Choosing Both / And rather than Either / Or as an Antidote to Polarization in America

Much of my work over the years has focused on my calling into question either/or binary positions on contentious issues; choosing, rather, to formulate both/and positions that seek to capture the best insights from those adhering to the two either/or poles

It all started many years ago, during my days as a Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) at two Christian liberal arts colleges. The first either/or false choice I rejected was as follows:

  • College faculty members should focus either on effective teaching or productive scholarship.

This false choice fails to capture the truth that effective teaching and productive scholarship are two sides of the same coin, with each activity enriching the other.

More recently, there has been a debate in Christian higher education circles about another false choice:

  • College education should focus either on the dissemination of information or the development of character.

Once again it is both/and, not either/or. At its best, college education includes the dissemination of information that will deeply inform the character development of the learner (for elaboration, see pp. 27-31 of my book Let’s Talk). Read more

Dividing or Uniting Americans: Trying to Recruit Two Northwest Iowans

The following was published in the September 8 issue of the Capital Democrat in Orange City, Iowa

It has been accurately suggested that a rapidly emerging problem among Americans is that half of us don’t want to talk to the other half.

As some readers of the Capital Democrat may recall from previous pieces I have written, for the past decade or so my primary passion has been to try to create safe and welcoming spaces for persons who have strong disagreements to talk respectfully to one another about their disagreements, as a deep expression of love. The results of five such past conversations (called eCircles) can be accessed on my website,

I would now like to design a sixth such conversation, precipitated by a criticism I have of President Biden’s recent speech about “The Future of Our Nation.” Biden’s speech presented a strong critique of the extreme MAGA wing of the Republican party as posing a severe threat to democracy in America. I happen to agree with Biden about this severe threat. But my criticism of Biden’s speech is that, as one interviewee on Fox News said, in this speech he was serving as a “Divider-in-Chief,” not as the “Uniter-in-Chief” that he has promised to be. Perhaps Biden has given up hope that MAGA Republicans want to talk to those who disagree with them. I cling tenaciously to that hope.

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Divide or Unite: My Invitation to MAGA Republicans.

The impetus for my invitation is the speech recently given in Philadelphia by President Biden on the topic “The Soul of the Nation” and two criticisms of that speech, one by a Biden supporter and one by a non-supporter.

Biden’s speech was a blistering criticism of those he views as extreme MAGA Republicans; while acknowledging that there are many Republicans who do not fit into this category. In strong language, he stated his view that these extreme MAGA Republicans are a severe threat to Democracy in America.

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Navigating The Abortion Debate: Conversations Based on Values

The Supreme Court has spoken, voting 5-4 to overturn Roe vs. Wade, thereby turning over to the various states the right to enact their own abortion laws.

I fear that this decision will lead to an unprecedented level of vitriolic political discourse, and even to violence, as different states enact laws ranging from banning abortion at any time after conception to providing abortion “on demand” at any time during pregnancy.

It will surprise no one reading this Musing that given this climate of fear, I urge residents of all states to express their beliefs about abortion in public venues, with the hope that it is not too late for each state to provide safe and welcoming spaces for differing views to be shared and respectfully discussed.

Motivated by that hope, I will now present my views on abortion. Read more

Hurrah for Bipartisan Gun Legislation

I applaud the imminent passage of bipartisan gun legislation that is long overdue.

This is not the first time that a small bipartisan group of legislators has been able to forge bipartisan legislation. Two other examples come to mind, one old and one relatively new.

In 2013, a small bipartisan “gang of eight” senators, four Democrats an four Republicans, collaborated to forge a comprehensive bill on immigration reform that was passed by the Senate. Alas, this legislation died when it came to the House of Representatives.

A more recent example that had a successful outcome in the Halls of Congress was the passing of a bipartisan bill on hard infrastructure that started with the forging of a bipartisan bill by a small bipartisan group of legislators. Read more

An Open Letter to Elon Musk

Dear Mr. Musk:

News of your purchase of Twitter has elicited numerous reactions, both positive and negative. I am responding positively, with some qualifications.

I applaud your commitment to foster “free speech” that will give voice to the expression of any belief about any contentious issue. My applause is prompted by a very painful experience I had a number of years ago when a great injustice was done to me and I was silenced. No one wanted to hear my side of the story. No one should be silenced in a conversation about anything.

I also wish to applaud your assertion that “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy,” and your aspiration that Twitter become “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” I wish to take you at your word. Therefore, at the end of this letter, I will reflect on what may be required to make this assertion reality. Read more

Reflections on Gay Marriage

Author’s Note by Harold Heie: In my various attempts to model on this website respectful conversations among Christians who have strong disagreements about some contentious issues, I have attempted to be even-handed in allowing those on either side of each issue to present their differing beliefs, with minimal editorial comments from me as moderator. However, after having read my eCircle narratives, a few of my readers have asked me to present my beliefs about the issue at hand. I take that a good sign since it may testify to my  having been reasonably successful in my attempts to be fair in my eCircle reports, not “tipping the scales” in favor of one perspective on the issue.

But I believe I owe honest answers to the readers who have posed such honest questions. Therefore, from time to time, I have included in my blogs (what I have called my “Musings”) answers to those who wonder about positions that I take on selected issues. What follows is my response to the question a few of my readers have asked about my personal position on gay marriage.

A controversial question that is presently leading to significant rancor and schisms within Christian churches and denominations is:

Does God approve of a lifelong, monogamous, marriage commitment between a gay couple?

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Misplaced Value Commitments in Politics

If you dig beneath the surface of everything you say or do, you will discover one or more value commitments, in the ordinary sense of some things that you judge to be important.

Therefore, to make some sense of the turmoil in contemporary American politics, one must seek to uncover the foundational value commitments of politicians and their followers.

In their revealing book Peril, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa report on three events surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency that reveal value commitments on Trump’s part that I believe are antithetical to the Christian faith; misplaced value commitments that are sadly becoming the norm in American politics.

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Constant Ongoing Learning in Dialogical Community

These six words were used by my good friend David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer university, to describe my “approach” to engaging others. This observation was prompted by my recently making a “mid-course change” in the procedures for the ecumenical conversation on what it means to “follow Jesus” that I am currently hosting on this website. What led to my making this change was what I learned was working well, and not so well, during the first month of a twelve-month conversation.

As I thought more about this phrase, it became obvious to me that it captures a great deal of my “approach” to life throughout my Christian pilgrimage. So, I will now elaborate a bit on this, morphing into why I believe this approach to life is so challenging in these times of extreme polarization in culture and why I will persist anyway.

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Freedom is Not License: Mandating Masks or Not

On a daily basis, cable TV reports on the protests from some Americans against mask mandates because they are a violation of “freedom.” My argument in this Musing is that not wanting to wear masks for this reason reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of freedom by equating freedom with “license,” being able to “do as you please” without giving consideration to the effect of “doing as you please” on the well-being of others.

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