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Recap | The Future of American Democracy Series Kick-off: The Challenge of Polarization

View photos, watch or listen to an engaging panel discussion featuring Symone Sanders-Townsend, Jane Coaston, and Congressman Peter Meijer

On October 13, 2022, Princeton Theological Seminary hosted The Challenge of Polarization, the first conversation in The Future of American Democracy series. Moderated by Princeton Seminary’s Heath W. Carter, associate professor of American Christianity, the 90-minute panel focused on political polarization, the possibility and limitations of bipartisanism, debating issues instead of people, the role of faith in all these matters, and more.

On hand for the discussion were Jane Coaston, columnist for The New York Times and host of The Argument; Congressman Peter Meijer, a Republican congressman representing Michigan’s third district since 2021; and Symone D. Sanders-Townsend, former chief spokesperson for the Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris, author, Democratic strategist, and host of SYMONE on MSNBC. The panel brought expertise as well as wisdom from personal encounters with polarization, and the perspective of a different generation of leaders in politics and media.

“The very idea of Christianity in the public square has come to mean something arrogant and exclusionary,” Carter shared in his opening remarks. “There are a lot of folks out there hungry for a different way.” The series — designed to be broad, fair, illuminating, and oriented toward truth — is intended to help highlight what that different way might entail. Upcoming conversations include:

  • The Church in a Nation Divided – This conversation asks how Christians can most faithfully navigate the sharp edges of today’s polarized society. Panelists include: Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler, Lead Pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church; Rev. Duke Kwon, Lead Pastor of Grace Meridian Hill Church; and Rev. Karen Oliveto, the Resident Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of the United Methodist Church. This conversation and discussion guide are now available at https://bit.ly/churchandpolarization.
  • The Deeper Sources of Polarization in American Religious Life – Sociologist of Religion Robert Wuthnow, whose The Restructuring of American Religion traced the decline of denominational identity and the rising salience of ideology years in advance, joins Gerardo Martî to discuss how political identity is overtaking religious identity for many Americans, and what the church can do about it. Coming soon!
  • Is Persuasion Still Possible? – A 1-on-1 interview with Anand Giridharadas, author of The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds and Democracy. Coming soon!

All are welcome to watch or listen to The Future of American Democracy: The Challenge of Polarization, or view photos from this thought-provoking event, below. To access the discussion guide for this conversation, visit https://bit.ly/polarizationguide.

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The Future of American Democracy series will continue to delve into timely conversation topics with a range of thought leaders across ideologies and viewpoints over the course of this academic year.

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Special Advisor & Founding Director, IJM Institute

Bethany Hoang, Class of 2004

“The rooting of justice in our spiritual formation in Christ requires careful thought and teaching. I was equipped to lead in this way through my time at PTS.”