by Ben Konuch, Student Public Relations Writer
Seeking common ground in political rhetoric was the goal of Dr. Andrew Harris, associate professor of communication at Cedarville University, and a group of communication scholars from the Religious Communication Association (RCA) met with Feven Solomon of the White House Office of Public Engagement on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
This meeting took place at the Dwight D Eisenhower building, an office complex for White House staff.
The main topic focused on the intersection of communication and religion in the public sphere and how to advocate for the importance of interfaith dialogue in an increasingly polarized nation.
“Religious freedom is a foundational tenet of a healthy society,” said Harris. “As a member of the RCA since 2009, I have learned to listen carefully to peers who do not share my spiritual convictions on religious matters.”
The Religious Communication Association is an academic association made up of scholars, students, clergy and journalists who share a common passion for religious speech, rhetoric and media. The association provides a place for professionals of various faiths to study issues of religion and communication. This meeting with the White House staff members was a chance for members of the Religious Communication Association to discuss communication strategies and perspectives with those who have the potential for great impact.
Harris, in his seventh year at Cedarville University, has also served the Religious Communication Association for seven years. When a colleague in the association brought him the opportunity to discuss communication strategies and values with OPE, Harris believed it was his responsibility to accept.
“We have to talk about how both sides of the political aisle are locked in what Wayne Booth calls ‘a win rhetoric,’ and it’s not the good kind,” said Harris. “We are so focused on winning arguments at all costs, we are failing to find places where we agree, which Booth calls ‘a listening rhetoric.’”
Harris acknowledges that due to political, religious and worldview differences, there will always be places where Americans disagree and will always try to push for what they want in those areas. Yet, there are still places where Americans can find common ground but fighting against one another blinds Americans to the other perspectives and a political stalemate occurs.
“When we talk about civic engagement, what we all really seek is what the Old Testament calls shalom – we desire to help our community find a lasting peace based in righteousness,” said Harris. “While clearly the American Left and Right have differing opinions on what is and isn’t righteous, there are places where we are in lockstep agreement and can come together instead of convincing ourselves that the other is always the enemy.”
This meeting of the Religious Communication Association and the Office of Public Engagement sought to unveil a practical piece of wisdom on communication that can be relevant to all Americans, regardless of backgrounds or beliefs. Harris strongly believes that from a communication perspective, disagreements and differing opinions can also help us come together to bring different light on the aspects of life that we hold common ground on.
“I stressed that the societal aims of religion transcend politics. Religious persons from many faith traditions are equally concerned with things like food insecurity, homelessness, and the drug crisis because they harm the soul as much as they do the body,” explained Harris. “If any Office of the President, Republican or Democrat, can find out how to unite the ideological ‘Left’ and ideological ‘Right’ together over any civic issue, even while we understand that there will still be civic issues hard fought against, that president will go down in history as one of the most successful of the current era.”
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is a Baptist university with undergraduate programs in arts, sciences, and professional programs, and graduate programs. With an enrollment of 5,456 students in 175 areas of study, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio and is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, and high graduation and retention rates. For more information about the University, visit cedarville.edu.