How do we engage with people who hold different beliefs? Oftentimes, the impulse is to correct the other, and this is especially the case in the argument culture. But what if we began by connecting, establishing a baseline of trust and finding points of agreement? Dan Broyles is a pastor in LA County who is doing just this, and he joins the podcast today to speak with Tim and Rick on the ways he is bridging the gap between county social services and religious organizations and faith communities.
Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. My name is Tim Muehlhoff. I'm a Professor of Communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California. I'm also the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project, where we try to reinstill a sense of civility, decorum to our public disagreements.
I'm joined by my co-host, Dr. Rick Langer. Rick, one of my favorite segments that we do on this podcast is called Reports from The Front. By that, we mean there are a ton of people doing exactly what we've been trying to advocate, and it's always a delightful surprise to run into these people. I recently ran into our guest at a conference.
Rick Langer: Did he recover from the collision?
Tim Muehlhoff: He did. He did. He recovered.
Rick Langer: Okay, good.
Tim Muehlhoff: But we struck up this conversation, and as he was talking I was like, "Are you kidding me? Please be on our podcast," and he has graciously agreed to do so. Why don't you introduce us to who's going to join us today?
Rick Langer: Yeah. Thanks, Tim. Dan Broyles, he spent a good season being a care pastor at Valencia Hills Community Church and has been working at churches since 2002. I think he still is at Valencia Hills, but he previously was a social worker with the County of Los Angeles, and he worked with children who were abused and neglected.
Has an M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy, and also a B.S. in Biblical Studies and Human and Family Development from Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, which by the way, I have visited and spoken at, Dan, so I know that institution. Good to have you with us.
By the way, in 2019, we hear you were the recipient of the Kathryn Barger Commitment to Service Award for LA County, and in 2022, the recipient of Citizen of the Year for the United States by the National Association of Social Workers. Wow. Great to have you, and thank you so much for joining us, Dan.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. Well, thank you guys just for having me, and thanks for your guys' passion to make a difference with people out there.
Rick Langer: Let me just begin by asking, you used to be a social worker. Now you're a pastor. Does the world look differently from those two seats? Are there things that really seem different, or importantly different? Talk to us a bit about that transition.
Dan Broyles: Sure, sure. So, I did social work for almost 10 years, and one of the things I loved about that, that I don't get as much, I would say, as a pastor is, I would actually go into people's homes and interview them about how they're really doing. I feel like you get to really know people on a more personal level when you sit down with families in their apartment, in their home and talked about how they're really doing, what's going on. In my role as social worker, even talk about family secrets. So-
Rick Langer: Yeah. In a sense, you're paid to talk about those, right?
Dan Broyles: Yeah. Yeah.
Rick Langer: That's why you're there. Yeah.
Dan Broyles: Yeah, yeah versus at church, it feels like it takes longer to get to what's really going on sometimes, in the walls of a church, sometimes. People, sometimes, obviously not always tell me what I want to hear once in a while. When you go to people's homes and you ask the 10-year-old, "Hey, tell me how your parents get along," they're pretty honest.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Rick Langer: What led you to make the transition? What were the things that made you think-
Dan Broyles: Yeah. I loved my role as a social worker. I loved stepping into those places. I actually enjoyed that job, but the home church I was at, at that time asked me to transition to help co-start a care/counseling ministry.
It was at my home church that I had grown up at, and I get to help develop it and start it from scratch. I couldn't turn that down. It was in my own area. I was like, "I'm going to jump in that and see what happens." It just took off. I've been blessed to being part of both worlds.
Rick Langer: Oh, that's wonderful. Let me just pick up one of the things that, I think, got Tim and I so intrigued by your story. It seems like there's a common perception today that, there's this unrelenting conflict between church and state.
When we talk about the separation of church and state, that's a good phrase because it feels like there's a DMZ between the two. Send them to the neutral corners and stop the fight, kind of a situation. It seems like your encounter between government and the faith community was really different.
It seems like you were someone who viewed the gap between the two as an unfertilized field that could stand some cultivation, and plant some seeds, and produce a flourishing crop. So, tell us some of the story about how all that developed.
Dan Broyles: Sure, sure. It actually started with LA County Board of Supervisors, of all groups, which I would not describe as a religious group at all.
Rick Langer: Okay.
Dan Broyles: Right?
Rick Langer: No, it's good to clarify. We were wondering. So, thanks.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. Yeah. About four or five years ago, I think 2018, they actually established a motion that the Department of Children and Family Services for LA County was going to start this motion, basically to work better with the faith community.
They realized that they needed more support and more resources. There's a lack of foster homes out there, and the needs were off the charts because LA County DCFS is the largest child welfare system in the country.
Rick Langer: Wow.
Dan Broyles: They were just looking at, "What other ways can we support these families?" They have not done a good job of tapping into the faith community. They started this motion, and then one thing led to another.
About a couple of years after that, I was asked to co-chair this project for LA County and help bridge the gap between social services and the faith community.
Rick Langer: So, tell us about the project. How has this unpacked? What's emerged out of-
Dan Broyles: Yeah. So-
Tim Muehlhoff: Dan, can I just say something real quick that, I thought of while you were talking about this? One, how amazing. I would never look at LA County ... We're here in LA County at Biola University. I would never think that they would ever do something like that, reach out and say, "Listen, let's learn from each other and utilize each other."
There's a man named Robert Wuthnow who talks about loose connections, which means we don't need to marry each other. We don't need to agree on all points in order to form a loose connection for a social good. I think what a beautiful expression of a loose connection that was fostered by LA County's initiative towards a faith community.
I think that's just a beautiful example, and one that gives us encouragement that, maybe the culture war isn't as nasty as we thought it was.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. It's been amazing because now in every DCFS office throughout the county, I think there's about 20 or so of them, there actually is a faith-based liaison now, that's part of their job description.
Rick Langer: Wow.
Dan Broyles: That's actually part of their job description. That's their job, is to collaborate. What happens is, the worlds are so far apart, it's like two radically different cultures that don't talk with each other. So, I have an example of this.
In my hometown of Santa Clarita, there's an office about two miles from where I'm at, and then they have about 250 employees or so. On the same street, a mile away is a church that has a large foster care adoption support group.
I think if all of them are there, there's about 70 people part of this, both the kids and the parents. Most of the social workers don't even know that, that support group exists.
Rick Langer: So, they can't even refer people to it, or whatever, people who would be of faith or whatever, they-
Dan Broyles: They'd be willing to refer to it, but they didn't even know they exist because it's two different cultures, like the other side of the railroad tracks feeling. They don't even know what's going on.
Part of my role is to go, "Hey, social workers, do you realize there's a resource that could help your families, that's a mile away from your office?" They're like, "Oh, really? Oh, we had no idea." So, I get to help bridge some of those gaps.
One of the great things that I found, and this is what I say all the time when I talk to social workers, administrators. I say, "Do you realize there's a lot of stuff we can agree on?" I'll get some surprise looks at first. They'll be really surprised. They were not expecting that from a pastor type.
I'll say, "We all want less kids in foster care. We want stable homes. We want less kids abused. We want kids to have a sense of community. We want solid foster homes. Who doesn't want that for their community? Whether it's a religious group, a church, or LA County, that's best for everybody. Can we agree on that?"
That's my starting place that, "Let's start with what we can agree on, and start from there, is that loose connection that you were just mentioning, and let's see what happens if we can agree on that, which that's pretty easy to agree on.
Rick Langer: Yeah. You'd be worried if someone couldn't agree with that.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: You found that they're receptive. I'm thinking of John Gottman who says, "Listen, the first 30 seconds of a conversation establishes the entire tone of the conversation." What a great, soft startup to say, "Listen, I think we have common values." So, you have found this to be effective as an opener?
Dan Broyles: Absolutely. I'm like, "Who doesn't want that?" The other thing that, I think I've been able to convey is, really care for what they go through. To interview children, day after day regarding abuse and neglect is really tough.
Rick Langer: I can't imagine-
Dan Broyles: The emotional wear and tear is challenging. Just having compassion for that is one of my other starting places to be like, "Man, that's rough. I hear you, and I'm glad someone else is doing that. Someone's doing that and stepping into, really those trenches."
Rick Langer: I hear that you started an actual training class for the Los Angeles County social workers about, you're working with religious clients. Tell us, how's that gone? What do you talk about, actually?
Dan Broyles: Sure. One of the things I've been doing, and I'm actually going from office to office. I just booked one for next month, and I'll have anywhere from 10 to 100 social workers at a time, and I'll have an hour with them.
Rick Langer: Wow.
Dan Broyles: Yeah, and I'm basically joining their staff meetings. I'll say, "Let's talk about how to deal with religious clients," because most of them have had training in multiculturalism. In regards to issues of faith, that's so sensitive, they avoid it.
So, one of the things I'll say to them. I said, "It would actually be unethical if a social worker was unwilling to address multiculturalism in their job." Of course. I said, "Well, why would we avoid people's religious and spiritual beliefs? We're supposed to help the whole person."
Then I get their attention. What I've found is, people are so afraid of that separation of church and state, language or even some of the, I would say, younger social workers are so afraid of offending someone from a different religion that, it doesn't get brought up.
What I end up talking to them, I said, "What I want you to do is not impose faith on people, but utilize the faith they already have." I said, "Here's a way to go about that. Just ask them, 'Have you or any one of your extended family members utilized faith in a positive way over the years?'"
Rick Langer: What a great question.
Dan Broyles: That's a question you can ask any client.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: That's not proselytizing. That's not saying, "You better go believe in my God." Just ask that question. Then if they say yes, how do you reinforce that and actually encourage that in a way that helps them, because the research is really clear that, stuff's been done out of Columbia University, Harvard that says, "Higher levels of spirituality leads to higher levels of resiliency."
I said, "Why wouldn't you want more resiliency for your families?" This is the most undertapped resource for your families from the social work perspective. It's not tapped into very much at all.
Tim Muehlhoff: Do you get pushback? Does anybody-
Dan Broyles: None. I have not had a single person push back when I talk like this, because what I end up doing is, whoever's the most in charge in the meeting, the higher up, the administrator, I just ask them on the spot, "Is there anything I'm saying so far that, goes against county policy?" They say, "No. As long as you ask and you're not imposing-"
Tim Muehlhoff: You're good to go?
Dan Broyles: "... why wouldn't you want to do that?" So, one of my favorite authors, recently is a woman named Dr. Lisa Miller. She wrote some stuff that's really just fascinating. There's even talk now how about high levels of spirituality in teenagers is positively helping with brain development.
The other thing she talks about is ... She's not a Christian. She's just talking about faith, in general. She says, "If a teenager only puts their hopes in their dreams, you're setting them up for more problems, because how many adults out there who are now, let's say 40, 50 years old would say, 'All my dreams came true?'"
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: You would say, very little, very little. She says, "Where do they go as a resource when their dreams don't come true?" She goes, "If they don't have resiliency, there's going to be higher levels of depression, higher levels of anxiety. Why wouldn't we want a greater resource for our young people?"
Tim Muehlhoff: Dan, can I make a communication point as I listen to this, is how often do we psych ourselves out of a conversation before ever having it? Saying, "Listen, for me to bring up my faith is going to offend this person, or this person's going to give me pushback, or it's going to cause a rift between us," and thus we never bring it up.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. We never go there.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, we never go there. What I love is that you go there. I imagine you would've appropriately reacted if you would've gotten pushback. To receive none is to continue providing this resiliency argument with faith. I just love the fact that, maybe sometimes we have so bought into the argument culture that, we're afraid to even have any kind of a soft startup to see what a person's reaction would be.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. There's these preconceived fears that get in the way of connection. I'll be in a meeting with 50 people and I'd say to them, "So, I wonder what it would be like to encourage your families just to have more resiliency."
Another example I use in a training that, I think, really throws them off, but in a good way is, I'll say to them, "Let's say you're talking with some grandparents who are raising their 14-year-old grandchild." The social worker notices that this grandchild has high levels of anxiety. In the social worker's opinion, it'd be really good for the grandparents to take this grandchild to see a psychiatrist for possible medication for the anxiety, but the grandparents are resistive and they just want to send their kid to church and pray about it.
What do you do, because every social worker's had those type of conversations.
Tim Muehlhoff: Sure.
Dan Broyles: Most of the time the social workers will tell me, "Well, yeah. I think you just need to educate the grandparents about mental health, and just educate them." I said, "I'm all for education." I said, "But how well does that go?" You get a lot of silence, like, "Well, it doesn't go well."
I said, "You'll end up having a power struggle between their God and your view of mental health, and you're setting yourself up for a power struggle, and there's already some antagonism because they work for the government. That's already a sensitive issue."
I said, "What if you connected before you try to correct?" I love that phrase, connect before we correct. I said, "What if you say, 'Before we talk about mental health and getting some professional help, can you just tell me why your faith's important to you? Can I hear why prayer means something to you?' Can you do that as a social worker, just connect, just like you would do with their culture?
"If they came from a different culture than yours and you said, 'Hey, tell me about what it means to be,' and fill in the blank with their culture, you're just being curious. Curiosity and listening doesn't equal agreement. What would happen if you listened for a while and just heard out how they're doing, and what they view?"
They go, "Oh, that might be helpful." Then I'd say, "Depending on what flavor of faith," I said, "Whether they're a Christian, Catholic, Mormon, whatever their flavor of faith is, why don't you ask permission and say, 'Hey, can I reach out to your religious leader to see if they have any recommendations for a licensed individual to get help for your 14-year-old?'"
The grandparents say, "Sure. You reach out, call that priest, that pastor, that bishop or whatever. Hey, do you have any recommendations?" The pastor says, "Sure." You go back to the grandparents and say, "Hey, I talked to your pastor. They suggested this person. What do you think about your grandson seeing this person to get some possible help, or to assess for mental health issues?" The grandparents say, "Sure," because they respect our faith.
I said, "Now you're actually on the same square trying to help that teenager instead of two separate squares to having antagonism just because you joined them, and you were curious, and you just listened."
So, these are the type of conversations I'm having all the time with the social workers. I literally had a social worker the other day, said, "I've been doing this 20 years and this is the first time I've heard this."
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.
Rick Langer: I can imagine, as you say that. I'm going .... I think it is part of this issue of, we've viewed the gap between church and state, between the faith community and the things the government does as being so vast that no one even has an imagination for crossing it. That's really sad.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. It's almost ... It's really like this idea that we can't even have a talking relationship. I'm not talking about endorsement. I'm just saying, have a talking relationship.
Rick Langer: That's not good.
Dan Broyles: I still have not met, I don't think one person in all these trainings who said, "Oh, I've also been trained about this." This is the first, and many have been there 10, 20 years.
Rick Langer: Yeah, which is so striking when you think about, that they haven't even had the training. When you do the training, you get absolutely no pushback and a lot of benefit. The people say, "Hey, yeah, this works." It really is sad, though I'm wildly encouraged to hear you're able to do it.
Tim Muehlhoff: Dan, I love that phrase. I just literally wrote it down because I'm working on a book project, and I'm going to use it and footnote you, but to connect before you correct. If you look at the argument culture, it is almost inversed.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: The first thing I do is correct you, and then maybe we have a connection, but the connection is not as important as my correction.
Rick Langer: Yeah, or even we correct instead of connecting almost intentionally with no plan for connecting. We just want to correct and dismiss.
Dan Broyles: Well, I've found that phrase, it actually came from a woman named Karyn Purvis, who coined that phrase, and I use it all the time even in parenting-
Rick Langer: Oh, my God.
Dan Broyles: ... or any other relationship. I'll say to a parent, "Let's say your 16-year-old says, "I want to buy the $100,000 car. What do you think? Can you give me the down payment for it, or pay the bill for me?" The parent's thinking, "That's ridiculous."
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: I tell the parent, "You're afraid that listening equals agreeing. Why don't you say, 'Hey, what kind of car would you pick out if we could?' Because what happens is, if you cut that child off right away, the child will stop dreaming out loud with you."
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.
Dan Broyles: They'll only then dream out loud with their peers and not with you, and this can happen in marriage, this can happen in parenting or in working relationships with the government and church.
Tim Muehlhoff: That is so good. I had a friend of mine who's a child psychologist. Noreen and I, like every parent were just wondering how much we messed up our kids, and all that kind of stuff.
This child psychologist said to us. He said, "Here's the general one rule of parenting." We're like, "Okay, we're writing this down." He said, "Keep the lines of communication open."
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: "Keep them open, which means you can't fix every problem right away. You can't say everything you want to say, because you're sending that child underground, and that child is going to have these conversations. The question is just, with whom?"
I loved that, "Keep the lines of communication open." What a great principle for us engaging LA County, engaging churches that believe things different from us is, first keep the lines of communication open, and strengthen them, and then you can get to the hard topics.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. What I found, also is, I've been able to develop relationships on a personal level with some of the administrators. There's one of them in my area. We end up, probably going out to lunch every couple of months.
So, where there's relationship, is you can trust with something that feels out of the comfort zone. What happens is, sometimes we'll try things without the depth of the relationship and then it doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't have the roots.
I always say, "I always want to treat people as people first and their title second." I just think that is so vital when you have this church and state thing. They're people first. Their title of whatever their county government job is, is second. If we keep that perspective, that just changes everything.
Tim Muehlhoff: Dan, can you be the director of the Winsome Conviction Project? Do you have any free time that you can ... I just think that-
Dan Broyles: Oh, you're very kind.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... that is so good. There's two views of communication that have always existed. One is the transmission view, which we tend to think in a Western enlightenment culture, is I best persuade you with facts. Evidence, facts, experts. Then the ritual view has been around longer. That is, no, a common bond once established, opens up the lines of communication.
Today, we're almost stuck in this transmission view of clashing worldviews and ideologies that, we've forgotten the whole relationship thing that you're advocating, know the person rather than the title.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. One of the things we're actually, our church is going to do here in a couple of months, we're calling it the SCV Compassion Network. I'm inviting all the relationships we know, from social workers to school counselors, nonprofit directors, we're all going to ... A lot of care pastors from churches.
We're going to get in a room, and we're going to have no official agenda, and we're not going to pass out brochures from our organizations. I'm going to just have them get to know each other as humans for about an hour. The purpose is, when we're connecting, we respond better to each other when emails pop up or texts come up.
There's been so much turnover in these different industries, there's no relationships that can lead to creative thinking as mutual organizations.
Tim Muehlhoff: Dan, we have 50 million questions for you. Can we do another segment?
Dan Broyles: Absolutely. Glad to do it.
Tim Muehlhoff: Let's do another segment. You have been listening to Dan Saves the World podcast. We just started it right now. No, Dan, this is so good. I hope people are encouraged, like we were, because we never get these stories. We never get the positive stories of LA County and religious faith communities working well together, and I think we need more of these to buttress our hope and our courage to take these steps. So, we'd love to do a whole another podcast with you, so thank you so much for agreeing to join us.
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