of course, that's an essential part of what Fratelli Tutti is all about. And I'm not sure if everybody on the call knows what we're talking about here, but there was a document on human fraternity signed in Abu Dhabi, that in which, again, the grand imam and Pope Francis came together in this historic, historic moment. And then here in Fratelli Tutti he revisits that again, and he talks about the need for faith traditions, major faith traditions like ours to come together and what we share in common, and how we can bring that to public life around the world. And again, in particular, it's a lesson, and I'm so glad you said this, for us here in the United States because, of course, the Muslim community when we talk about religious liberty, let's say, in the United States, the last four years have not been good for the Muslim community here. And in fact, the administration while having some religious liberties successes, for sure, has also really worked hard against the religious freedom of Muslim Americans. And I think that this modeling in Fratelli Tutti of our Christian faith, our Catholic faith, Pope Francis coming together with the grand imam to talk about human fraternity, and then again, once it came out, once it was released, both leaders also speaking about it from where they were saying this is what is important to us that we come together as faith traditions and find places of common ground because that's what we need to witness to today. So thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about it.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And Azza, as everybody knows, is with Religions for Peace International. She had head up that organization. So I'm going to go next to Vicki Underwood.
: Irina, actually it's David Key, Vicki Underwood is my administrative assistant, is on my Zoom account. My apologies. I'm David Key from the University of Georgia. I'm also an ordained Protestant minister. Professor Daniels, thank you for an excellent presentation. I very much appreciate your explanations of a variety of things. I do want to ask a question about kind of cross current influences. From what I can tell from my own observation, it looks like a lot of opposition to Pope Francis within the Roman Catholic Church comes from American sources. I mean, Steve Bannon is one example of that. America in a lot of ways is a source of opposition to Pope Francis within the church. And what role will a practicing Roman Catholic president who really goes to mass every week and actually gives an example of Roman Catholic piety, how will that influence that peace within the church? And on the flip side, as Pope Francis appoints bishops in the American church and cardinals and actually coalesces around this Fratelli Tutti, institutionalizing it into the church, how would that influence the Roman Catholic electorate in America? How do you see those two influence and is one stronger than the other? Do they play off each other? What do you see kind of in the next four to five years those influencing each other?
DANIELS: What a great question. Thank you. So first of all, the resistance to Pope Francis, I think it very much mirrors what we were talking about earlier, which is the fact that often people let their politics drive their faith instead of their faith driving their politics. I think that, obviously, some of the good faith, there's some good faith disagreement with Pope Francis and that's welcome and important. That's an important part of dialogue. And at the same time, and then of course, every religious tradition has those kinds of conversations. But I think here in America, you're right to point out that there is an element of resistance to Francis that is really driven by those on the political extremes. And we've seen, for instance, President Trump, hold up Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who is very much at this point on the fringes raising conspiracy theories and all the rest, but during the end of the campaign, really trying to use, I think, that to divide the Catholic community in many ways, and I think it's been a real source of division in our church. At the same time, I'll say this. I think that that resistance is relatively small, relatively media driven, relatively elite. And I think that in large part, Catholics come together every day around our shared baptism, around our shared faith, around our shared belief in equal dignity of all and the common good. We see that in our president-elect, as you said, a practicing Catholic. It'll be very interesting to have a practicing Catholic again.
I think it's remarkable and says something about our tradition of public service and the way we try to put this in public life that we have an incoming president-elect, who is Catholic, we have the majority of the Supreme Court from Sonia Sotomayor to Clarence Thomas, who are Catholic, and the speaker of the House. And at the same time they all, as you can see, model their faith in different ways and I think that it's important to show the diversity of our church. In terms of the president-elect coming in, I think, that again, it's important to work together on issues where we share common ground, so where he shares common ground on church teaching and then respectfully disagree on issues where there are disagreements with Catholic principles. But at the same time to be sure that we work together to come to solutions where we can agree even in those areas. So I spoke about religious liberty a little bit ago, and I think there's lots of room for agreement in that context. Melissa Rogers' report lays out several of them. Where it's going to be four or five years from now, I don't know. I mean, I don't really get in the prediction business right now, except to say that I know that the more that people have faith, and again, regardless of your faith tradition, the more that people of faith bring their principles to public life, we enrich public life and so I'm hopeful that that conversation will continue and grow and we will get to some healing.
FASKIANOS: So we have two written questions in the chat just about the polarization paradigm, you know, between the left and right and the extreme left and the extreme right and, you know, how do you bring those together and which one is, you know, more extreme. And Rabbi Sarah Bassin at the Temple Emanuel Beverly Hills, [previously serving as executive director at] NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, says, “Do you see a role for rebuke for those who weaponize faith for polarizing purposes? I fear than an approach of openness assumes good faith is limited in constraining the more destructive actions carried out in the name of religion."
DANIELS: For sure there's a limit to good faith. I mean there's a limit to dialogue, right? Dialogue depends on a set of ground rules and a set of common beliefs about not resorting to violence, about not demonizing others, about goodwill engagement. And so without that, you cannot have dialogue. I think that at the same time, it's important for all of us to approach conversations as best we can from a presumption of goodwill as much as we can. So I look to an organization like Braver Angels, for instance, David Blankenhorn, I believe is the leader of it, that talks about how to bring people together, how to bring red and blue together, right? How to how to have those conversations and they've had a lot of good results with people who do disagree very seriously. But I completely agree with the idea that there comes a moment where you simply are not in a position to engage with someone who demonizes people, who is resorting to violence, etcetera.
FASKIANOS: Great, thank you. I'm going to go next to, sorry, to Shaik Ubaid.
UBAID: So this is Shaik Ubaid from the New York Muslim Peace Coalition. You know, right after the election it's such a relief because in a polarized country when a minority which is miniscule like the Muslims were feeling very, very insecure, but were reassured that not only other minorities came together, but a significant large portion of the majority also stood up for the minorities. Whereas in other countries, for example, in India, that does not happen. So, with that optimistic background, I am a little disappointed that for interfaith, and you know, relationship and to decrease polarization, the Vatican is dealing with al-Azhar, which does not have credibility. For example, I am from India, where there is a huge, you know, history of Hindus and Muslims working together, where Gandhi was introduced by the Muslim leadership in India. So we have, and there in India, al-Azhar has no credibility. And even in Arab masses, where they support MBS, and el-Sisi, and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, who is one of the greatest tyrants in the Arab world, they are supported by al-Azhar. So instead of dealing with institutions which have no credibility in the masses, the Western religious institutions should be dealing with those people who have credibility among the masses so that the real polarization does not take place. That's my comment.
DANIELS: I hear you. You know, I can't speak closely to that issue. It's not my area of expertise. But I can say this, that I know that the Holy See and that Pope Francis, in particular, seeks to go to the margins, seeks to go wherever he can to reach people. And in that vein, what he does, to my mind, what stands out, when you talk about reaching the people, what stands out when I think of iconic images of Pope Francis through his papacy, what I think of is him in Bolivia with hundreds of thousands of poor people around him in the middle of a crowd where he's going right to the people. I think of him standing in the rain in the Philippines, again, with so many people around him, not speaking just to the elites, but speaking to those who are on the ground. And I can think of our network of social service agencies and others who do so much work around the world, again, trying to serve people on the ground, groups like Caritas and Catholic Relief Services. So I hope that those are efforts, I know that those kinds of efforts are ongoing, but I know that this isn't a rich discussion, and I appreciate your contribution to it.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. So Royce Anderson raised in the chat, "I see today's polarization, at least in American politics, is being significantly caused by the division among the American Christian churches, which is at its core division about whether to view the Bible literally or metaphorically. Do you think this is the case? And what do you think might heal this biblical theological schism?"
DANIELS: So I think that that conversation is one that's going on in other faith traditions, not my own. I think that it's important what I see driving the polarization, again, is two things in particular. One is politics really driving faith instead of the other way around. And I see the media environment that we're in is really driving polarization as well. Oftentimes, I think, theological, I know, let me speak to what's going on in my faith tradition. I think that theological disputes that people have, and that they often raise up as a source of, you know, sort of a source of division and a source of pride, I find that those, to my mind, the way to resist that, again, is to move away from words and towards action. So, not engaging so much in the kind of social media back and forth and debates over arcane abstractions, but rather engaging and practicing our faith, and again, serving people, getting out, being Sister Norma at the border where there is no polarization. These theological disputes are important for those who, you know, for those who are equipped to engage in them and I'm not minimizing that at all, but I am saying that I think oftentimes disputes that we have are really driven by other issues too.
FASKIANOS: Great, and I'm going to call upon Michael Strmiska because I think it would be better for him to ask his question directly then having me try to paraphrase it. If you could unmute yourself and keep it short though, Michael.
STRMISKA: Yes. Well, I'm just going to read you my question.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
STRMISKA: Yes. Thank you, Ms. Daniels. I question the polarization paradigm because it can lead to false equivalence between left and right. I do not see the left today, at least in America—let's focus on America—trying to destroy democracy or use massive information to create a fog of distrust. It's mostly from the right. So what I want to focus on is it seems to me there is a particular threat in our time from the extreme right that is not coming from the left. And I think as Christians, you have a particular responsibility because the extreme right is often playing on themes of Christian identity. And I would say, I'll call on the authority of the FBI. The FBI today does not see any danger from the left, but they're talking about the very definite danger from the extreme right. Thank you.
DANIELS: So thanks for that question. I think it's important when having conversations about polarization, I want to be clear about several things. And the first is that it's always important to resist a false equivalence of any kind. And the second is that this is never, I don't think, that these kinds of conversations should be an excuse for a false quietism, right, a sort of a retreat from engagement. There are issues about which people should have a righteous anger. There are issues about which we should be activists, right? So the point, though, of conversations about polarization is where can we come together. Of course we should resist violence on the right, and calls for, you know, the disinformation and all of the rest. And I take your point about the FBI. What I would like to talk about, though, are the millions of Americans who voted for President Trump who don't fall into that category of right-wing extremists and Proud Boys and all the rest. And my question is, how can we come together, right? How can we all come together because surely there's so much upon which we agree and that's the question and where we do have disagreements, right? I think that those kinds of principle disagreements have a lot of room for working out common solutions. So there will always be disagreement for sure. And there will always be people on the fringes and they won't always be fully balanced in terms of which side is more violent or doing more to harm the common good. And at the same time, I do think it's important to reach the millions of people, who again, are not out there stoking violence but at the same time who have different views.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to go next to John Murray.
MURRAY: Hi, good afternoon. I'm an ordained Mennonite pastor currently serving in as the role of dean of global engagement at Hesston College. While we are one of the historic peace churches, we are as polarized as anybody is at this point in time. To have the deep dialogue among polarized people that you speak about so hopefully—and on my good days I share your hope and on other days cynicism creeps in—for that dialogue to happen, it seems to me that there are some interpersonal attitudes and values that are required to be present within each of the polarized participants. What are some of those attitudes and values and how can they be cultivated within and through the church?
DANIELS: That's a great question. I think that all of these conversations, again, they shouldn't stay abstract, they should start with us. And it should always start with a with a self-examination of what attitudes am I bringing to the conversation that are destructive or that are keeping people apart? I think the first attitude that I would mention and highlight would be humility. To know that I don't always have all the answers that my sources of learning, whether it be my faith traditions or other sources, don't always have all the answers are in fact enriched by reaching out to others and engaging in conversation with them. So first a stance of humility. Second, I would think patience. And here I want to talk a little bit about patience both on a personal level but also at a political level. We all know that when we're involved in conversation, public conversation, or policymaking or anything else, that it's often the case that people make mistakes that in those in those rooms people say the wrong thing or they take a wrong path in terms of pursuing a particular policy. And I think that it's important to be patient with those we disagree with, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to not always assume the worst motives. And I think this goes to building trust, which I think is another quality. But I think I take your point, I mean, again, this should not be approached naively. There are serious disagreements, you know. Our church believes that abortion, and it's true that we believe that abortion is a grave injustice, and that we believe also that mothers who face unplanned pregnancies need much more support than our society gives them. That's going to be an area of deep disagreement and at the same time, it's also going to be a place where maybe we can come to some kind of agreement about reducing the number of abortions, for instance, and how we can do that through social policy. But getting to that point is going to take a lot of building of trust, and a lot of patience, and a lot of humility.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to go next to Bill O'Keefe, who has written a question. He says, "Thanks for this rich discussion, it's extremely important. Elites, including at the very top of our political system, are intentionally driving the polarization between people. Dialogue and countering focusing on service can and do build solidarity among regular people of faith or without faith. What can and should religious leaders do to address this pernicious role of well-funded elites?" And Bill O-Keefe is the executive vice president for mission mobilization and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.
DANIELS: Hi, Bill, that's a great question. And it's a great question because, of course, we need common ground work, we need work at ground level, and at the same time, we do need work at the elite level as well. So leaders like yourself and others, I think one thing that we can do is when you're finding someone who is engaging in the kind of discourse that poisons our public conversation is to push back against them, right? And I think that people, to my mind, people too often defer to those who are already out in the public square, right? So Bill and I are both Catholic and we know that in our conversations, in sort of intra-Catholic conversations, there are forces that dominate both sides and we'll call them the elites for now. And for purposes of this conversation, and to my mind, what's needed in those conversations to push back against those voices, which are often stuck in the same tired arguments and liens is number one, for new voices with platforms that have some sort of visibility and platform and power—like I think of Catholic Relief Services having because of all the good work that they do—be engaging in those and obviously in a sophisticated way, but engaging in those conversations intentionally where they can without harming their mission. And secondly, I want to point back to what I talked about before, which is bringing together diverse and younger voices into the conversation. I think raising those voices up enriches the conversation and it's incumbent upon institutions where we can lift them up, because those are ways to challenge those voices.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to go next to Father Rafael Capó.
CAPÓ: Yes, hello, Irina and thank you, Kim, for your expertise and your passion and your witness conviction in all these issues. This is Father Raphael Capó from St. Thomas University School of Theology and Ministry of Miami. Given your connection to the Vatican's Dicastery for Communications, and your role around that area, what would you share with us given that polarization is many times fueled by the media and communications? What are your insights regarding communications and polarization?
DANIELS: Sure, that's a great question. And thank you so, Father. I think that we think a lot about how media drives this polarization. We all know that social media is a huge drive [inaudible] because it has an instantaneous sort of dopamine hit when you get in these arguments and land your point and then they go viral and then you expand your impact and all the rest and our conversations spiral out of control. So what do we do to combat that? And I think that, first of all, it's to resist the need to be online all the time, right? And so Pope Francis, again, in Fratelli Tutti talks about digital engagement and how it can't build real community and, in fact, stokes the kind of division that you're talking about. So number one is being very sophisticated and careful about your use of social media and also your consumption of media generally, right? So being sure that you're not just consuming things that confirm your own priors but are instead reaching out to trusted and reliable sources from different perspectives and points of view. And not just different sort of left/right perspectives, right, I think, but different perspectives across a variety of different lanes. That's the number one.
Thing number two is to be who you are and be that well, as St. Francis de Sales would say, right? And that's to say that, that I think oftentimes we engage in these conversations in a way that is almost putting on a different figure, we're trying to get in the conversation and win a debate when really, we should just be witnessing to who we are and what our faith commitments are and what we bring to the table. So in that sense, I say that it's really incumbent upon us to be intentional about how we engage with others and that we bring the best of our face to those conversations. We engage in them with humility, with patience in a way that builds trust, and in a way that sees the other person despite the digital separation. The technological mediation sees that other person as a real person who is made in the image and likeness of God and treats them accordingly.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. I'm going to go on next to Gregory Han who is with the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.
HAN: Thank you. I'm also Georgetown class of '93, so Hoya Saxa. At least from the 2014 Pew survey that 20 to 25 percent of adults in America don't affiliate with a religious tradition, how do you feel they fit into the faith and politics discourse and polarization when they don't necessarily see themselves in the faith part of that equation? Thank you.
DANIELS: Thanks, that's a great question. I think that the growth of the nones, right, N-O-N-E-S, the growth of people who do not affiliate with a particular religion has been a story, the real story of engagement over the past decade for sure. And I would say that it's important not to read them out of the conversation, right? I mean, people bring regardless of your faith tradition, or if you have no faith tradition, you bring your principles and deeply held beliefs to the conversation and it's important for us all to engage in dialogue along those lines as well. How does it drive? How are they driving polarization? I think that again, I think that oftentimes it's a matter of what I see the most is partisanship driving polarization and the idea that our political parties have, both in some ways, institutionally changed dramatically and in other ways have moved out of the vital center and to different sides. And I think that it's that partisanship that can affect people regardless of their faith background or if they have no religion [inaudible].
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to go to Margaret Rose next who wrote a question, "Do you see some very specific instructional ways that faith-based groups can encourage this work so that it's not simply an individual faith community but one which becomes the change of the whole community?" And Margaret is with the Episcopal Church?
DANIELS: Thanks. That's a great question, Margaret. I think that let's start from individuals and work up—we've already talked about how individuals can work on it. I think that local faith communities can really engage in a lot of outreach within their own communities to other faith-based groups to see how they can work together in common service and where they can come together to have conversations that are difficult while setting ground rules that establish a baseline for those conversations. I also think it's important for local congregations and local faith communities to support other faith communities where they are demonized, where they are under attack. We've seen a rise of anti-Semitism. We've seen attacks on Muslims. We've seen policies against Muslim practice in the United States. I think that it's important for other faith communities to stand together and to say that we stand together as people of faith in supporting you. So that can be at the local level, that can be at the regional level. I think we pointed earlier, we talked about the Abu Dhabi statement, and I think that it's important for faith leaders generally to look for opportunities to join together where they can on issues of common ground. And so I know that we see many faith organizations here in the United States who find opportunities to work together on issues where they share common concern, whether that be issues on the right or on the left. Whether it be, again, my faith tradition is somewhat politically homeless, neither left or right. And so it's often a case of looking for different kinds of partners on issues that are important to us. And I think that again, faith enriches public life to such a great degree that it's important for us to look for those kinds of alliances, to collaborate where we can, to disagree where we must, but to look for opportunities to bring these voices to public life.
FASKIANOS: Great. So Kenneth Beals, in the chat—he is with Mary Baldwin College—wants to "emphasize humility as a key value in dialogue, the idea that I might actually have something to learn from people very different beliefs from my own." I think that was his comment, but he also had a question about, "How do you think opposition to gay marriage has been in activating in the religious right?
DANIELS: I think that that's been an issue. Clearly, that's been an issue that's really activated the religious right. And at the same time, it's important to have that conversation, again, in a way that it would be wonderful for people of goodwill to come together. When I think again, in a religious liberty context and I think about Melissa Rogers' report, for instance, how can we come together around issues of both protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination and at the same time preserving their religious liberty of organizations and institutions that want to serve according to their deeply held beliefs. That conversation, there's a space for that conversation to happen, but you're very right to say that too many times that conversation can happen because that issue has been weaponized and it's very difficult. You talked about humility and bringing that to conversations. I just want to say that in looking at and learning from others, we dunk on Twitter all the time as being just a source of division and hate and all the rest. But I have one thing that I've gained from that, frankly, is that I have really learned from a lot of people whose work I would never have run across otherwise. And I've been exposed to it and I've then engaged with people who they learn from, and it's really expanded the people that I read, the communities that I am in touch with. And so I think that that's one way we can exercise humility is to approach our media diets in a way that really reaches out and brings in other resources for us.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. So we've got a question from Homi Gandhi or a common question from the Zoroastrian faith. He thanks you for this presentation. "The Zoroastrian faith is small in numbers but one of the oldest monotheistic faiths. We have political differences within our community, but we yearn for dialogue on many issues. And this has been noted and many of their conversations. After these thoughts and words, we need good actions. What steps would you suggest to bring these word and actions to reality?"
DANIELS: Another great point and that's something, again, that Pope Francis talks about in Fratelli Tutti, that it's not just about words, it can't be just about words. It has to result in action, right? We are not about having the right opinion simply or living in abstraction, but instead about moving out our beliefs in life, in our everyday lives and public life. To my mind that means advocacy is an action, right? Working for policies that enact principles like equal dignity of all, and solidarity, and pushing for the common good. Serving the poor is an action that we can take as a direct result. And again, I see that as a direct result of trying to combat polarization. Serving the poor is a way to be in touch with others who are across the divide, in sense, right, who we are not probably in touch with every day. And it's part of Pope Francis's message of go into the margins and the ethics of encounter. And so it's that kind of service, I think, actually engaging in dialogue with those who disagree with you and advocating for policies that, in active use, that I think is incumbent on all of us.
FASKIANOS: Okay, and I think we have time for one last question, which I think it would be, we'll go to Shaik Ubaid, who said in the written question, "How do we community religious leaders here address the 48 percent of Americans who supported Trump, and not just simply dismiss them as whatever you want to say—racist or extremist—is natural for the majority community to feel threatened when there's a dramatic shift in demographics? We must show empathy toward this natural [inaudible]. So how would you approach it? I mean, how can we bring people both sides together that it's pretty split [inaudible] of division?"
DANIELS: Well, I think that that's another good question. And I think that the starting point is to say that if we're talking about as we move towards healing and as we move towards overcoming division, there's a lot of hard work to be done. And I think that on the one hand, there's a lot of hard work to be done certainly on the side of people who, as you said, the many, many who supported Trump and did not support Biden. A lot of hard work there to be done and at the same time on the incoming Biden administration, I think, there's a following through on the promise of reaching out to those who disagree through policies, choices that you make. And let's take one example, and again, I'll look back to Melissa Rogers' report. There's the Equality Act and the Fairness For All Act are two pieces of legislation that get at the very thorny issue we were discussing earlier, namely the conflict between religious liberty and LGBTQ antidiscrimination norms. And working through those issues in a good faith way that tries to protect both of those principles to my mind is one step people can take.
FASKIANOS: Well, thank you very much, Kim Daniels, for being with us and to everybody for their great questions and dialogue and thoughts. I think this has been yet another rich discussion. We really appreciate it. We encourage you to follow Kim's work on Twitter @KDaniels8, as well as the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life's Work @GUCSTpubliclife. You can also follow CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Program on Twitter @CFR_Religion for upcoming events and information about latest CFR resources. And as always, please do reach out to us at [email protected] with any suggestions on future webinars, or events, speakers—we'd love to hear from you. And thank you again for being with us at the end of the day. I know Kim has another Zoom meeting to go to. So thank you for fitting us into your schedule. We really appreciate it.
DANIELS: Thanks for having me.