OHIO — Working through a polarized political climate is a tough situation for many people to handle. People often feel comfortable with the groups they’re in and are hard wired to draw their identities from group membership. People are also keen to notice who’s in the opposing group.

What You Need To Know

  • Groups are strong points of identity. These include political party and religion

  • Muslims and Christians may have mutual suspicions about each other

  • Braver Angels encouraged men from both faiths to see what they had in common

In the series Talking Politics, Braver Angels is shown as a group that works to find a commonality between political party members. But what happens when differences aren’t just political? What if they’re religious?

Kouhyar Mostashfi sees troubling trends in America’s politics.

“This day and age we only talk to people that are part of our tribe,” he said.

That may explain why religion, like politics, can be divisive. The terms “Christian” and “Muslim” could be inserted in place of “Republican” and “Democrat.”

Researchers say suspicion about people in groups people don’t know is a challenge. Yet it’s one Braver Angels is up for.

Greg Smith, a former police chief, is an evangelical Christian and Trump supporter from southwest Ohio who thought Islam and ISIS were the same. When he met Kouhyar, a software engineer, Muslim and Iranian immigrant, Smith had questions.

“Oooh, them Iranians at that time. I had some questions for the Iranian,” he said. “I bet he can tell me all about ISIS.”

Mostashfi recalled the meeting.

“We were face to face,” he said.

But the meeting wasn’t a shout fest or a fight. The duo met at a Braver Angels workshop with some ground rules: listen and be nice.

“Okay, I can do that,” Smith said. “I learned that in kindergarten.”

There’s more to the story. Braver Angels encouraged the two to act. Smith proposed they visit each other’s places of worship.

While experiencing each other’s faith firsthand, the pair came to a deeper understanding. For Smith, that meant squaring his previous beliefs about Islam and ISIS.

Greg also reflected on something Kouhyar said about Islam as a practicing Muslim.

“You said, ‘my religion has been hijacked,’” Smith said to Mostashfi. “So I started thinking, you what? Sometimes I feel like my religion’s been hijacked.”

While the trust Mostashfi and Smith now have after their interaction shows the potential to look beyond stereotypes, both understand why group conflict is common.

“The media enjoys the circus between the far left and far right,” Mostashfi said.

To succeed at the Braver Angels approach, Smith knows it will take work, including among his own group.

“There are a lot of ‘reds,’ conservatives, Republicans, Christians. They’re just afraid of this thing with me and you,” he said to Mostashfi.

Meanwhile, Mostashfi sees the commonality across faith groups.

“Americans all have good hearts,” he said. “We all want to take care of each other.”

He’d include Smith in that group.

Smith thinks America needs more people like Mostashfi.

“This man here, I’d take a 100 of his family members if they’re like him,” Smith said.

This is proof that, down the road, people who once were group opposites, can bravely share in life’s journey.