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Explainer: Survey finds Americans see stronger societal conflicts than other countries

societal conflicts

A new survey of 17 advanced economies finds that the United States is one of the most conflicted when it comes to questions of social unity. In just about every category of the survey — politics, race, ethnicity, geography, and religion — Americans see strong societal conflicts. A majority also believe that there is a disagreement over basic facts. 

None of the countries surveyed are as divided over political and ethnic conflicts as Americans. Almost all (90%) say there are conflicts between people who support different political parties and nearly 3-in-4 (71%) say the same when it comes to ethnic and racial groups. 

The divisions are most pronounced between people who practice different religions, between partisan political groups, between racial and ethnic backgrounds, and between urban and rural residents. 

Black and Hispanic adults, as well as Democrats and those who lean Democrat, are more likely to say there is a strong or very strong conflict between people who practice different religions. Sixty-two percent of Black Americans, 56% of Hispanics, and 56% of Republicans identify such conflict, compared to 44% of White adults and 39% of Republicans. More than half of all Americans (52%) also say there are strong or very strong conflicts between people who are religious and people who are not religious. 

Nearly three-quarters of Americans (74%) say that racial and ethnic discrimination is a serious problem in the U.S. However, Black adults and Democrats (both at 82%) are more likely to see such conflict than are Hispanics (70%), Whites (69%), and Republicans (58%). 

The area of conflict identified by the fewest percentage of Americans was between people who live in cities and people who live in rural areas. Only 42% find there is a strong or very strong conflict between these geographic regions. Yet even there, Americans are much more likely than some other countries to identify an urban/rural conflict. In comparison, only 12% of those in Spain and 18% in Japan say the same.  

A significant majority of Americans also say that when it comes to important issues facing the U.S., people may disagree over policies but most people disagree over basic facts. About 60% of Democrats, Republicans, Whites, and Hispanics make that claim, compared to 49% of Black adults. Moderates, whether they lean toward Democrats or Republicans, are also less likely to see disagreement over basic facts (54% and 52%, respectively) than are conservatives (62%) and liberals (68%). 

How should Christians think about these findings?

First of all, Christians should be people of the truth. In our day of misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lack of trust in basic facts, those who trust in Christ should be known as people of reasonableness (Phil. 4:5) and those who can be trusted (James 5:12). We must not contribute to spreading falsehoods and stirring up strife. We serve the God of truth (Heb. 6:18) and are called to be his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), making known his character to those around us. This is true whether we are within our homes, step out of our front doors, or post on social media. So, in addition to understanding God’s Word, seeking to love him with all of our minds in this age (Matt. 22:37) means pursuing correct information online and refusing to flippantly share stories we don’t fully understand. Our conduct should be above reproach, and oftentimes that means holding off on posting until we gather more information and can share in a way that is helpful and upright.   

Secondly, Christian should be people of love and kindness. It would be a tragedy — and displeasing to our God — if we are known as contributors of the conflict problem in our country. While we can’t control conflict brought upon us for the faith we hold in Christ (Matt. 5:11-12), we are responsible for the conflict we heap upon others. For the sake of God’s glory, we are to be people of good conduct (1 Pet. 2:12), showing gentleness and respect toward those around us (1 Pet. 3:15). Love and kindness does not mean approving of what is evil (Rom. 1:32), but it does mean being marked by the humility of Christ (Phil. 2). 

And, of all people, we should demonstrate love and kindness to toward fellow believers. Jesus said that we, as Christians, will be known as his disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). We have become one body in Christ (Rom. 12), yet, we often treat one another as enemies and act as if ethnic, racial, political, or even geographic differences should take priority in how we align with one another. Instead of justifying such conflict — especially online — we should intentionally heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). 

As we read over these survey results, we should ask ourselves how we might be contributing to the tenor of conflict in our country. Are you known as being a person of conflict? Or, overall, would others point to you as a person of truth, love, and kindness? May the Lord make us more like him for the sake of the gospel.

societal conflicts


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