As I’ve explained before, I grew up in a denomination which many describe as falling *just* on the Evangelical side of what’s known as the Evangelical-Mainline divide among more conservative and more progressive churches in the US. That means I know many people in the US today who claim to be religio-politically moderate. Most of these are polling in the “independent” category on political surveys–but some are more independent than others. I’ll be frank—I believe the country has swung so far to one side that I don’t believe many of them are *actually* moderate.
My goal in this article is a practical advice-giving one: I know there are a lot of people who feel politically homeless right now–they don’t trust the current administration, but have also been trained not to trust others either.
In this article, I hope to offer advice to help these folks to actually communicate that they are moderate, reasonable people who might be at least seen as compassionate allies for those speaking up against the toxic crap out there in the religio-political landscape today–and hopefully joining the cause where and as they can.
Hopefully this will also help progressives who are seeking allies and looking for signs about how to discern who is “safe” and who isn’t.
How Do I Have the Cred to Talk about This?
Since I study and teach communication, and have held positions on both sides of both the political and religious sides of the divide, and have listened extensively to “both sides,” and have been sorting through signs of who is and is really not a moderate and watching that definition shift for the recent decades, I hope y’all might give what I say a wee bit of credence.
(If you think that any of that I just mentioned makes my advice less eligible to be listened to, well, that’s my first pro tip that you might fall more to the right rather than being actually moderate. Which just means that you might need to start the hard introspection needed about what you’ve been believing.)
Disclaimer: I am writing this piece as an ally myself, as well as someone with expertise in stress, trauma, and confict communication. As you’ll hopefully see below in my advice, I’m not trying to shout down POC voices or others of marginalized populations offering advice on this type of topic. Just offering what I can with what I’ve got to collaborate with the efforts of helping those religio-politically homeless to do what they can toward speaking up for what is right in today’s challenging climate.
How to *actually* communicate you’re a “safe” moderate in today’s climate:
- Recognize the way you’ve been raised and socialized affects your views, and that in turn may affect how much you’re willing to participate in the religio-political world. For instance, if you consider yourself moderate, there’s a good chance you don’t like conflict much. Recognize that might be an issue at times, especially in today’s climate. Know that on the topics where you know you differ a lot from progressives, it might be wise to listen more than to talk when you enter more progressive spaces on those issues. But feel free to agree with what you can, loudly!
(Note that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King particularly had an issue with “white moderates” for their desire to tamp down “good trouble”—I talked about that here. I hope the present article is a helpful extension of his advice, telling you good folk how to be a moderate that is perceived to help with problems of human and civil rights rather than being a hindrance! Or, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it, complicit with evil.
- Believe independent fact-checking organizations and organizations that have been helping the marginalized for decades (e.g., Amnesty International and other boots-on-the-ground organizations). Distrust organizations, both faith-based and otherwise, that have quickly changed their tunes on major issues over the last 3 years.
- You likely have heard messaging (and maybe participated in some) saying that “both sides are just as bad.” Don’t presume that “both sides” are equally untrustworthy or equally partisan in how they cast things. (They’re not.)
- Decry all human rights violations. Full stop.
- Look at a wide range of news sources if you choose, but don’t trust all equally. Check media bias sites regularly before believing things. (Don’t think you have to equally listen to “all kinds of sources,” though–that’s not always a merit in today’s climate. Propaganda can subtly change your perspective in unforeseen ways, and there’s no need to maintain a steady diet just to maintain a sense of self as “fair.”)
- Act like a detective—rely on the evidence of your eyes and ears, and also listen more carefully to experts than non-experts on various matters, while recognizing that all expertise has its limits. Remember you don’t have to give equal weight to the evidence of proven liars–and in fact, you definitely ought not to.
- Know that experience of marginalized groups is incredibly valuable evidence—these groups are often excellent at seeing power dynamics that those “on the inside” don’t regularly see. Definitely include stories from marginalized people and how everything is affecting them in your steady diet of information. Cultivate compassion for the marginalized and vulnerable, and look out for them.
- Know that no one is infallible or completely moral. That doesn’t mean that some people aren’t more right than others.
- Learn how to ask for both more rationality and more empathy in both theological and policy-based discussions.
- Be aware that alertness to power dynamics affects how those on the left see the world. Cultivate the ability to understand such viewpoints. Ask good questions and ask for book recommendations if you’re not there yet.
- If someone in a place of powerful leadership is claiming to be the victim, look for actual evidence as to who is to blame—and realize that the “viking or victim” phenomenon isn’t a great thing, whether you find it in yourself or others.
- Recognize that all communication is a negotiated act between parties, and that sometimes everyone is right and wrong, but some people and some ideas will always be more right and wrong than others.
- Vote on more than one issue, and look for candidates who actually match up with your values on multiple issues.
- Seek and accept nuance, but don’t waffle on human rights issues or other important matters that marginalize and oppress groups of people. Once the evidence is in, defend proven and ethical positions and act/speak up.
- Learn about fascistic rhetoric, systemic conditions and values systems that marginalize people (racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc), and conspiracy rhetoric. Try not to get offended by people calling these things out, if you can.
- Be aware that actually being a moderate is going to get you labeled as a flaming liberal, a socialist, a snowflake, and/or a false prophet of Satan in today’s climate. Learn to be at peace with that–there are much worse things than being associated with compassion.
- Realize that those on the left may not fully agree with you on all matters, but need you as allies right now. Know that you may have to communicate yourself as “safe” and build credibility as part of that process.
- Learn about the ways we all respond viscerally in debates and discussions. (Read the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” to help with this. There will be instructions at the end of the article.)
But How Do I Know If I or Someone Else Is Really to the Right?
In case you’re actually on the right and don’t realize it, I offer this list about how to communicate that you only *think* you’re a moderate, but are really far-right in this communication climate:
- If your primary news source is legally considered an “entertainment news network” and begins with an F, then you might be missing out on some actual facts, and may be further to the right than you think.
- Pay attention to whether your primary news sources regularly offer corrections if they get information wrong. If you do, you might possibly be moderate. If not, you’re probably getting some propaganda and/or conspiracy rhetoric in there somewhere—and that’s not a great thing.
- Do you regularly defend bothsidesism and false equivalencies—in other words, do you agree that both sides *equally* insult the other side, even when one side is using accurately descriptive terms more and the other is using devil terms? If so, you’re not really moderate.
- If someone brings up questions surrounding higher education, do you occasionally break out into rants about how “our students are being brainwashed by liberals”? If so, you’re regrettably not moderate, but quite a bit further right than you think.
- If someone brings up the question of the human rights violations at the border, do you find yourself defending any part of the administration’s current policies, shifting blame to previous administrations of other parties, or doing anything other than decrying the human rights violations and wishing to decry them and help with that? If so, you’re not a moderate.
- If someone brings up a Democratic tax policy, do you find yourself tempted to break out in a rant against how you don’t want this country to be “socialist”? If so, you’re not a moderate.
- Do you decry the current head of the administration’s Twitter presence, but say he’s got good policies (especially on things like abortion and anti-socialist policies)? If so, you aren’t a moderate, but pretty far to the right. (NOTE: You may certainly be broadly pro-life and be a moderate. But if you’re stuck on the Supreme Court solution, you’re probably not a moderate.)
- Do you regularly defend “law and order” without actually knowing the laws? For instance, when someone says something about the human rights crisis at the border, do you find yourself complaining that “these people” have been doing things illegally? If so, you’re actually really far to the right.
There are, of course, more signs and seals of whether you’re communicating being a genuine moderate or not these days. But these are hopefully a good start to figuring out how what you may need to do to be perceived as a moderate–or, if you’re already further left, some signs to look for and distinguish among.
Most important of all:
If you’re a moderate and want to communicate that, it’s really key to be speaking up against the toxic crap that’s going on, at least among people you know if not further afield. I really hope that’s more important to you than any feelings of discomfort about being perceived as “too liberal” in the current environment.
Know that if you aren’t willing to do this, others may have a hard time trusting you to be safe. These are difficult days, after all, and the toxic crap that’s going on out there isn’t great. Nor is it victimless. Remember that there are lots of us out there speaking up in hopes of making change, and that cynicism and burnout help us not at all.
Some Resources for You
Speaking of cynicism and burnout, try not to troll those trying to help, please! If you’re interested in figuring out whether you or someone else is a troll, I recommend signing up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar here or while commenting on this or other articles. Once you’ve confirmed your email address we’ll send you our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.
Quick Note to Friends on the Left:
Y’all, I know everyone feels suspicious right now, and so it’s okay to ask people to build cred in these times, but let’s do our best to welcome those who genuinely are showing signs of being true moderates as described above, can we please? We’re going to need all the help we can get. I know this is a hard ask…
One Final Note to All:
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! It’s (past) time that all of the reasonable, compassionate people raise their voices and help each other out so that the bullies don’t have the loudest, most effective voices. Let’s keep speaking up, even when it’s uncomfortable. We can do this thing!