The One America Movement: Uniting faith-based communities to address social and political divides
The One America Movement is a national nonprofit that provides bottom-up solutions to confront America’s growing social and political divides. Using a neuroscience-based approach, the organization reduces toxic polarization by providing tools and programs for faith-based communities committed to working across divides to solve common societal issues.
A Stand Together Foundation Catalyst, The One America Movement hosts events across the country, supports fellowships and democracy building projects, and creates partnerships to help people of faith understand how they can hold onto their sacred values while confronting the social and political divides that are pulling apart families, friendships, and communities.
So much of peoples’ discomfort when engaging with people who believe, think, and vote differently comes from a lack of understanding, so the first step toward healing is getting people to step outside their comfort zones. Over five years of work, 84 percent of One America Movement participants have said they feel the organization helped them see past their “bubble.” And for participants, the average perception of other groups improved by 16.5 percent after engaging in One America Movement programs.
From fueling anger to healing social and political divides
Chandra DeNap Whetstine addressed Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst Summit in March 2022. She acknowledged that she once willingly contributed to America’s growing culture of toxic polarization. She was mad at the injustices she saw in the world and thought her anger would fuel solutions to common societal issues.
But then she began to notice that toxic polarization was breaking down her community. She could see fierce social and political divides playing out on social media, around her Thanksgiving dinner table, and in front to the U.S. Capitol. As The One America Movement’s vice president of programs and operations, Chandra now helps faith-based communities rebuild a sense of belonging and relationships across differences.
“Democracy is in jeopardy,” said Chandra. “But it’s not just our democracy that is in trouble. It is our communities, our congregations, and our very relationships.”
Working with congregations, The One America Movement first helps the leaders of faith-based communities evaluate their congregation members’ own fears, biases, and disagreements. Then the organizations works with congregants to address the misinformation that contributes to division.
Chandra and her team also support faith leaders by building multi-faith groups in communities across the country. These groups discuss and try to solve the unique challenges — from gun violence to the opioid crisis — that are facing own their hometowns. After the brutal neo-Nazi attack in Charlottesville, Va. in August 2017, for example, The One America Movement established a group of local clergy from different faiths to have difficult conversations about common societal issues like racism and immigration.
“Our anger, our fear, our pain has been co-opted for other people’s political gain,” said Chandra at Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst Summit. “Rather than standing shoulder to shoulder to fight for justice, we’ve let our anger pit us against each other and tear our relationships apart.”
A pledge to focus on faith instead of political divides
The United States has the worst trending social cohesion indicators in the world. This toxic polarization leads to social decline. Chandra said half of the countries that have seen the United States’ level of polarization have seen a decline in their democracy.
Americans’ divides play out most frequently on social media, Chandra said. Individuals even encourage family members and followers to “unfriend them” if they do not agree with their stances on common societal issues.
“’Unfriend me now’ has become the new rallying cry of the United States of America, and it is killing us,” Chandra said.
Through The One America Movement, faith leaders are rebuilding relationships. The organization’s Matthew 5:9 Fellowship is a network of Christian leaders who have pledged to shepherd their communities to place their identity in Christ above social and political divides.
In 2020, the Matthew 5:9 Fellowship put out a call for biblical peacemaking. More than 1,600 Christians signed a pledge to be peacemakers in their communities. The message reached more than 10 million people.
Creating change starts with listening, and understanding science
“We’re not going to solve our country’s biggest problems if we cancel, reject, or write off half of our fellow Americans,” Chandra told Stand Together Catalyst Summit attendees.
The One America Movement has been successful at getting community members to listen to one another and commit to change:
91 percent of One America Movement participants said they plan to continue building relationships with the people they met through the organization’s programming;
76 percent of One America Movement participants said they reexamined their beliefs and opinions as a result of participating the organization’s programs; and
75 percent of One America Movement participants agreed that the programs exposed them to views they wouldn’t normally hear.
The One America Movement also works with other nonprofit organizations to help Americans better understand the innate factors that drive social and political divides. With Project Over Zero, for example, The One America Movement is teaching the public about the science of polarization. Another partner, Beyond Conflict, addresses the urgent need to understand better how humans think by applying rigorous science to real-world communities and by identifying the psychological processes and brain mechanisms that underlie and shape dehumanization.
The One America Movement is not trying to eliminate social or political differences. But it is trying to end toxic divisiveness.
“In the final accounting, we don’t have to agree on every single thing,” said Chandra. “Love and solidarity can actually trump hate.”