Good Links: How to Reduce 21st Century Polarization

Polarization does not refer to the frigid effect of polar air slicing through the atmosphere and icing over the landscape. Rather, it refers to the similarly bitter results of increasingly extreme positions that divide communities and freeze dialogue. While increasing polarization is most apparent in the political realm, there are pervasive and intertwined divisions throughout all aspects of society including religion, race, wealth, and even video gaming. This fragmentation of society extends into organizations which should, as representatives of the Kingdom of God, be focused on reconnecting and bridge building, including our own Seventh-day Adventist church.

While there are many reasons for increasing polarization, group think is a major factor. In a recent Daily Show interview, Cass Sunstein described an experiment in which liberal and conservative political groups were convened to discuss divisive issues.

Both groups became more extreme in their views over the course of the meetings. They became more polarized. This of course has implications for religions, denominations, religious conferences, conventions, magazines, blogs, evangelistic series, churches, Sabbath schools, small groups, and any other time or place when group think may ingrain more radicalized opinions.

The answer of course is not, as Jon Stewart humorously suggests, keeping people apart or as Hebrews puts it in King James’ English, “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” We should continue to meet together to encourage one another in faith and to spur one another to love and to good works. This is especially true when we feel isolated or excluded. In these cases, there is a great comfort and need for meeting with like-minded friends.

But, if in our gathering together we continually greet only our own people (those with whom we agree) what more are we doing than others? Don’t even the unbelievers do the same? True love, Matthew and Luke record Jesus saying, is expressed toward one’s enemies (those with whom we disagree). Then, Paul, as usual, puts things in practical terms. He tells the divided church in Corinth to simply wait for one another so that they can eat together.

Could these ancient texts show us a way to decrease the polarization of our 21st century society or maybe even the comments section on this site? What if we took love for others beyond pitying and correcting their perceived errors and we actually sat down to talk, eat, and pray with them… in person. What if we leaned toward and reached out to love the wrong people and allowed them to shed light on our various political, theological, and cultural narratives that protect us from seeing our own brokenness. What if we realized that ‘they’ are actually ‘us?’

Brenton Reading is a pediatric interventional radiologist practicing at Childrens Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

What if we leaned toward and reached out to love the wrong people and allowed them to shed light on our various political, theological, and cultural narratives that protect us from seeing our own brokenness.

A golden sentence. Let’s do that.


Boy, I couldn’t even begin to tell ya how many times that verse has entered my mind.

It must come down to this. It has to, there’s no other way.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)


Btw, I couldn’t watch that first video from the John Stewart Show. Is it a recent one? I might try and find it online.

This is the message it has for people like me living in Australia:



Oh, really?..Kangaroos and boomerangs, hey. :smirk: The Americans are making fun of us Rohan @rohantocharles I cant believe this, after we saved them in WWII.


Jealosy Tony. Pure envy. Oh what they would give to live, for even a day, in our climate and lifestyle. We are called the lucky country for a reason:) Meanwhile they’ve turned their country into Disneyland.


Opps i’ve kinda done the opposite of the article here eh?!


Getting rid of political correctness might help. Refusing to see racism in every dispute might help. Not sweating the small stuff might help. Getting rid of the chips on our shoulders might help. Not taking ourselves too seriously might help.

Inside the church it’s another story. There is only so much room for compromise. There are many non-negotiables. Truth and error will never see eye to eye, and Jesus warned us that standing for truth would cause polarization.

So, we can practice the “Golden Rule” as much as we want, but it won’t eliminate polarization. Jesus practiced it all the time, and they murdered Him. As He said, “The servant is not above his Master.”


@blc You have set out how our Jewish forerunners failed to love and seem to imply that they apparently got it partially, even largely correct, thus how can we hope to do better.

If I understand your premiss, we should hold to our guns as the Jewish leadership did in Christ’s time, because we have all the rules and interpretations of scripture and God’s character correct, and any compromise is a failure of the church.

I assert that we fail to see much of the injustice and hurt that happen in society, and piously walk past the person on the roadside as did the priest and the levites with this position.

Until we can set aside some of our deeply rooted ideas and look at other possibilities, we (the Christian & SDA community) will be the group that continues to largely bring about the despising and hate for many people that don’t fit our view of “normal”. Thus we are far to will to condemn and are unwilling to sit with them in true open conversation without judgement, seeking to know them as people not objects.


Why is it different INSIDE the church? Could we not coexist with common unity? You like Batchelor? I like Asscherick. You like Amazing Facts? I like Spectrum. We all serve God. We come to the table with different genetic make up and different experiences. We all see through a glass darkly.

From one of the embedded links:
“All of us—from the most sophisticated to the supposedly naïve—“see through a glass darkly and therefore have good reason to be gracious to our brothers and sisters whose world views are assembled differently”------Jim Walters

Wouldn’t that be a more humble way for believers?


the problem is the definition of WE! The Apostle John Wrote-“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”! If Jesus taught us to prayer–"OunFather we should treat each other as kin. Recent actions signal a tightening of the circle rather than opening the Door. Let the little lights shine!
we are all children before God.

It is the growing sense of exclusivity that causes the unrest. Tom Z


I suspect there are other factors at work also.

1 - dialog doesn’t fix anything if it doesn’t lead to change.

These days dialog is a technique used by the politically dominant to avoid change. “You mustn’t attack me, you need to negotiate” is the defense of the offensive, even though they never intend to change. Just look at the number of study committees the GC has run on WO and Science - all to avoid doing something.

So, if your opponent is not intending to change, why concede anything to him at all?

2 - the dialog is not intended to change the other party. Instead it is going to be reported as sound-bites and out-of-context quotes and will influence third parties.

This being the case, you want those cites to make you sound certain, strong, and having something worth joining.

3 - the differences in position need to be exaggerated and the similarities ignored because you are engaged in a tribal fight for space, not the apparent matter at hand,

Ted Wilson does not really care about ordaining women. He cares that the president of the GC has power over the GC and the GC has power over the Unions. His dad said as much in the equal-pay case - their vision of the SdA denomination is the President is Pope, the GC the bishops, and the rest are the flock getting fleeced.

So, you see, the Faith and Science Conferences (for instance) were not attempts to change anyone’s position, but a façade by the GC to avoid change. The meetings were keep secret so the GC could spin the sound bites. The GC is trying to create a dominant faction that can rule the SdA denomination.

When people are convinced that it is in their best interest is to form a tight knit tribe and fight for territory, because the other tribes are out to get them, polarization is the natural result.

Sadly, with modern technology, it now becomes very easy for the loosing tribe to go out with a huge bang, not a small whimper.


The message on mine said -


Been there/done that.

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Ted just doesn’t have that kind of power, and I don’t think he is even seeking it. He has a different view than the previous more liberal guy, and liberals don’t like it. But he cannot rule the whole roost. The NAD president certainly is going his own way. WO will be voted in at San Antonio.

As far as the other feelings you express, yes, there is disagreement, but there is such a large range of views, especially here, with some posters angry ex-SDAs and others committed defenders of the Faith. I really don’t see how those can be reconciled. Do you? So, in a sense, the best plan is to sit back and enjoy the fireworks and learn a few things, most importantly about the position that you don’t hold. This place can be quite informative, because people are committed to their own thinking. Cheers!

There’s just one thing -there’s a difference between having respect for the person, vs. respect/disrespect for his position.

If you don’t have strong feelings in the negative; you can’t have strong feelings for the positive. The problem is we tend to shoot the messenger.


It would be a far more humble way, Carmen…

The issue of what constiutes “non-negotiables” carries on within the Adventist church continually…the problem is that there is never going to be consensus on it. At least, birder is correct on THAT one :smile:


WOW…perhaps the most cogent thing I have ever heard you “say”, Allen!
My morning has just started out so much brighter :wink:


I was just able to watch the Daily Show clip. Wow. The author of Wise has studied groups. if Conservatives only talk to Con. they become more conservative. if Liberals only talk to Libs, they become more liberal. But if they can talk together, then there can be a consensus. Spectrum in a way does just that. So it would be the place to somehow diffuse the tension that the two sides have. From being here for a while and arguing, I can see that to a certain extent. Not all will be moved in that direction. So, my statement above about the fireworks may have merit. again Cheers!

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Kim, Hmmmm. I am not sure I would take that as a complement… Most cogent??? But I will and thanks! Good viewing!

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YW, Allen…have a great day!

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------- We are everywhere. -------


Thank you for sharing your thoughts on how Spectrum relates to the Daily Show clip. Like you, I appreciate the diversity of perspectives involved in the Spectrum conversation.

Adventist Forum (originally the Association of Adventist Forums) was started by a bunch of young graduate students who wanted a place to exchange and explore new and interesting ideas. Over the years it has also become for some a safe place for progressive Adventists to find like minded people (similar to the second clip on the deaf gathering at Starbucks). However, if Spectrum becomes just a bunch of progressive Adventists talking to one another it will according to Sunstein only increase polarization.

That is one reason those of us involved in planning the annual conferences have sought presenters and respondents from diverse perspectives. It has been challenging to attract those from certain, shall we say, traditional perspectives; but, the success we have had in bringing in different perspectives has been encouraging. And, even when strongly polarized differences have led to conflict this has in turn led to opportunities to engage with some who have expressed disagreement in deep conversation over shared meals.

But, diversity does not just consist of liberal and conservative Adventists. There is a whole world of difference and discovering how God is at work beyond our denomination is equally vital in decreasing polarization.