BYU political science professor Lisa Argyle said political disagreement within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is necessary during the Honors Program Disciple Scholar lecture on March 25.
Argyle’s main area of research focuses on understanding how and why people have political conversations with each other in the course of their everyday lives.
She said she hoped to convince the audience that making disagreements more common and accepted will help to overcome hurdles associated with political discourses. This is better than ignoring disagreements in politics or trying to make them go away, she added.
A big reason why Argyle said there needs to be political disagreements is politics are increasingly being tied to people’s identities.
People attach themselves to political parties, which become a meaningful part of their identity, Argyle said. This is on par with how they feel about their racial, religious or personal identities.
“When we make arguments that we want to leave the politics out of it, what we’re asking people to do is segment parts of their identity to leave out of the conversation,” she said.
Argyle used a recent event on campus as a real-life example of how politics are personal. Two different groups surrounding Rainbow Day at BYU showed two very different opinions related to the event.
The first protest involved flyers placed around campus in opposition to Rainbow Day. They were removed because they were not approved by BYU, Argyle said. The second demonstration took place at the end of Rainbow Day, when students hiked and lit the Y in rainbow colors. BYU tweeted in response that they did not authorize the lighting of the Y.
Argyle said BYU was consistent in dealing with both sides of this debate in saying there are certain approvals needed for demonstrations on BYU campus. However, the reactions to these events don’t reflect the same kind of institutional consistency.
“We have to keep in mind that how individuals respond to these types of policies is personal, and account for that as we’re having political conversations and thinking about the role of politics in our lives,” Argyle said.
Another big takeaway from the lecture comes from Argyle’s description of disagreement versus contention and avoidance versus peacemaking. She said there is no such thing as a dispassionate debate about policies.
She believes contention is tied to pride while disagreements are a part of everyday life. “Contention is different than having differences of opinion, but avoiding contention by just not talking about it, is not the solution. That’s not the same as being a peacemaker,” Argyle said.
In closing, Argyle said she had one caveat on having political discussions and disagreements in a church setting. She said partisanship still does not belong in meeting houses, and Church meetings are not an appropriate time or place to have those conversations.
However, Argyle said Church members should strive to understand others’ opinions and identities. “When we have a deliberative approach to conversations where we’re trying to establish understanding and connection of other people instead of proving why we’re right, I think this can help build our community.”