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Lyon convocation: Authors argue for empathy despite political, religious differences

Two pastors encouraged the Lyon College Community to not only accept differences in faith and political beliefs but also to explore the ways they can grow through these differences.

Authors Angela Denker and Layton Williams discussed the intersections of faith and politics at the Holy Disunity Convocation at Lyon College. During the Feb. 19 discussion, they hoped to bring their novels, which discuss managing and accepting these differences, into conversation with each other.

Both authors emphasized the importance of open conversation in a time when much of the nation is marked by this division. 

“If you have commonalities with people and you can talk to people, then it’s important to put yourself in that space,” Denker said, arguing against the growing tendency to reject those with different opinions. 

Seeking connection with those one disagrees with will allow people to accept other differences as a healthy part of life, she said, when one avoids giving in to stereotypes or personal prejudices.

The authors pointed out that human beings are nuanced, so disagreements are to be expected even within the same religion, denomination or church.  Opening deeper conversations can bring to surface what may seem like contradictory beliefs or hypocrisy, they argued, but these beliefs are only further evidence of those nuances. 

“It’s easier to dismiss a caricature, because we don’t have to confront the God-belovedness of a cartoon villain,” Williams said, encouraging people to avoid rejecting human complexity.

Denker is a Lutheran pastor, journalist and author. Her novel, “Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump,” aims to combat stereotypes and bring an empathetic light to a diverse group of people and experiences.

The book was inspired by Denker’s desire to combine the concepts of journalistic and religious truth through an empathetic lens. During the convocation, she discussed the strong divisions born out of ideological differences, especially in light of the 2016 election, and how those divisions continue to affect church communities.

“As a pastor, I was still going to be pursuing the truth, telling the truth, and doing it in a way that would ring true,” Denker said, “and that would also enable people to find their own stories in God’s story.”

She wanted to portray that truth in her novel, telling people’s stories in their own words.

Williams is a Presbyterian minister and author. Her novel, “Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save Us,” argues that disagreement is a healthy aspect of faith and human nature. It encourages people to develop their spiritual, personal and social lives by actively engaging with those they disagree with. 

Much of this argument was born from Williams’s experience holding different political beliefs from her family. She discussed the importance of acknowledging the roles politics play throughout our entire lives rather than attempting to compartmentalize the topics so as to avoid conflict.

“It’s so easy to subsume people into this monolith of understanding,” Williams said. “But our relationships with people that we love are a constant invitation to remember one another’s God-given complexity.”

Neither Denker nor Williams began writing with the goal of discussing politics; however, both soon recognized the role politics play in dividing nations and groups that might otherwise share similar values and standards.

Watch the Holy Disunity Convocation on the Lyon College Facebook page.