Third Way: Is respect the key?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Third Way
United America 10 core American values by Wayne Baker

WANT TO SEE ALL 10 CORE VALUES? Click on this image to visit the ‘United America’ resource page where you’ll find this chart to download in a larger format.

‘Third Way’ implicitly means focusing on shared rather than contested values. By doing so, we strengthen our relationships and bridge what divides us. But the Third Way makes an assumption that is so fundamental and foundational that—if it were not true—the entire approach would crumble and fall into the abyss.

The Third Way assumes we have shared values. Do we?

Americans do have shared values, as readers of know. Ten shared values, in fact. These values cut across religious, demographic, and political lines, according to scientific evidence gathered in four national surveys. I present the ten core values in United America.

One of the ten—respect for others—is especially germane to the Third Way. It means acceptance and appreciation for people—no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, creed, or sexual orientation.

There’s a wide gap between this value and the reality we encounter in our lives, as I’ve written in United America. Often, we don’t live up to our ideals. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Ken Wilson promotes the Third Way in his book about LGBT issues and Christian churches, A Letter to My Congregation. It means agreeing to disagree while affirming our shared values. My small contribution to this dialog is to affirm that yes, indeed, we do have share values and key among them is respect for people who are different.

The Third Way is not just about LGBT issues and the church. It pertains to any issue that divides us. It emphasizes what Thomas Jefferson said in his 1801 inaugural address: “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” We can agree to disagree while still affirming what unites us.

Or, as Robert Fulghum expressed respect for others in an effective and prosaic way, “I am less inclined to protest, ‘Why don’t you see it the way I do?’ and more inclined to say, ‘You see it that way? Holy cow! How amazing!’”

Do you believe that respect for others is a core American value?

Do you see people living up to this value—or violating it?

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Family Treasures: What prized item tells your family’s story?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Family Treasures
Family Treasures exercise in a United America discussion series

Just some of the “Family Treasures” we’ve seen in groups discussing “United America.” Click on the photo to see the free activity guide that explains this exercise. You’ll enjoy sharing this idea with friends!

As Americans, we share more than divides us. That’s the message of United America, and the four activity guides that give groups sure-fire ideas to explore the core values that unite us. Last week, we introduced Taste of Home, a group exercise that invites participants to tell family stories behind food traditions.

This week, we introduce Family Treasures, an activity groups are using with the United America book to connect the importance of the 10 core values to family stories about … treasures.

Using the word “treasures” is likely to spark thoughts of treasure hunting. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island has been re-made more than three dozen times for radio, TV and movie theaters. PBS’s Antiques Roadshow has been a hit since 1979 because it suggests that anyone might have a valuable treasure gathering dust at home. The idea of finding hidden treasure shows up in stories from the world’s oldest sacred literature—and it fuels customers for state-run lotteries around the world, today.

Along with the American Images and Taste of Home guides, this Family Treasures activity often summons deep emotion. Group leaders have told us about total strangers who have bonded over stories of objects as simple as a grandfather’s “dog tags” or a grandmother’s candy dish, a hard-earned Boy Scout award or a piece of embroidery created with a mentor, a work-worn hammer from an old tool chest or even a seasoned cast-iron fry pan.

We have seen truly precious objects: jewelry, rare stamps, an antique Persian carpet and even a 100-year-old baseball card. And we have heard stories with great emotion spun around objects no one else would even recognize: a chunk of copper ore from a mine or an iron handle from an old wood-burning stove.

This exercise invites surprises!

This week in, we’re going to share some of our favorite stories. So, stay tuned for the next four parts in this five-part series. Perhaps these stories will help you to ponder the stories behind objects in your home.

Perhaps you’ll want to share this series with friends. Now is a perfect time to build interest in starting a discussion series on United America.

Your story is important!

The purpose of the OurValues Project and the United America book is to get Americans talking with each other—friends, neighbors and even total strangers who may enjoy gathering to talk about the values that unite us. That’s a dramatic and refreshing change for a lot of us, these days.

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in  your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

You can play an important role in building a healthier community.

Changing Relationships: What happens when religious values clash?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series changing relationships
United Church of Christ banner in a pride parade

Some religious groups welcome LGBT men and women. This United Church of Christ banner was part of a gay-pride parade in 2013. Photo provided for public use by NathanMac via Wikimedia Commons.

The right to make and break relationships is a defining feature of modern society.

Through most of human history, a person was born into a fixed matrix of relationships. Today, many people enjoy unprecedented freedom of action and choice when it comes to their relationships with one another and to institutions like religion, family, and community. But we don’t have complete liberty—values shape and influence the choices we make.

When values change, what happens to relationships?

One area of change involves religion and relationships with those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT). Public opinion has shifted in favor of same-sex marriage, but it is still a divisive issue—a majority of Americans support gay marriage, but a near-majority do not. For many churches, it’s an even more divisive issue.

Most LGBT adults feel that religious groups are generally unfriendly toward them, according to a Pew survey of the LGBT community. For example, at least eight of ten LGBT adults say that the Muslim religion, the Mormon Church, and Catholic Church are unfriendly toward them. Three-quarters view Evangelical churches as unfriendly.

It is noteworthy, then, when a prominent evangelical ethicist changes his mind about the church’s relationship to the LGBT community. The ethicist is David P. Gushee, who is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. Throughout most of his professional life, he took the traditional line on the church’s relationship to LGBT people. Now, in his latest book, he argues for “full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.”

Gushee’s book about changing his mind is changing many of his relationships. The new book’s official publication date is this week, but news about its message already is bringing him new allies, including friend requests on social media, and new opponents, some of them former friends. (You can read a new interview with Gushee in ReadTheSpirit this week.)

Given David Gushee’s pedigree and credentials, however, he cannot be easily dismissed.

To what extent will religious institutions change their relationships to the LGBT community?

In the religious institutions you know, what happens when values clash?

Hopes for Children: What can kids do in our troubled world?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Hopes for Children
Malala Yousafzai's photo has been added to the colorful exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. This photo was posted to Wilkimedia Commons just hours after her Peace Prize was announced.

Malala Yousafzai’s photo has been added to the colorful exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. This photo was posted to Wilkimedia Commons just hours after her Peace Prize was announced.

What can a child do?

Plenty! That’s the word from the committee giving the next Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

At 17, Malala is the youngest-ever recipient of the prestigious prize. (You can read more about Malala and other extraordinary young women this week in our own Interfaith Peacemakers section.)

Children can be heroes—like 12-year-old Kamal Nepali, who rescued a two-year-old girl who had fallen into a gorge carved by the Seti River near Pokhara, Nepal. The child was trapped in a crevice so narrow that adults couldn’t reach her. Kamal was small enough to fit in, and he volunteered to do it. The adults lowered him into the darkness of the crevice, and he emerged later with the girl strapped to his back. (ListVerse magazine has more details about Nepali’s story.)

Pew chart on regions of the world and optimism about children 2014

Click this chart to read more at the Pew website.

From small acts of kindness to extraordinary events, children can do a lot in our troubled world.

Parents around the globe envision a better world for their children, according to new reports from Pew. Many people predict that their children will be better off than their parents.

But this optimism is not spread evenly around the world.

Can you guess which region is the most optimistic about their children’s future? Hands down, it’s Asia. Well over half (58%) of Asians are optimistic about their children’s future. Only 24% are not.

Which region is the most pessimistic? It’s Europe, according to the Pew Research Center. Sixty-five percent of Europeans predict that their children’s future will be bleaker than their parents’ experiences. Only 25% are optimistic about their children’s future.

What can a kid do?

What do you hope kids will achieve?

THIS WEEK’S OurValues series by sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is great for sparking discussion among friends. Please, use our blue-“f” Facebook icons or envelope-shaped email icons to share this column with friends. Or, simply leave a Comment below.

Prayer in School: What happens in a ‘Moment of Silence’?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Prayer in School
A MOMENT OF SILENCE often is used among men and women in public service as a way to honor the fallen. This photo from the USS Kearsarge, serving in the Persian Gulf, shows the ship’s personnel pausing in an annual moment of silence to remember victims of the “9/11” attacks. (Photo by U.S. Navy’s Ash Severe, released for public use.)

A MOMENT OF SILENCE often is used by men and women in public service as a way to honor the fallen. This photo from the USS Kearsarge, serving in the Persian Gulf, shows the ship’s personnel pausing in an annual moment of silence to remember victims of the “9/11” attacks. (Photo by U.S. Navy’s Ash Severe, released for public use.)

Have you participated in a Moment of Silence? Often, Moments of Silence are expressions of remembrance and respect for those who have died or used to commemorate a tragedy. These are common occurrences in schools.

If a student cares to pray during a Moment of Silence, is it permissible?

This week, we’ve considered various angles on what is still a contentious issue in America: prayers in school. As a new Pew survey reports, a majority of Americans still support prayers in school. We’ve considered prayers at graduation ceremonies, writing about prayers or other religious themes in a term paper, and “See You at the Pole” prayer events.

Today, we consider the Moment of Silence. The theme this week is neutrality. School officials cannot officially encourage or discourage religious expression at schools. If students—on their own—choose to pray, they can do so as an expression of religious freedom.

The Moment of Silence is one of many issues covered the Department of Education’s guidelines. These guidelines state:

“If a school has a ‘minute of silence’ or other quiet periods during the school day, students are free to pray silently, or not to pray, during these periods of time. Teachers and other school employees may neither encourage nor discourage students from praying during such time periods.”

Back in the 1990s, Colin Powell, who was thinking about running for the White House, famously said that he didn’t favor prayer in public schools but he did favor a Moment of Silence.

Critics of the Moment of Silence contend that it is just a sneaky way to slip prayers into the school day.

So, what do you think happens in a Moment of Silence?
Have you participated in one?
If so, did you pray?

Children’s Values: Is ‘religious faith’ better than ‘tolerance’?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Children's Values
Collage of world religions from Wikimedia Commons

A WIDE ARRAY OF FAITHS: All the world’s faiths are represented in the U.S., these days. (This collage of images comes from Wikimedia Commons.)

Americans have a lot of common ground when it comes to the values we want to teach our children, as we’ve discussed so far this week. But there is also a lot of disagreement.

Consider these two values: “religious faith” and “tolerance.” Is one more important than the other? Or, do we want our children to learn both?

The Pew Research Center asked about 12 different values in their recent survey. Six are widely shared (see Part 2 in this series). Religious faith and tolerance are not among the six. Some Americans emphasize religious faith as a value that is especially important to teach children; others say that tolerance is a more important value.

Americans who are consistently conservative in their views are very likely to stress the importance of religious faith. Over eight of ten (81%) say religious faith is especially important for children to learn, with a majority (59%) ranking it among the most important values. In contrast, consistently liberal Americans say that religious faith is very unimportant for children to learn. Only a quarter (26%) say that is especially important.

We see the opposite pattern for the value of tolerance. Almost nine of ten consistent liberals (88%) say that tolerance is especially important to instill in children, with 22% saying that it is the most important value. In contrast, consistent conservatives are the least likely to say that tolerance is very important for children to learn. Only four in ten (41%) say it is especially important, with 3% saying that it is the most important value for children to have.

Do you believe that it is more important for children to learn religious faith than tolerance?
Or, is tolerance more important than religious faith?
Would you rank them both the same in importance for our children?

Doing Good: Is the ALS Icebucket Challenge truly good?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Doing Good

Muppets Kermit the Frog takes the ALS Ice Bucket challengeNOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Please welcome back guest writer Gayle Campbell. I’ll tell you more about Gayle at the close of today’s column. Here is the first of her five parts on “Doing Good” …

By now, you’ve certainly seen it exploding across your social media feeds: Friends, dumping buckets of ice water on their heads, and challenging their friends to do the same. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a social campaign designed to raise awareness and funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease), a fatal neurodegenerative disease.

Celebrities from former President George W. Bush to Bill Gates to Lady Gaga have all partaken in the challenge, which has brought in over $53 million in donations for the ALS Foundation, compared to $2.2 million they raised in the same time period last year.

The marketing seems brilliant: Succumb to peer pressure to prove your altruism, or face judgment from your peers.

And it’s clearly working: Facebook announced last week that more than 28 million users were talking about the challenge and 2.4 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos were shared on Facebook between June 1 and August 17.

But it’s this same logic that’s caused the campaign to be criticized by some as “Slacktivism”—online engagement that requires very little time, effort or money, offering participants the satisfaction of doing good without actually making much of an impact. One blogger even argues that participation in a feel-good cause like the Ice Bucket Challenge might lead one to compensate by doing fewer good actions in the future, an effect known as moral self-licensing.

Criticism aside, it’s hard to argue with the over 2,000% increase in donations to the ALS Association, which will be used to fund global research for treatment and a cure for the disease that affects approximately 30,000 Americans.

What do you think? We want to hear from you!

Have you participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge? If so, what motivated you to get on board?
If you’ve avoided the campaign, why?
Do you think the challenge promotes activism, or “slactivism”?






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Long-time readers of OurValues may recall that Gayle Campbell once was Media Director of our online project. A University of Michigan grad, today, she’s a professional communicator in Washington D.C., working in the fields of international development and exchange. Gayle occasionally returns to write on millennial matters, social justice issues and doing good. Click here to enjoy her earlier columns in OurValues. (If you click here, you’ll see today’s column at the top of the new page, but you can then scroll down to read 10 more).