Dispatch: Practicing the Better Angels Way

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Editor’s Note: This is adapted from one of Mr. Baker’s Facebook statuses, reprinted here with his permission. Mr. Baker is a member of the board of Better Angels.

My experience in social media has taught me that one of the most wrenching and painful things you can do is to try and get people to understand each other and extend charity rather than constantly promoting and cultivating the righteous rage that has become an addiction. If you follow that path, you will repeatedly be taken as too liberal, too conservative, too whatever it is that isn’t enough of what people want you to be, etc. But look—that’s who I am. It’s who I am going to be.

I am a Russell D. Moore fan who is simultaneously not going to join many “woke” parades among the more “enlightened” Baptists. I tend to err on the side of greater conservatism because of the disintegrating effect over time of the alternative.

I am a Donald Trump critic. Few Republicans were as disappointed as I was by his nomination. I said so in a large public gathering at the time. However, I am often repulsed by the continuing effort to bootstrap him into some kind of Hitler figure and will defend him from the charge. I will also give him credit where it is due.

In my run for Congress, I called for something close to an open border with Mexico. I have repeatedly pointed to a reasonable system (simple worker visas) that would accommodate our historically porous border and that would give almost no reason to cheat. However, I will not seek to call those who want stronger border security racists and xenophobes because I know there are valid reasons for a country to want to control its border. Unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, I will assume people have good rather than bad reasons.

I am a pro-lifer who doesn’t refer to abortion as murder because I care about the feelings (and crises) of the women who have had abortions. Nevertheless, I oppose abortion with every fiber of my being. But I will not portray those who favor abortion as some kind of monsters, even though I believe it to be a monstrous act. I know their motive is generally not evil even if I think the action is.

I am a believer in the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women under the fatherhood of God who hates racism. I believe the Bible’s contention that human beings come from the same source and are therefore equal before God. However, I do not promote a race discourse that ostensibly would heal our wounds, but ends up just tearing us apart.

I am convinced human beings will likely never find a system that generates more prosperity and well-being than free markets. But I respect those who think socialism is a better path. It is an argument worth having and having between people who are all seeking the good of their fellow human beings. I do not assume people who lean socialist are lazy or diabolical, even though I believe socialist systems end in grief.

Most important, I believe that arguments should be conducted with a bias toward restoring peace and agreement at the end. That means you do not take the gloves fully off and you do not seek to destroy your opponent.

More to explore

CVC to host program about depolarizing America

The Sheridan Press // SHERIDAN — Launched in 2016, Better Angels is a bipartisan citizen’s movement to unify America. By creating opportunities for meaningful discussions, Better Angels works to dial down the heated rhetoric that gets in the way of real conversations and accurate understanding of our differences.

2 thoughts on “Dispatch: Practicing the Better Angels Way”

  1. I have joined your organization and I have left two earlier comments to other posts. I see there are no comments to this statement, nor were there replies to my earlier comments. I am puzzled as to the basic purpose of Better Angels since I see so little actual postings or dialogues on your website; yet your organization is promoting civil, balanced, discourse. Forgive me if this comment seems to be overlong, but I believe the purpose which attracted to me to your organization could be developed to more fully encourage dialogue with broader participation. That is what I am looking for.
    First, I see no point in any exchange if it is not meant to do more than describe viewpoints with no feedback. You believe “arguments should be conducted with a bias toward restoring peace and agreement”. How do you achieve “agreement” beyond agreeing to disagree without probing more deeply into the intentions and interpretations of statements that are made? Is asking for clarification or more detailed explanation too pushy?
    Second, what is the purpose of having “agreement”? I believe that the country is facing many difficult and complex issues that require action. Without sufficient dialog that lends itself to developing effective policy across the partisan divide what is the point of courteous red-blue conversation? Granted, the words “sufficient” and “effective” will probably in themselves require dialog, but shouldn’t we begin by getting some agreement on the nature of the problems that face us as a society?
    You list a number of issues that you feel strongly about. Even though abortion is an extremely emotional issue for many, it is easier for me to use as an example of identifying some sort of consensus on the nature of the problem, and potential policy proposals to ameliorate harms from restricting abortion, or allowing it. I am not “for” abortion. I wish that its necessity could be limited by policies other than laws which effectively cut off access to people who are predominately those without monetary resources. I appreciate that you state your concern for the “feelings” of women who through circumstance, often outside their control, see abortion as an extremely important choice. Likewise, I am glad that you do not label women who seek abortion as monsters, only the abortion itself as a “monstrous act”; that their motives are not “evil”, but the abortion is. Are there any circumstances which would justify an abortion, e.g. to save the life of the mother? Since you are using moral language as justification for your position regarding abortion, does that certainty in your moral position allow you, or others who share your moral convictions, to determine what is legal for women? In my mind, there is an enormous difference. I hope there is at least a recognition that using moral authority as a justification for laws brings the debate to an entirely different place. The justification for laws against murder are not based on a moral argument, but a social compact that states that government, law, and policing is to protect people from harms caused by actions of others. Does the harm to your moral sensibility outweigh the perceived harm to a woman or family that is prevented from having an abortion? What about consequences outside pure opposition to abortion in which women’s physical and reproductive health are compromised by having access to family planning and health services?
    I am not really attempting to debate abortion policy with you, so much as to illustrate the kinds of questions that do not seem to have an effective format on your website.

  2. Clarification of next to last paragraph: I left out access being restricted by law or policy.

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