Overcoming the political divide: Professor, local faith leaders discuss ways to bring people together

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INDIANAPOLIS – The close margin in election results has put a spotlight on the divide in our country. Experts say there are steps we can take now to bridge this gap.

“I think it’s pretty unhealthy for our country to be this divided.”

“I don’t know if there’s anything that’s going to be able to bring us all back together.”

Those are statements by two voters we spoke with in downtown Indianapolis. Polarization during an election is not uncommon. Ball State University’s Assistant Professor of Psychological Science, Andy Luttrell, says there’s research to prove it.

“You find that people’s actual opinions aren’t as different from each other as we think they are, but people have this really strong feeling against the other group,” he said.

There’s evidence Luttrell says that this divide between parties is worse where we stand right now, but things do subside, after an election.

“One thing, one could do is sort of recast this situation as realizing that we’re in this together, we want similar things, and our identity has more in common with each other than we might ordinarily give credit to,” added Luttrell, “There’s been a lot of research in social psychology about how can we ease prejudices and overcome these assumptions we make of other people based on almost no information.”

The divide has a community-wide impact.

“Our goal is to build each other up,” said David Mellott, the President of the Christian Theological Seminary, “Some of these divisions have been around a long time and others are more recent. In addition, we know if we’re not careful we can allow these divisions to cause further destruction in our communities.”

On Thursday afternoon, faith leaders from across central Indiana joined together virtually to acknowledge it and learn how they can continue to lead, as they expect the divisions will remain.

“It kind of sounds like a Hallmark saying, but we have more that unites us than what divides us and sometimes that can be hard to see,” added Rev. Linda McCrae of the Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  

Rev. Felipe Martinez of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbus added, “I think we as a community and we as a country don’t like scars. We’d rather just heal up.”

Rabbi Jenni Greenspan of the Congregation, Beth-El Zedeck said, “Where do we find the hope?”

Faith leaders want to focus on the common ground and encourage their communities to show up for each other. As for the voters we spoke with, they welcome the ideas.

“Nothing would make me happier than to see people come together no matter what the election outcome is.”

The discussion among faith leaders was led by the Christian Theological Seminary. It was called “Living in a Post-Election World, Leading in a Country Divided.” Many people watched along and commented on the live Facebook stream.

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