Why wait? When did waiting become such a political sin?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Why wait?
President Obama addresses Congress on health care

FACE to FACE POLITICS: In 2013, President Obama addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress to talk about health care. Photograph by Lawrence Jackson, released for public use.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome back our popular contributing columnist Terry Gallagher.

What’s the penalty on waiting?

Our idiom is loaded with proverbs calling on us to make decisions, to get off the pot, to strike while the iron is hot. And one of the worst things a politician can be accused of is “kicking the can down the road.” The phrase is usually taken as a synonym for procrastination, for adopting stopgap measures to avoid making the big decisions necessary to solve a problem once and for all.

Democrats accuse Republicans of doing it when they pass short-term budget fixes to avoid a government shutdown. Just last week, President Obama was lambasted by conservatives who say he’s kicking the can down the road by not dealing with the immigration crisis in a comprehensive way.

In a new interview this week, psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks recalls recently speaking to a gathering of U.S. representatives and senators when one senator admitted that he thinks the greatest problem facing congress is: “We don’t have enough time to think.”

We all face complex problems in public life, and in smaller settings, too, where comprehensive solutions are hard to come by, and stopgap measures work perfectly fine.

Social Security, for example. Alarmists have been saying for generations that the program will go bankrupt by some date, usually decades away, unless we cut benefits this very moment.

It turns out that we’ve been able to make modest adjustments every couple of years to keep the system solvent. Then a couple years later, we make another few modest adjustments. And government goes on.

So maybe we should kick more cans down the road, and give future generations the chance to tackle the complex problems facing our society. Or, when their time comes, to kick a few more cans a little further down the road.

What do you think? (Do you have enough time—to think?)

Try this discipline today: Consciously take a moment and either add a comment below—or use the blue-“f” Facebook buttons to share this column with friends.

Bias Busters: Some surprises about our largest minority group

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Bias Busters
Hispanic front cover web res

Click the cover to visit the bookstore.

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome Joe Grimm, editor of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s series of guides to cultural competence.

You probably already know that Hispanics are America’s largest minority group. They surpassed blacks in 2003.

And Hispanics keep passing milestones. Some recent changes, several of which are covered in 100 Questions and Answers About Hispanic and Latinos:

  • Most American Hispanics and Latinos are not immigrants. They were born here.
  • In 2014, Hispanics and Latinos surpassed whites as the largest ethnic group in California. New Mexico claimed that distinction first, but California is a far larger state.
  • Hispanic children now make up more than one quarter of all pupils in public elementary schools.
  • According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, Hispanic high school graduates are now more likely to attend college than their non-Hispanic white peers.
  • In June, Pew reported that for the first time in nearly 20 years most U.S. Hispanic workers are native-born, not immigrants.

These are important statistical benchmarks, but numbers do not add up to understanding. That requires personal investigation, engagement and conversation with people.

When journalism students at Michigan State University contemplated a Bias Busters guide on Hispanics and Latinos (both terms are used, though neither has a strong preference), this was the first question: If so many Americans are Hispanic, do we even need a guide? Some research into what people are searching for on Google said that we do.

These are some questions for you:

How do you keep up with rapidly changing dynamics?

Do you read, and if so, what? Do you have sources who keep you informed? How do you stay current?

JOE GRIMM is visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism and editor of the Bias Busters guides to cultural competence. He spent more than 25 years at the Detroit Free Press, 18 of them as its recruiter. You can read more about the series on its website at: http://news.jrn.msu.edu/culturalcompetence/

What good is religion? Faith can be a powerful force in marriage

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life. This is his fifth and last column in the series …

Wedding rings

Photo by Jennifer Dickert, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The economics of relationships are shifting, and generally not in a positive way for the institution of marriage.

The recession, the rising financial independence of women and cultural shifts and technological advances that make single-parent families more acceptable and feasible are contributing to fewer people walking down the aisle.

Religious groups are not immune to these trends, but new research indicates faith is a powerful force slowing the decline.

Regular church attenders marry at higher rates, divorce at lower rates, are less likely to engage in extramarital sex and have more children than the general population, one new study found.

And highly religious individuals are most likely to hold up traditional models of marriage despite the financial costs involved, including the loss of income when one parent cares full time for children.

Two studies presented at the recent annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture provide insights into why people of faith are more willing to pay the high costs of marriage and raising families even in an economic downturn.

“Religious incentives play a central role in marriage decisions and should play a role in any economic model of marriage,” researcher Brian Hollar of Marymount University said in his presentation, “Holy matrimony, Batman! Why do the devout pay so much for marriage?”

There are unhappy and abusive unions, but research has indicated numerous benefits associated with married life. Married people, in general, live longer, are happier, have better mental health and are less likely to suffer from long-term illnesses or disabilities, studies have found.

Do these findings seem reasonable in your experience?

Are you married? Is faith a positive factor in your marriage?

Are there ways religion plays a negative role in marriage?

DAVID BRIGGS writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Faithful Unions: Religion Buffers High Cost of Marriage,” at the ARDA website.

What good is religion? Divine support may reduce parental stress

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Ancient 10 commandment parchment

The numbering of the 10 Commandments varies by religious tradition. In the Hebrew Bible, “Honor your father and your mother,” is the fifth commandment. Catholics and Lutherans count this admonition as the fourth commandment.

Honoring your mother and father may be on the Top 10 list of commandments—but most parents can tell you that there are times when raising a child can try their souls.

What has been less known is how faith relates to parental stress.

Do religious teachings set up impossibly high standards that increase parental guilt? Or does the idea that God stands with them in times of both joy and anxiety reduce stress and lead to increased parental satisfaction?

The answer is a little of both. But new research suggests that there is a positive relation between some faith practices and beliefs and being a happier mom or dad.

People who regularly attend services were in general more likely to report parental happiness and less likely to say they are overwhelmed by parenting, according to one study of more than 5,500 mothers and fathers that found, “Generally speaking, religiosity is a modestly positive influence on parenting attitudes.”

The belief that “you are doing God’s will” may equip parents with a positive outlook that can help them through the ups and downs of parenthood, says Baylor sociologist Jeremy Uecker. He presented the study, conducted with Samuel Stroope of Louisiana State University and W. Matthew Henderson of Baylor, at the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York.

What do you think about these findings?

Have you experienced such parental support yourself?

DAVID BRIGGS writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Divine Support May Reduce Parental Stress, Increase Satisfaction” at the ARDA website. Briggs’ longer column included additional details about the complex way these influences may work in families.

What good is religion? Ask mothers at the margins of society!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Famous TV Moms“Mother.”

Read that word and you’re likely to think of your own Mom. Beyond that, you are likely to remember the thousands of TV Moms we’ve known in network series and commercials. TV images of women are increasingly diverse—but the truth is: White, middle-class women remain the dominant image of motherhood in American culture.

If you’re looking for the true impact of religion in America—and you’re only thinking about these stereotypical Moms—then you’re missing a major part of the family portrait of faith.

In large studies and in-depth interviews, researchers are finding many mothers on the margins of society—whether they are suffering with AIDS in Uganda or living in poverty in the Northeast or in a maximum-security prison in the Midwest—rely on religion and spirituality for a pathway beyond despair to having a sense of hope for the future. Their stories reveal a powerful faith that provides a vision of a better life for them and their children.

Consider these findings from recent studies:

Homeless mothers who feel forgiven by God and are able to forgive themselves and others are significantly more likely to have better mental health, one study found. The “results clarify some of the pathways that may help mothers exit homelessness or avoid it entirely,” said researchers at Arizona State University.

About seven in eight mothers attending an AIDS clinic in Entebbe, Uganda, reported spirituality helped them with their circumstances, according to a study of 162 sub-Saharan Africans. “Even if friends and family rejected them, women could still find acceptance in the present—and even hope for the future—through their relationship with God,” researchers at Brigham Young University found.

And, prayer was a special source of strength for incarcerated mothers, one study of women in a maximum-security prison found. Talking to God in prayer also gave mothers a sense of hope for the future, even if they had no practical hope to ever leave the prison system, according to a study at Wingate University.

Do these findings surprise you?

Have you seen examples of marginalized women, or men, who feel they are sustained by their faith?

DAVID BRIGGS is one of America’s most respected journalists covering religion. David writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Leaning Inward—Mothers at the margins find hope, support in faith,” at the ARDA website.

Political Polarization: Does anyone still value compromise?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Political Polarization
How compromise is perceived across the political spectrum PEW 2014

“COMPROMISE” is a complex process with the current levels of polarization in American politics. Pew offers this chart to suggest that common ground may be possible. CLICK THIS GRAPHIC to visit the Pew website and read the entire report.

“If you want to bring an end to long-standing conflict, you have to be prepared to compromise,” said Aung San Suu Kyi, a long-term advocate for democracy in Myanmar (Burma). (ReadTheSpirit’s Interfaith Peacemakers department has an inspiring profile of this Nobel Peace Prize winner.)

Should Republicans and Democrats compromise? Or, are they too far apart to ever find common ground?

This week, we’ve examined political polarization, drawing on a new report by the Pew Research Center. We considered how Democrats and Republicans have moved farther apart on the political spectrum, their beliefs about the types of communities they prefer, the potential of political intermarriage, and how many live in ideological echo chambers that reinforce their views.

Today, we consider whether compromise is possible. Should Republicans and Democrats compromise, as the Nobel laureate indicates? Or, are these American political parties too far apart to ever find common ground?

Obama and Republican leaders often differ when it comes to the most important issues facing the country. Should Obama get everything he wants? Should the Republicans? Or, should they compromise and split things down the middle, so that each side gets some of what they want?

The majority of Americans across the political spectrum prefer compromise, according to the Pew report. For example, 55% of those who are mostly liberal pick the 50/50 compromise, as do 50% of those who are mostly conservatives. Fifty-four percent of Americans who have mixed political views also prefer 50/50.

Only Americans with extreme political views don’t feel the same way. Only a third of those who are consistently conservative pick the 50/50 compromise, well over half (57%) saying that Republicans leaders should get more of what they want. We see the same on the other side. Only a third of those who are consistently liberal want to split things down the middle, with 62% saying that Obama should get more of what he wants.

Except for the political extremists, Americans generally prefer compromise. Do you want our leaders to compromise?

Should Obama get everything he wants?

Should the Republicans get everything they want?

What’s your view about compromise?

Political Polarization: Where are you headed? San Mateo or Fort Worth?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Political Polarization

San Mateo California and Fort Worth TexasDo your friends have the same political views as you do? Do you live in a place where most people have the same political views?

Conservatives and liberals are more likely to discuss politics on a daily or weekly basis, compared to people with mixed political views. For many, however, these discussions don’t take place across the political divide.

Almost two-thirds of all consistently conservative Republicans say that most of their close friends share their political views, according to the new Pew report on political polarization. And, half of all consistently conservative Republicans also say that it’s important for them to live in a place where most people share their political views.

Democrats are less likely to say that their close friends share their political views, but half of all consistently liberal Democrats say that is the case. About one-third of consistently liberal Democrats also say that it’s important for them to live in a place where most people share their political views.

The result is that many Americans live in an “ideological echo chamber” in which their own views are reinforced by their friends and neighbors. This is especially true for consistently conservative Republicans.

Some Americans even pick retirement locations based on political compatibility. Democrats may be more likely to retire in San Mateo, CA, while Republicans might be more likely to retire in Fort Worth, TX.

Civil dialogue across the political divided is possible, as I documented in the Belfast Dialogue that took place in Maine earlier this year. I wrote about this on OurValues.org, with a longer piece in Sojourners.

The problem is that you can’t have a civil dialogue across the political divide if all your friends and neighbors have the same political beliefs that you do.

Do most of your close friends share your political views?

How important is it for you to live in a place where most people share your political views?

Do you think civil dialogue across political lines is possible? Desirable?