[Published] A return to real social networking

Reconnecting is hugely important, not only to our economy but to our sense of community and understanding of people around us. This summer is going to be about getting back to the things that we love. But it can also be about correcting some of the bad communication habits we’ve fallen into that have left us feeling out of touch and even angry at the world outside.

I wrote for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette twice in 2020, both columns about how the COVID-19 pandemic created an unhealthy communication environment prone to misinformation and animosity.

Now that Arkansas and America are returning to normal, I wanted to write something to remind us of the community beyond our screens and encourage real social networking – even if we might be a little rusty. The piece relies on theory and research into social identity, relational maintenance, community structure, and affective dimensions of partisanship and trust.

Read the column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

See more of my media appearances here.

[Published] Trump, the Capitol and religious endorsement

What happened at our Capitol festered in our churches and was done in the name of our God. As Christians, we can’t stay silent. The time has long passed to rebuke and remove this cancer once and for all.

I was glued to my television on January 6. The images of protesters breaching the United States Capitol building in a violent show of opposition to presidential election results will stay with me forever. Not just because of what it means for democracy, but because of what it means for the church.

It was impossible not to notice the religious symbols amidst the throng. A giant wooden cross. A flag pledging allegiance both to Donald Trump and Jesus Christ. A Christian flag planted in an occupied Senate chamber.

I’ve been writing about the uncomfortably cozy relationship between Donald Trump and the Evangelical church since he was a candidate. In the four years since, support for Trump has become an important piece of a fused religious-political identity.

It’s an uncomfortable topic. I reluctantly brought the thoughts that would eventually form this article to Facebook. People argued. My faith was questioned. I got (loudly) unfriended. I hated it so much.

But the point of all of my writings on this topic has been the importance of speaking up. No longer accommodating Christian nationalists in our midst, but instead asking why they feel so comfortable in our pews and compatible with the Gospel being preached from our pulpits.

So I wrote this piece – you can read the entire thing in Relevant Magazine.

Update: I also spoke to Eric Sentell for the Metamorphosis podcast for a longform conversation about this. You can listen in your browser via Soundcloud, or download it from Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

See more of my media appearances here.

[Published] Burst the bubble

The toxicity that leads some of us to unplug from social media is a feature, not a bug. 

I’ve been vaguely familiar with the social media app Parler for maybe a year. The free speech haven made a splash after the election, attracting conservatives fed up with perceived bias from Facebook and Twitter. Though Parler imagines itself a free wheeling marketplace of ideas, its recruiting efforts have attracted a decidedly homogenous user base.

Echo chambers are nothing new. But here in Arkansas, we saw an example of the type of rhetoric one can feel comfortable expressing in such a place, when the police chief of a small town posted “parleys” calling for violence against Democrats on the national stage, and in your community.

This piece gave me a chance to revisit some important themes throughout 2020 – that social media coupled with a pandemic is a recipe for heightened partisanship – and to take a look at a new dimension of hyperpolarization: the radicalization resulting from constant enemy-making.

Partisans aren’t just encouraged by affirmations of their in-group; they are galvanized by demonizations of out-groups. Straw men and memes mocking the “other side” prevail across partisan filter bubbles, creating what Italian researchers called an “emotional contagion” of negativity and what a new study out of the University of Virginia deemed a “phenomenon of animosity.”

This was also a chance to share some surface findings from a study of partisan social media bubbles during the election. Look for more of that on the horizon soon.

Read the full story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

See more of my media appearances here.

[Published] Why coronavirus conspiracies are thriving

The longer we stay at home and social distance during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the more misinformation and conspiracy seem to thrive. Sure, the supply-side is spraying nonsense in every direction for profit, power, anarchy, or all the above. But the flood of falsehoods exists in part because demand is through the roof. The same measures keeping us safe from coronavirus are making us susceptible to misinformation about it.

It was the Plandemic video that really got my attention. I wasn’t just seeing it shared by my more conspiratorial friends, but by seemingly everyone on my Facebook news feed. So I started digging into what we know of selective exposure and cognitive outcome involvement, paired with early research on coronavirus messaging, to explain why conditions are ripe for conspiracies to travel beyond their usual circles, and what can be done at the state and individual level to combat it.

Read the full story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

See more of my media appearances here.

[Published] How Christianity Today’s anti-Trump piece sparked a battle over social identity

For those questioning whether the church is guilty of worshiping a political idol, consider how defenders of Christian morality and witness must approach Christians as a skeptical, if not hostile, audience.

I’ve been writing about the evangelical dilemma over Donald Trump since the 2016 election (“Donald Trump is dividing the church”). Back then, it wasn’t rare to find church leaders as outspoken critics of the Republican nominee. But those voices have quieted, some even reversing course, through President Trump’s first term.

So it was interesting to see the reaction from the politically religious (or is it religiously political?) Evangelical church when Christianity Today published an editorial calling for Trump to be removed from office.

Touching on findings from my dissertation about dual religious-political identities and research into Christian nationalism by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, I take a look at the bigger picture for the church:

It’s at the fusion of this religious and political social identity that Trump finds his most loyal supporters, and why anyone trying to untie that thread is a threat. The messaging by Christianity Today and by Trump and his allies exhibit the state of the church under the gospel of Trump, and a battle over who belongs.

Read the full story in RELEVANT Magazine.

See more of my media appearances here.