Full Transcript of Episode 09: Who is in Best Position to Address Controversial Topics in America
Lizette: [00:00] Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee, this is Keep Asking, the weekly podcast that helps you dive in a bit deeper and wider into the research providing insights into today’s church and culture.
[00:23] Welcome back, guys. Welcome back, everybody. Today, we’re going to be talking about who Americans think is most qualified to start healthy conversations on challenging issues in society. Before we do that, I want to hear from you guys.
[00:44] Who are some celebrities or athletes ‑‑ one of the choices on the survey ‑‑ or someone fun that you enjoy when they speak into these? It’s not what they do all the time, but when they speak up on an issue or a topic, you pay attention?
Scott: [01:02] I think any time somebody is bringing humor to a topic, that makes me pay attention. Obviously, when we’re talking about facing difficult issues, I remember back to “Seinfeld” episodes about having an intervention.
[01:18] When you bring humor to a tough topic, I think that helps everybody involved, and sets them at ease. Some of the comedians who are venturing into that space today, that can be helpful if, for no other reason, for comic relief. At other times, they’re bringing up some very important points as they’re bringing humor into their discussions.
Lizette: [01:39] I don’t mean to say that I’m surprised you’ve made a great point, but a lot of times, they can say some very raw things, and very difficult things, but because they’ve said them with humor, they just get away with a lot more, which is how I like to live my life, getting away with things. How about you, Casey?
Casey: [01:57] I’ve got two real quick. One, I remember seeing Will Smith on one of the late-night shows talking about how it’s, in some ways, healthy that some of this stuff was out in the open, that people are having some difficult conversations on race, and law enforcement, and those issues, because that’s how healing happens, is when you start actually having those conversations.
[02:19] I appreciated his insight into that. It was an optimistic view, looking forward. Also, I really appreciated when Carmelo Anthony joined with several members of Team USA basketball, the Los Angeles Police Department, and some young people from the Los Angeles community, and they had a town hall meeting.
[02:39] I just appreciated that everyone left that saying they were better off for it. A lot of people seemed to say they gained an additional perspective and empathy for the people they’re interacting with.
[02:48] I don’t know if that’s the place I would have expected to say, “Oh, here, something really serious happened. I wonder what Carmelo Anthony has to say about that?” I feel like it was. It was a great opportunity that ‑‑ again, they know it’s not solving everything, but ‑‑ to get people in rooms together, and have difficult conversations.
Lizette: [03:12] For me, it’s Dolly Parton, someone who’s very successful, very talented, but also very comfortable with who she is. She’s skillful at avoiding the really controversial. You don’t ever see her getting baited into something that she doesn’t want to talk about. It’s amazing how many responses she has ready.
[03:36] She’ll stand up as a leader in a time of crisis. We saw that last fall when they had the fires in Sevier County, and she stepped up, and led in the efforts to get some funding for the people who lost their homes in those fires.
[03:52] She’s been a pioneer in early childhood reading and literacy here in the state. She’s also just hilarious, a brilliant businesswoman. When Dolly Parton says something, I’ll pay attention.
Scott: [04:04] I’ve read a number of her books to my kids when they were younger.
Lizette: [04:06] Yay! Looky there.
Casey: [04:07] We get them every month now.
Lizette: [04:12] She’s got a great program. That’s really neat. Casey, I’ve decided to step back and let you facilitate today’s discussion. Are you OK with running everything?
Casey: [04:18] Yikes.
Lizette: [04:19] No, I’m just kidding. As you know, I’m a little nervous about this topic. A lot of what we are going to be talking about today touches on some of the really hot button issues that have been dividing, or electrifying, or getting people wound up for the past year, past year and a half, two years.
[04:50] They’re important issues, but I have a personal preference not to get in trouble. Again, I have to ask Scott, what are you thinking? Are you trying to get us in trouble? Are you trying to get everybody mad at us? Why are we researching this? Why are we asking Americans this?
Scott: [05:11] The question we asked actually has the phrase in it, “Challenges facing our society,” meaning the American society. Obviously, when you put that into a question, we’re assuming that there are challenges facing our society today.
[05:26] I don’t think too many people would question that, but some might. Those are very real challenges. I think there’s a lack of healthy conversations going on in American culture today.
[05:43] As we see people being very emotional, some of these issues that our society is facing hit very close to home with people, and they are very important to them. We know that where we land on these issues as a society will likely dictate our future society, what it’s like, and whether or not we enjoy living in this society.
Lizette: [06:15] What did people tell us? Let’s just get straight to the fun data.
Casey: [06:22] We asked the question specifically, “Who is in the best position to generate a healthy conversation on challenges facing our society?” When we asked it, we actually didn’t have an elected president yet, but the highest percentage said our elected president ‑‑ 23 percent of those answering.
[06:40] 11 percent said pastors of local churches. 10 percent said professors at universities, and it went on from there. Actually, a full third of people also said none of these, among several different options that we presented to them.
[06:55] There is some questioning, I guess, as to are any of these people, are they in a great position to generate a healthy conversation?
Lizette: [07:05] What’s the benefit of our listeners knowing who people are looking to as an authoritative voice, or a qualified voice, or the best position? I don’t want to change the words.
Casey: [07:22] That’s the one thing, actually, I think it’s important. Again, I know that this is what we naturally do, is we want to change it into something more clear language for us to say, “Oh, this is what this question’s about.” In the process of that, we’re asking specifically who’s in the best position.
[07:44] They might think five, six of these options are qualified to have that conversation. Even the professional sports players, I just gave an example of one where I said, “Hey, I feel like this person did a very good job in that position,” but only one percent of people selected that option as to who’s best qualified.
[08:00] I certainly wouldn’t have selected that option, given all of the available choices, either. I do think we can hear that 11 percent said pastors of local churches, and think that means 89 percent think pastors of local churches aren’t qualified to have those conversations. That’s not necessarily what we can actually say for sure from our data.
Scott: [08:20] Because the largest response is that none of these that we listed are who they want to depend on to guide that conversation, it shows us that one of the realities in America today is that no one is naturally a thought leader. That’s a position you have to earn.
[08:39] Just the fact that you are in a role ‑‑ you are a congressman, you are a university professor, you are a pastor ‑‑ that does not automatically make you a thought leader. You have to earn that role. I think that’s different than previous generations, where sometimes, being in a role meant people listened to you.
Lizette: [08:59] Now, could you clarify, it doesn’t naturally make you a thought leader to everyone? Say the professor, it would naturally make you a thought leader to 10 percent. There’s a danger that if you’re surrounded by that 10 percent, and the same goes true with pastors, if you’re surrounded by the people who automatically put you in that position…
Scott: [09:26] You think everybody else is following them, too.
Lizette: [09:27] Right. What’s the benefit of being aware of who others are looking at? The people who are looking to business leaders, versus the people looking at professors at universities?
Scott: [09:45] I think one of the takeaways for a ministry leader is that acknowledgment that we need to be investing in the voice that we personally have and that our organization has on that topic, especially that we care so much about, that ministry area that we have.
[10:06] That means that we have to be participating in those conversations, and stepping into those conversations, and that we have to earn our place at the table in those conversations, and make sure we’re bringing value to those conversations every day. We have to have processes in place. We have to be investing in those conversations.
Lizette: [10:26] Our listeners can actually fall in any of these. I don’t know the president or the president‑elect is listening to our podcast, but I do know that fans of Lifeway Research are all across the spectrum in vocation.
[10:45] The people listening to the podcast, what can we say about how data in research can help them if they are going to lead out, and shape the conversation among people who may not be thinking they’re a natural thought leader, regardless of whatever their job is?
Casey: [11:03] I think, by citing quality data, you can show that you have an awareness of the scope of a particular challenge. You can also present some specific information about typical ways that challenge manifests itself.
Lizette: [11:16] I’m going to stop you right there. When you say quality data, what do you mean?
Casey: [11:20] I mean that it came from a research project or a research organization that knows what they’re doing.
Casey: [11:35] If it’s a survey of their Facebook friends, that’s not necessarily demonstrating that they are aware of the scope of the problem.
Lizette: [11:42] Where would you recommend folks, if they’re just going to go out, and they’re wanting to talk about a societal issue, where do they start trying to find quality data? Their first step would be going to the Bible, and then the second step, go to LifeWayResearch.com.
[12:02] Step number three, where do they go? What do they do? Scott, you can jump in. We’ll keep going. I didn’t mean to just completely shut you down.
Casey: [12:10] You’re fine.
Scott: [12:11] Oftentimes, you can just Google it, but of course you need to be looking at where, when Google gives you some data on a particular topic, who should you believe? Obviously, a lot of government sources are very helpful.
[12:28] Understanding how many refugees there are in the world, it gives you the scope of the problem, as Casey was just sharing. That’s very helpful information. Four million of them earlier this year ‑‑ at least that was the number earlier this year ‑‑ four million were from Syria.
[12:43] That’s very helpful to understand the scope of a problem. Other websites, like the Census site, the Center for Disease Control, they’re doing valuable research every year that gives us the scope of real problems, as well as some specific ways those things are manifest, as Casey was saying.
[13:07] When we understand which diseases are prevalent, or which places is this happening more often than others, that tells us where we might be able to help.
Lizette: [13:19] Now, the CDC also has, if I remember correctly, excellent instructions on what to do in case of a zombie outbreak or attack. I’m not exactly sure what zombies do, but am I correct in that?
Scott: [13:34] I’ve seen some vehicles driving around that they are zombie apocalypse response units. It’s great to know some people are prepared for such important topics.
Lizette: [13:45] I’m completely depending on a couple of folks in our IT department that I know are equipped and ready. Also, I’ll like to throw in, while as researchers, we’re a little bit on the competitive side, I do want to throw in Pew.
[14:02] Just the depth and breadth of their projects is pretty amazing. They really tackle some big stuff. That’s a nice place to go. There’s others, but that’s a good one. Casey, I so interrupted you.
Casey: [14:16] You’re fine.
Lizette: [14:18] Next, after quality data, what was your next one?
Casey: [14:22] We hit the quality data. We hit specific information about the different ways that those challenges show up. Then lastly, knowing the level of preparedness that the people you are equipping have to meet that challenge.
[14:38] Not just, “This is the challenge that’s out there, and here’s the way we see that challenge,” but how do we address that challenge? How do we meet those needs? If you can answer those questions, that means you have a opportunity to step into difficult conversations, both as an individual, and for your ministry, and engage people.
Lizette: [14:56] I think one thing I would hope, if we could just take it to a really basic level, even if you want to just speak to this topic, you’re writing a blog post, or you’re leading a Bible study discussion, I would love to know that you’re spending a few minutes looking at the data that’s on the societal issue as you’re also looking at the biblical information.
“[15:28] The biblical,” that sounds so cold. As you’re letting the Bible set that, because there’s no way, whatever you’re saying about the societal issue, wherever you’re standing ‑‑ and I’m not trying to make enemies, or get people fired on either side ‑‑ but you have been shaped by society. You have been shaped by data.
[15:46] Whether it’s a media personality, whether it’s another. Looking at other sources can help you balance that out. I appreciate it when I see a blog post, even if I don’t agree with it, if I can tell they’ve looked. It’s like they’ve looked all around the problem, and you can tell they didn’t just go with soundbites, or this is what they grew up thinking.
[16:12] Their conclusion may differ, but there’s a level of respect that makes me want to listen, or at least engage, if it looks like they’ve just found some foundational pieces, and they’ve got an idea of what’s going on.
Scott: [16:27] It can be incredibly helpful to listen to people who have different points of view than you. That’s especially the case when they bring data to the conversation.
[16:38] I think, as we go to make some of our arguments, or to make our case as a ministry of why people ought to be joining us, why they ought to be helping us, or why they ought to be involved, if we jump straight into our solution, we’ve not brought anything to the conversation except that solution, and take it or leave it.
[16:57] Whereas if we come to the conversation with some information, we begin to put some markers, to put some anchors to that conversation that are very helpful. Even if somebody doesn’t choose your solution, they still have to respond to those needs that you’ve described.
[17:13] They have to respond to the anchors out there of the situation. If nothing else, it might make their solution better, or frankly, their argument better, depending on what we’re talking about.
[17:25] I think too often in our political discussions especially, we jump straight to these solutions we don’t agree on, and we knock heads, rather than let’s talk about some facts first, and then let’s put our ideas out there on solutions.
[17:42] Hopefully the conversation in ministry settings is a lot more civil than that, but still there are a lot of different ministry solutions to address certain needs. Let’s talk about what’s really happening, and begin with those markers.
[17:58] That way, we’re benefiting everybody involved, and then hopefully, they’ll want to be a part of our solution as well.
Lizette: [18:07] I just burped into the microphone again. I want to apologize to Drew, but I’m going to start again. This may even be a thing that we cut out.
[18:16] This may or may not fit, but once source of data and insight ‑‑ using, I think, the term maybe a little bit more loosely than you guys would ‑‑ is one of my favorite sports talk personalities, is Floyd Reese, the former GM for the Titans.
[18:32] I always feel like he’s giving information on NFL front office, and the way people are thinking. You hear it a lot, whether it’s announcers or people, you’ve gotten the perspective of players and coaches for years, but to hear a GM regularly on the local sports channel is just, really gain some insight.
[18:55] One of the things, he gave an example of there was a player for one team who was really mad at another player on the opposing team. That player, they have the same agent. You guys may know this story.
[19:08] Next time he sees that player, he’s going to beat him up, this totally wound‑up thing. Floyd’s cohost ‑‑ we won’t go into a lot of details right there, but… [laughs]
Casey: [19:20] Who you’re a big fan of.
Lizette: [19:23] I would say let’s qualify that, and we’ll have that conversation another day ‑‑ was totally riled up, wanting the NFL to fine them, got really wound up. Floyd’s like, “Probably when those guys see each other, they’re going to hug, say what have you been up to?”
[19:39] Part of that ‑‑ you see it all the time ‑‑ is there’s talk in front of the media, and then there’s what actually happens when those guys are meeting with their agents. Floyd gives that insight. He knows what happens. He’s seen it.
[19:55] That’s a data source I trust when he’s describing the insider thing. I think there is an element of that, if we can be more informed, whether from our own experiences, or looking at data out there, that we can be a calming influence at either the people who are riling up ‑‑ whether it’s politically, media, in the church, whatever ‑‑ and being voices to maybe calm things down, get perspective.
[20:30] It’s still OK to disagree, still OK to have the conversation, but I think thought leaders also need to be listening leaders, and calming the tone down a little bit.
[20:43] One thing I think is fascinating looking at this is we hear all the time how angry people are at Congress, but six percent said that elected members of Congress were in the best position to generate this conversation, which is more than both those who picked professional sports players and musicians. It’s only one percent less than the seven percent who picked business leaders.
Scott: [21:13] It’s still a pretty small percent. If we think back to our civics classes, who on the list of folks that we had there is it most in their job to be generating these conversations at a grassroots level, it would be congressmen and women.
[21:31] I think the fact that they have very low favorability ratings today, and they have for a number of years now, is reflective that that six percent should be much, much higher, given their role, given their position.
[21:44] In reality, they’re not looked to in that way, either because they’ve not functioned in that way in recent years, or because people don’t want them to.
Casey: [21:54] I think there is at least a certain part of this question that’s aspirational nature. We have this, “Who’s in the best position to generate this healthy conversation?” We’ve probably had people from both parties answering our elected president, but they felt like maybe the person who they were voting for, I’m sure, is the person who actually would do that well.
[22:17] I think that there’s something to that, that you’re saying, “Hey, this person’s in a great position to do that.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re expecting them to follow through on that, and generate the conversation you’re hoping that they have, either.
Lizette: [22:27] I’m just going to throw this out there, way beyond probably what you guys want to be answering, but what’s the next step that we can give folks who want to engage, and have these conversations?
[22:40] What’s the next step they can do to be a little bit more prepared, either to weigh how these people are leading conversations, or to be leading them out if they’re in a role similar to these or another? They could potentially be falling in that 33 percent. That looks like it’s just wide open.
Scott: [22:57] Knowing that there’s a bit of a vacuum, and there’s not widespread agreement that there’s one type of person who should be leading this conversation, obviously, prepare yourself, but take a little confidence in stepping into conversations today.
[23:12] The last thing our society needs is a vacuum. We need real leaders stepping forward with real answers, and not everything figured out. Real answers as in leading some very healthy conversations. Who better to do that than people who are understanding biblical principles that are timeless, that are not changing?
[23:39] Those who are looking to do good through ministry can step into some great leadership in the conversation space in America.
Lizette: [23:52] Casey, how about you? Any suggestions for a next step? Someone who maybe has a blog post, or if they’re going to start tweeting about something, what would you like to see them do?
Casey: [24:04] I think the piece we hit on with do a little research first before you say something, I think that’s definitely a helpful suggestion. As Scott said as well, I think that there isn’t, “Hey, these people have a monopoly on meaningful conversations around challenges facing our society.”
[24:29] There’s room at the table for somebody to come in, as long as you can voice a meaningful solution, and hopefully a spirit‑led meaningful solution to some of those challenges. Not even necessarily even a solution, but even just a, “Hey, this is a problem. We should be aware of it, and start trying to find solutions.”
Lizette: [24:50] That’s not the answer I wanted you to give, so I’m going to give the answer I’ve heard you give a little bit like that before. When we’ve talked about random sample, or population size, and you have a great point saying, “My Facebook feed is not representative of the American population as a whole.”
[25:12] I think the people I respect are the people who I can tell, they’re thinking about more than who 80 percent of their Facebook feed represents. We all have folks that are like us. That’s who we’re sharing that personal information.
[25:33] At least I assume I can tell if someone has a broad network, or at least they are having some conversations with people with a few different opinions. That doesn’t make them weak on their opinions, but they’re at least respectful.
[25:48] Then there are folks that you’re like, there’s only two kind of people that can stand seeing what they put on there. One, people who agree with everything they say, or people like me. I’m like, “How crazy are they going to take it now?” [laughs]
[26:02] They’re going to take it more level. I have a list of those, that when I’m wanting to get wound up, I go search for them on Facebook just to see what kind of crazy they’re putting up there. I think that, Casey, is one of the wisest things you say, is that, thinking about your Facebook feed, think about a broader picture.
Casey: [26:24] It’s hard to disagree well if you don’t encounter disagreement within your social circles. I think that makes it challenging, because you feel like the people who are disagreeing with you are on the fringes somewhere. I think that broadening your circle always helps.
Lizette: [26:42] Now, I can take that fear I had at the very beginning. Now, I’m afraid we’ve sounded too ecumenical…
Lizette: [26:52] but I hope we’ve said some helpful things today.
Lizette: [26:57] If you like what you’ve heard today, we’d love it if you’d go and pop into iTunes, and rate the podcast. If you hated what you heard today, just let us know directly. No need to tell iTunes. We will do our best to learn from that. We will engage. Feel free to give us a critique via email or Twitter.
[27:19] Also, let us know what riveting topics about research. Here’s the thing. Research always sounds a little bit like it’s not going to be exciting, but then when people hear something that matters to them, everybody can get wound up about research.
[27:35] You can email us your feedback, and ask questions about this question, or research in general at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Twitter, @lifewayresearch, @smcconn ‑‑ two Cs, two Ns, I’m going to get that ‑‑ @statsguycasey, and @lizettebeard. We look forward to talk to you next time. Keep asking, learn more, do better.