After decades of "progress" and
billions of dollars, why are Americans
more divided than ever?
Season 2 is here.
Thanks to you, our 50,000+ readers, we are coming back with another season. Last year, our contributors tackled the question: what is going wrong?
For 2023, we are asking the natural next question: what are the most promising solutions?
As usual, our focus is on inviting and equipping you (yes, you!) the reader to be a part of healing America's divides. In other words: what can you do—starting today?
This season, contributors tackle questions old and new:
1. What can we, ordinary people, do?
2. What organizations, movements, or institutions must exist to empower this?
Once again, from the team at Neighborly Faith, we thank you for reading.
Kristen Uppercue’s essay delves into the appeal of extremist rhetoric to young men in Appalachia. The writer’s research highlights shame as the root cause, which pervades life in rural Appalachia. From the opioid epidemic to outsider perceptions, shame plays a significant role. Uppercue compellingly argues that addressing shame must be central to combat extremism and to promote resilience in the region.
Something is broken.
From the polls to the pews, America has a problem with itself. And the worst part is that we're pretending to solve it. After decades of supposed progress, Americans are more divided than ever.
Through non-profits and the government, America has spent billions fixing issues like racism, islamophobia, polarization, and radicalization. But it’s getting worse.
We are Gen Zs and Millennials living in this divided world and we are asking:
Why aren't our solutions working?
Are the solutions making it worse?
What should we do instead?
How can I make a difference?
WHAT WENT WRONG publishes answers to the hard questions nobody is asking, and advocates real solutions to problems nobody is (actually) solving.
Our focus is two-fold:
1. Uncovering why America's leaders, government, and non-profits aren't successful
2. Advocating fresh solutions worth trying
Our sole requirement is that our solutions apply to all of us: anyone can do them, they cost no money, they aren't for experts.
That’s right: We’re fixing America at the kitchen table. No fancy titles, ivy league degree, budget, or fancy trainings required.
From the team at Neighborly Faith, thanks for reading.
Do American Christians recognize the crisis of a lack of spiritual formation and how that impacts the nation?
Chris Crawford asserts that the crises in American civic life can be attributed to a crisis of spiritual formation among American Christians. He emphasizes that Christians have an important role to play in the bridge-building effort in this nation across political, religious, and racial divides. Crawford advocates for a better form of Christian engagement in the public square to help bring people together across differences. Here are three practical steps to do just that.
Raised in a Muslim family in New Orleans, Imam Omar Suleiman grew up engaging daily across faiths. Despite varied—and often surprising—experiences with Christians, he has decided to connect across deep faith differences in his ministry and career. Imam Omar shares some of his most memorable encounters and important lessons.
Can we reduce polarization in our society? Kate Carney, chief of staff at More in Common, believes we can.
Research shows that Americans overestimate divisions and that there is an “Exhausted Majority” seeking unity. Carney suggests strategies like reducing animosity and sharing personal stories of connection.
Learn how you can play a role by seeking out diverse perspectives, engaging in conversations, and sharing experiences.
Is it possible to bridge the partisan divide in America?
Ciaran O’Connor argues that conflict is the key to bringing together conservatives and progressives. O’Connor examines Braver Angels, an organization that brings people with different political views together for workshops and debates.
By engaging in healthy conflict, Americans can find common ground and a higher synthesis of diverse perspectives. Read on to learn how conflict can be used as a tool to transform our relationships and our society.
Is Christian nationalism a threat to American democracy? Do we have cause to believe America will soon become a theocracy?
Mark David Hall explores this controversial topic in his latest work.
By examining the history of America’s founding, Hall shows that Christian principles have played a significant role in shaping the country’s values and institutions, but he also stresses that America’s founders were committed to protecting religious liberty for people of all faiths.
Most civic discourse around Christian nationalism has been very destructive. Is there another way to approach it? Hall discusses his thoughts.
Martin Gurri's essay "The Laptop and the Window" explores the two worlds that we inhabit simultaneously - the online world of our laptops, characterized by anger and polarization, and the physical world of our windows, characterized by peace and community. Americans today can choose which world will win out.
It's clear that what America is doing to heal itself is not working. We are more divided than in recent memory despite good faith efforts at all levels of government; despite billions of charity grant dollars.
We are more convinced than ever that WhatWentWrong? is meeting this moment in America's history, as much as a collection of essays can claim to do so.
So what went wrong?
Tolerance is talked about a lot, but when it comes down to it are people really practicing it? What about in more idealogical or elite spaces? Waggoner shares about a volatile experience at Yale Law School, and how people can exercise "neighborly faith" even when a mob is trying to down them out.
Our perceived perceptions of each other have led to toxic polarization. We take one small thing we know about someone and decide who they are and how they feel about us. Usually negatively, whether that’s accurate or not. Being more online and less engaged with the real world has contributed to this problem of feeling like our differences are just too big and nothing can be done. We don’t see others for who they are and what they do, we only see an online caricature or persona. McIntosh and Lin offer three steps toward overcoming toxic polarization.
We’re used to being told to find friends who are like us, who are in the same season of life as us, who hold similar values, beliefs, and identities. In the world today, that doesn’t seem to helping us as a society. We’re divided, angry, and shouting loudly at the other side about what we want.
Hartley discusses the importance of building friendships with those who don’t look, think or act like us. He wants us to celebrate our unlikeness and use it to bring about a better future.
“Supremacies weaponize our unlikeness, turning us against each other, convincing us we must change or defeat each other. Mutuality is not our utopian past or future. It is only something we can choose.”
The idea that Muslims are only violent and don’t do anything good for Christians is pervasive among American Christians. Attitudes of “why should we do anything good for them if they haven’t done it for us?” run rampant. Islamophobia runs deep, whether Christians want to admit it or not.
“There are indeed countless Muslims who are concerned with Christian well-being, who are combating Christian persecution, and who are promoting dialogue and understanding.”
Duffner discusses why American Christians won’t engage in Muslim-Christian brigdebuilding and how to approach it to effect change.
While we have access to more people, cultures, and stories than ever before, people continue to base their understanding of the world on their personal experiences. People draw battle lines and wage war against each other because of these limited perspectives, refusing to listen to each other. Then nothing gets solved. Prior discusses this predicament and how we can expand our finite view.
“Yet, we seem to be in a place today where truth matters less and, consequently, facts, formal arguments, and reason itself have been reduced to mere baubles and sequins, going in and out of style faster than it takes a Twitter timeline to refresh.”
Reaching across the aisle to collaborate on political issues is easier said than done, especially when one side has caused the other pain and hurt. But success consistently happens when people with diverse views come together. The current political divide and hateful rhetoric makes this difficult, but not impossible. Santos and Marcus list four ways political adversaries can come together on issues while minimizing harm.
“Power is built not only by uplifting dependable voices within a group, but also by convincing folks on or just outside of the margins that they have a place within the community.”
Multi-faith leaders strive to build bridges and reach across the aisle, but it seems as though it isn’t working. It feels like America is as polarized as ever and efforts to bring civility to the conversation are worthless. Darling addresses 5 common mistakes made when bridgebuilding to reach civility.
If America is to make gumbo, both theologically and politically, its factions must be willing to come together and work together. When do we stop buying-in to wedge issues? When will Christians look for commonality, as fellow siblings, with God as our common parent? Augustine explains how, if the church can make a good gumbo, she can be an exemplar and serve it to society-at-large.
Creating authentic interreligious dialogue can be difficult to do, especially when many people just aren’t motivated to participate no matter how much incentive is used. Chitwood calls this the “apathy gap” and explores what faith leaders must do to address it so people will want to engage in interreligious dialogue.
“In fact, it’s the apathy that can prove more frustrating, and heartbreaking, than any antagonism.”
Working together has never been easy, but add in politics and people’s passions and it becomes downright difficult. This is especially true when it comes to important issues that affect everyday lives in America. Using a Dungeons and Dragons analogy, Rabbi Holzman explores why America continues to be divided and polarized and what must be done in order to effectively work together again.
America is deeply divided along racial, religious, and ideological lines. Americans loudly proclaim their identity labels like “anti-vaxxer” and “intersectional feminist” while drowning out other identifiers that matter. People set up camps in these labels, drawing lines and forming an “us vs. them” mindset that polarizes. Unity seems impossible. Beydoun discusses how to find that unity, even amid all the noise.
Most Christians want a reconciled and fully united Church. But despite investing time and mastering the optics, attempts to bring Christians together are falling short.
Giboney argues that majority church has failed to count the cost of reconciliation. The Church’s history of racism has been devastatingly painful, but Christians often seek painless paths toward restoration. Many Christians very simply don’t want to sacrifice enough to get the job done.
The “woke” progressive barista from Brooklyn who champions the de-criminalization of “sex work” may truly have little in common with the conservative Christian mailman from rural Alabama who loves Tucker Carlson.
No one ever said these two had to get along or be friends. But can they now even co-exist?
Walker finds timeless and actionable solutions from the ancient biblical prophet Isaiah, with whom God connects reason with reconciliation.
Social scientists have identified a phenomenon they call the “false enforcement of unpopular norms.” People who are open-minded are often willing to express a close-minded position because of perceived social pressure to conform.
When a person privately has an open-minded position and is either discouraged from expressing it or willing to express it but not back up his or her words with action, the possibility of change feels elusive.