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Today on the podcast we have another segment of Reports From The Front, a positive story of someone who is doing things right. Tim and Rick speak with Abby Ferguson, Director of Partnerships with Unify America, on the challenges of communicating personal convictions to people we disagree with as well as progress Unify America is seeing with students who participate in the Unify Challenge College Bowl. They discuss how Unify America brings people together to replace political fighting with collaborative problem-solving, and Tim and Rick share examples of using some of the methods and practices in the classroom with their students.


Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction podcast. My name is Tim Muehlhoff. I'm a communication professor at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project, and most importantly, the co-host of the Winsome Conviction podcast, which I get to do with my good friend, Dr. Rick Langer. Rick.

Rick Langer: Thanks, Tim. And I'm a professor at Biola as well in the Department of Biblical Studies and Theology, director of the Office of Faith and Learning. And as Tim mentioned, we're both co-directors and co-hosts of the Winsome Conviction podcast. I'm really excited about the thing that we get to do today. One of our favorite activities is actually giving positive reports from the front about people who are doing things right and those kinds of things because there's so much negative stuff. It's fun just to stop and say, "Wait, wait, wait. There's some really good things that are actually happening and we should stop and talk about them."

So that's what we're going to do. And let me launch into this, Tim, just by giving you a quote, kind of my version of a quote that I heard from a student. Okay? So here's what this student said. "My spiritual life has been changed for the better because of this course." And she, in this context, was doing kind of a evaluation of the course that she did with me, but it leads into the thing that we really want to talk about.

Tim Muehlhoff: [inaudible 00:01:13]

Rick Langer: So here it is, "My spiritual life has been changed for the better. I've always been too scared to form convictions and talk about them. I remember learning during the first few days of class that would be doing a lot of conviction making, and this made me both scared and excited. The Unify America Challenge stands out to me is giving me that experience in a safe environment. It's given me the courage to stand my ground respectfully, even if the situation isn't so safe in the future. I think the Unify Challenge has equipped me to be courageous in that kind of a situation. I view the world as a place to obey God and to live thoughtfully based on my convictions. Before, I avoided thinking so deeply about my life's purpose."

When I was looking at this, having this conversation, I just realized, you know what? That's really a huge thing that we exist to do. And I love what the student articulated was this idea of saying, "We need to live by our convictions." But living by our convictions is hard. And then especially communicating it was hard. And so it's that last part that we really want to dive in today is how can we learn to communicate convictions to people that we really disagree with? Because the point of the Winsome Conviction Project really is the convictions. It isn't just that we solve our tensions by saying, "Hey, who cares? Chocolate, vanilla, it doesn't matter." But rather figure out how do we actually talk about these areas that are big, deep, significant, morally different issues.

Tim Muehlhoff: Now, in that quote, which was awesome, by the way, that counteracts everything from That's just great. So some of our listeners may have thought, "Okay, what's this group, Unify America?" That was in the middle of the quote, and that's what this podcast is about. A report from the front, from a group called Unify America, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization who has as a mission to replace political fighting with problem solving. You had me at hello.

Rick Langer: There you go.

Tim Muehlhoff: There you go. Right there. Their vision statement is, "Our vision is in America where we harness the power of different perspectives, recognize our shared goals, and have the civic skills and systems to solve our biggest problems, but to do it together." Again, amen to that. So Unify America, we didn't know of them until their director of partnerships, Abby Ferguson shot me an email basically saying, "I came across Winsome Conviction and we're doing the same thing, and would love to have a phone conversation." And so we jumped on the phone with her and we're absolutely delighted in the vision of Unify America.

Rick Langer: It's so good to have partners and what Unify America does was the perfect partnership thing for us. We do a ton of things, but working out some of the things that they do in the classroom isn't such an easy setting, and they were like the perfect compliment. So we are thrilled to have Abby Ferguson here with us.

Tim Muehlhoff: And we've gotten to know Abby over the past year. So, Abby, welcome to the highlight of your life, the Winsome Conviction podcast.

Abby Ferguson: Thanks for having me, guys. I'm excited to join you.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, we are absolutely thrilled to have you. Abby, can you tell our listeners just a little bit about yourself? You are the director of partnerships at Unify America, but why not tell us a little bit about Unify America and just a quick history of the organization and how you got involved.

Abby Ferguson: Well, there's few things that I enjoy talking about more than how I got connected with the organization, but first, I love to give a little bit of history about our founder because he really has been instrumental in setting up the vision and encouraging everything that we do. So a little bit of background about Harry. He founded two successful companies in Chicago. One is called Jellyvision, one is called Jackbox Games, and the really neat part about Jackbox Games is that over a hundred million people played in 2021 alone.

Rick Langer: A hundred million?

Abby Ferguson: A hundred million people worldwide during the pandemic-

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.

Abby Ferguson: ... played these games. And so what he's done with both of those companies in different ways is he's made them these interactive experiences, delightful, unique, and bring people together. So even though neither of them are focused on polarization or bringing together political opposites, he's done those same tactics, he's used those same things in his other companies. And so that's exactly what we are working on doing at Unify America is making these interactive experiences delightful, unique, and that bring people together.

So he knew for a long time this is something that he wanted to do. And so in 2019, Unify America was born. And with that, he knew that many people shared the same common goals for America, but don't have the tools or time or for all these different reasons, the ability to talk to people from different backgrounds. And so he developed this tool called the Unified Challenge to help bring people together to work towards realizing that we do share many of the same common goals for America. So that's a little bit about how the organization was started.

Tim Muehlhoff: So let me jump in real quick, Abby, because what I love about that is we forget that we have the same goals. We often think that we have totally different goals for our communities and our nation, and it's so good to be reminded that maybe while we disagree on the particulars, we often have some of the same goals that we want, and we can see that in so much research about the United States. So I love the fact that we're focusing on the same goals. Can you tell us a little bit about how you actually bring people together?

Abby Ferguson: Sure. I don't want to jump ahead too much, but the original Unified Challenge was a tool that we were going to use with the general public, and we still host open challenges twice a month for anybody to participate in. But what we have done for college students is created a separate program called the Unified Challenge College Bowl. And in that program, we match college students with someone from a different university and a different political background into a conversation to discuss this conversation guide that we developed. And the questions are written as shared goals. So that's how we are getting at bringing people from different backgrounds with different lived experiences together into this conversation.

Rick Langer: And just let me pick up on this idea of pairing your political opposites. This is one of the things that got my students excited when they participated in this. So Tim and I both had all of the students in our classes participate in the challenge. And it was really interesting. Let me just read this one quote. This is from a different student, but this person said, "Before the event, "I felt nervous to meet my conversation partner. But once we had both logged on and introduced ourselves, I felt my nerves subside as we both offered relatively friendly, agreeable dispositions."

And then he says, "We didn't seem very far apart with regard to our vision for America. We were both motivated by similar virtues, justice, kindness, kindness, mercy and love were clearly the guiding lights to our thought patterns and yet we would arrive at differing conclusions about many social issues. And just what you were sharing, I thought this was a perfect example of that where you really do realize we have things that we do hold in common, and we shouldn't forget that at the same time, we have real differences that we need to figure out how to negotiate. So that really came to the fore, I think, for our students as they participated.

Abby Ferguson: Oh, I love that thoughtful response. I think, like you said, in today's argument culture, we feel like we don't have anything in common at all. We feel like we're on the opposite sides of issues, and the media has made us feel that way and also offers no solutions on how we can actually solve problems without that deep spiraling out of control conflict. And students that participate have an opportunity to record a short video after they participate in this experience. And actually, I've shared a lot of those with you.

What a lot of students say, or most of them, is that they are nervous to participate. Rightfully so. I was nervous. I've been nervous when I've actually participated too, and that they're shocked they don't get into a big conflict. And the exercise isn't to say we agree on everything and to come out with that kind of response. The agree is for them to understand that there is a productive way to have disagreements. And I think that's what we're missing a lot in society today.

Tim Muehlhoff: And the cool thing, Abby, now, I'm not sure every professor does this, but I have a chance in my class. So the class that did it, Abby, was a class on marriage, on preparing for marriage, God's view of marriage. But why I love this conversation was I had my students actually bring up the topic of marriage with their conversational partner saying, "I'm in a class where we're trying to define marriage and then talk about what would make a marriage work."

So it was just a great lead in to have these discussions. But I got a chance to take a whole class period and prepare my students to have the conversation, listening techniques, seeking to find common ground. So as a professor, I got a chance to train them in a lot of the Winsome Conviction principles that listeners have learned throughout this entire podcast,

Rick Langer: Tim, and one of the other things that happened for my class is that we... Well, and so you've probably done this too. We've talked a lot about how we kind of live in echo chambers. I can't remember who the sociologist was who talked about the big sort, but talking about our communities have become more polarized geographically. So we all tend to just talk to the people who are like us. So the thing I loved when we were chatting with Abby whenever it was three or four months, maybe longer now, is that whole idea of pairing you with your political opposite.

Because oftentimes we live in an echo chamber. And so that was one of the things that was interesting for our students to say, "Oh, so I'm really going to talk to somebody who sees things really, really differently." And that was part of why it was intimidating, but that was also part of the delight of it.

Tim Muehlhoff: And, Abby, one thing I did was I actually role-played with a student. So we were having a conversation and then I gradually just increased if it started to go off center, I started to get a little agitated and just said to my students, "Listen, it would be okay if this happens." I'm sure it's not going to happen, but if it did, there's ways to recover if a person starts to get agitated or upset because everybody's so fearful that that's a conversation stopper. And we have to have the tools in our toolbox to say, "Okay, I can pull back by doing more listening, cultivate more common ground, the tone of my voice." So I actually got a chance to role play a little bit with my students, just giving them tools in the toolbox as they head into this conversation.

Abby Ferguson: Yeah. I love that. One thing that we've done in creating this is, especially with Harry's background and our creative and marketing teams, is that we've made this experience... We've done some things to lighten the mood to make sure we are setting the tone from the first welcome video and through the materials to try and make sure that students that helps reduce the nerves and then the conversation guide from the beginning, it's on the screen with the students.

So it was built on a platform similar to Zoom, but with our tech team, which also makes it very scalable. So we can have tens of thousands of students participating at the same time, which is really unique and amazing. And so all these things built into this program have really made it a unique offering for the college space. And another point I want to make, like you were saying, is the pairing. So this is something that I'm really passionate about, talking about.

When I started building this program, I found four professors from different colleges in the United States through cold outreach. I mean, I've built this chipping away at the block one professor at a time, and we heard those-

Rick Langer: That must have been painful by the time you were done.

Abby Ferguson: I'm not done. We're just getting started, Rick. This is just the beginning.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's cool.

Abby Ferguson: But we matched those students. They were geographically different and their students were wide range across the political spectrum. So that is what gave us the idea that we could scale this program. So in building the program, we have been very intentional and committed to recruiting and bringing in a wide range of schools, from Christian schools to four-year universities, to HBCUs, technical schools, four-year public universities, community colleges. So we have participants that are completely different from one another, and that's what makes the conversations rich is the lived experiences from these people from all across the United States. There's many students in their reflection videos that said, "I've never had the opportunity to do something like that before."

Tim Muehlhoff: And, Abby, there's a rhetorical scholar, Kenneth Burke who says, "The secret to thriving conversations is identification," that if you identify with a person, it really opens up avenues to engage that perspective. So what I love about the College Bowl is almost everybody has one thing immediately that they can identify with is we're college students. We're in this season of life, we're in the educational system. A lot of my students laughed and they said the opening line was kind of like, "Yeah, my philosophy professor is making me do this. Well, I got to calm professor who's making me do this." And they laughed and they thought that was actually really a fun way to start.

But then they would say, "But I'm excited to do it and I'm glad my professor is having us do it," and stuff like that. So, Abby, if our listeners wanted to do this, now this isn't the College Bowl part. Well, let's imagine.

Rick Langer: It could be.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, it could be. Walk them through the whole process of what would it actually look like to do this?

Rick Langer: Because it'd be great for us to put a link on our website so that our listeners could say, "You know what? I want to try this and just try it." So walk us through it. What did it look like?

Abby Ferguson: I'm going to give a couple different answers to the question. So one is for college students. Since we've partnered with Biola and we've created this Unified Challenge College Bowl program that happens once a semester over two weeks, and there are 14 time slots for the College Bowl, students register through the webpage we made for Biola, and they answer a short survey about themselves, take a couple pre-assessment questions, answer what their political background is, and pick the time that works for them to participate.

Then they get a link to their email and they show up when they register to participate. And that's it. And then we provide a guide to professors, or obviously, Rick and Tim, like you guys are experts and have incorporated this in amazing ways, but we provide a facilitation guide with activities on how to enhance and teach other important skills alongside the Unified Challenge program itself.

Now, for the general public, we have these open challenges that I mentioned, and those happen twice a month. And they're through our main web page, and anybody from anywhere can register for those open challenges. The difference between the two is that in the college program, college students are matched with college students from different universities and different political backgrounds over those two weeks. For the Open Unified challenges, as we call them, anybody from the general public will be paired together and you are just matched with someone from a different political background.

Rick Langer: Okay. And you could be talking to somebody from anywhere in the country, whatever it is, but it'd be someone who would see things differently than you. But that is available to anybody, right?

Abby Ferguson: Yes. Definitely. Those happen twice a month.

Rick Langer: That's great.

Tim Muehlhoff: Abby, that's great. So twice a month you guys are pulling these off. What is the general participation in these twice a month. Can we ask what the averages are of people jumping and doing it?

Abby Ferguson: I mean, it varies a lot. And since this college work has been going so well, we've spent a lot of energy on engaging college students. So believe it or not, whether it's required or not, a lot of the open challenges are college students.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's great. And let me just say the pre-assessment that you do is... So don't think it's this huge long survey that people have to fill out. It's pretty short, but it doesn't-

Abby Ferguson: Yeah, there are just three pre-assessment questions that gauge feelings before and then after, and the results from those are incredibly encouraging. What we want to do is work with partners like you guys and all the other players in the field to try and enhance the experience and the skills that people need to actually, like you said, have tools in their toolbox for when difficult conversations come up.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, Abby, let me ask you this. So what would be some of the most typical reasons people wouldn't do this? Even our listeners are listening to the Winsome Conviction podcast and they're going, "I'm just not going to do this." What would be some of the most common reasons that people might be apprehensive about doing this?

Abby Ferguson: I think people are nervous. People feel like they won't be heard. People feel like they're going to get into conflict or that their opinions or voices won't be well understood, or they won't be able to convey them clearly that they're going to be judged. I think those are actually all the reasons that you should have a conversation like this.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yup.

Rick Langer: Yeah.

Abby Ferguson: And we like to call this Unified Challenge, a high-impact, low-risk activity because you're not talking to your neighbor, you're being matched with someone that you don't know, and it's giving you an opportunity to practice your skills.

Tim Muehlhoff: Abby, I remember you telling me that the overwhelming reaction from people that do this is what? What would you say?

Abby Ferguson: Is that they want to do it again.

Tim Muehlhoff: And why? What is it about it that they walk away surprised?

Abby Ferguson: I think it's that society has thrives on conflict. Media thrives on stories and headlines, and that's all we see all the time is that the disagreements. And there are a lot of disagreements. I don't want this to sound so flowery that we agree on everything because we don't. But we do share a lot of the same goals. And with the right skills and ability to talk to one another in respectful ways, I think we'd probably be in a little bit better spot.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, Abby, without a doubt, my students actually signed them up to do it twice. So they actually jumped in. You offered it twice in a semester when my students jumped in twice. When I asked them, what was your number one reaction, right afterwards, they would say, "One, Dr. Muehlhoff, you're my favorite professor." That was without a doubt that happened. Maybe I'm reading into that Abby. It wasn't quite articulated that way. But the number one thing is we had so much in common. That was the number one reaction from my students. And these are conservative Christian students at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and they're coming back saying, "Listen, I couldn't believe how much we had in common." Yes, we disagreed on certain things, but man, there was so much that we could agree on. I was really taken by surprise at how much we cultivated this common ground.

Rick Langer: Let me share one more story that I had from one of my students. What I remember is just what Tim said that they were talking about... They were surprised at how much common ground because they're primed for everything to be different because they have their political opposite. So when they're finding common ground, this isn't so much they agree on all these issues, that they agree about the value of justice and kindness and a batch of other things that we think these are all just basic values.

But they had a conversation about abortion, and my student was kind of saying, "Well, I think the solution to abortion department would be that we have better reform foster care and things like that." So unwanted children aren't actually unwanted. They are wanted by someone other than the birth mom, but they have a place to go that's a good place.

And so that was sort of his thinking. And as he said, the party who's least responsible for the pregnancy is the baby, so we should take care of the baby. So he's got this thing wired. Then the person he's talking to says, "Well, I see it a little bit differently. She said, "It's easy to say just put the child up for adoption, but I was adopted and it's way harder than you think it is to be an adopted child." And so she began to tell some of her backstory.

And my student, it was a really good learning experience for him. And it wasn't because he suddenly decided, "Oh, I need to change my convictions on abortion." It just that he had no imagination for what another person might be thinking about their viewpoints on this matter. And it led him to do some really good reflection. So it was a big win for me.

Abby Ferguson: Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, I think, I continually have these moments in my life when you hear about someone else's lived experience and background, how much more empathy and humility that gives you when you are thinking about important issues.

Tim Muehlhoff: And, Abby, I would just add to that it humanizes the issue. In today's argument culture, we forget that these are human beings that are holding different ideologies, different perspectives, and we just forget that. That's what I love about Unify America is you're looking at a person and that person has a lived experience, and it might be very different. Or what we found out is it's actually pretty similar to our different lived experiences. So let me ask this question, Abby. How have churches, Christian organizations, Christian universities responded to this unique challenge? Has there been a reluctance or are you finding that people, Christian churches, Christian universities like Biola are jumping in very quickly?

Abby Ferguson: Well, I'm so glad you're asking me this question because when I started at Unify America before I actually started the Unify Challenge College Bowl program, I thought that this would be a program, the Open Challenge version would be a version that I could help institutionalize in churches like the one I had attended. But to much of my surprise, that wasn't the case. I reached out to hundreds of churches. I reached out to all different types of administration at churches and pastors at small churches and big churches, and I just didn't get much of a response at all. I thought to myself, how can this be true? For all of us that go to church, I mean, this seemed like just the perfect fit for us to talk to people, to humble ourselves.

Rick Langer: Love your neighbor, right?

Abby Ferguson: Love thy neighbor. Yes, exactly. To love thy neighbor. And many in the church are kind of lacking in that, in my opinion. Jesus taught us to be humble and to do things that might feel uncomfortable or unnatural. I mean, I can point to all these stories, but yet when it comes to us looking inward and practicing empathy ourselves and putting ourselves in someone else's shoes, it's not happening as much as it should be. So that's why I pivoted to the civic engagement mind that I have through political science and being involved in politics and pivoted to colleges and universities.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, so Abby, you self-identify as a Christian, correct?

Abby Ferguson: I do.

Tim Muehlhoff: So how does being a Christian motivate you for the work that you're doing with Unify America?

Abby Ferguson: Well, I'm going to take a minute and just share a little bit about my background and my experience in this role. So I grew up in a small central Illinois farming community and attended a Methodist church in the country with about 30 people on Sunday mornings. And I treasure that. And every time I drive home by that church, it brings back all the fuzzy feelings. And through high school and college, I was involved in various church groups and campus crusade.

Now, I attend a wonderful church called Christ Church of Oak Brook in the western suburbs of Chicago. I'm involved in a small group there with my family. But what's really interesting is unknowingly, I grew up... Central Illinois is conservative area. I lived in the suburbs of Chicago for 15 years or so. So a very... Just what happened is that those worlds meshed and when I came to college, I was not all knowing some college students. I had to just accept that I didn't know a whole lot about everything.

So my mind has just naturally been opened with those worlds colliding when I was barely 18. I worked in a public affairs roles and in community building. I've always been involved in local politics. And so when I met Harry who was starting Unify America, I was like, "I have to be a part of this. I've had the opportunity to live in different places away from where I grew up, and have these hard conversations." I've learned a lot. But a lot of people, I mean, I think it's like 60, 70% of people go back to where they came from. And so that's a large amount of people that don't ever have the opportunity to burst out of their bubble. And I was like, "I have to help other people have this experience that I've had and this program does that."

Rick Langer: That's great. So I'm intrigued. A couple of things you mentioned just about your own experience. I'd just love to have you tell a little bit more of a story about, one of the things you mentioned was being involved in local politics, and I would love to have you talk to us a little bit about the difference between local politics and that kind of involvement and some of the ways we with national politics.

Abby Ferguson: Oh my gosh. Well, I could talk about this all day. So one of my first jobs out of college was on the Illinois senate staff and I got to know a state senator who now lives a mile from my house, ironically named Kirk Dillard. He goes to the same church now. I go to his church. I'm after him. He's lived here, but I always admired him. I always felt like he's just a really neat guy. When I moved from Springfield to Chicago, I had the opportunity to work on his gubernatorial campaign for a year.

It was then that I realized that I really got to know the importance of local politics. And that's when I really started to get involved. I was a precinct committee person. I got to know my local township organization, which I now serve on my township board because one thing leads to another. What people don't understand, and what I learned during that campaign in particular is that all politics are local and people are so worried and rightfully so and almost obsessed about what's happening on the national level that they forget that what affects the most are their local politics there.

If there's a crime problem, your state's attorney and your local sheriff are very important figures. If you have problems with your real estate taxes, your township assessor, in my case, is the most important person that you would go to. If you are a senior and you want to be involved, need senior services or all sorts of different help, there's different levels of government that are very close to you that are very important.

It's not just about what's happening in different conflicts or on all different national issues, which are all very important, and I don't want to discount them, but things that are happening really close to home, local politics plays an important role in your life.

Tim Muehlhoff: And I love that, Abby, that we get discouraged about the national dialogue. And to be honest, that plane flies so high that we just don't have access to people in power. But when you go to local politics, you actually know the people that are on that county commission or in certain seats of power that you get to have access to them. And your credibility if you're a good community member, actually grows over time. So you really do feel like in this community, my voice really could be heard in powerful ways where on the national level, it just gets diluted pretty quickly. So that's what I love about local politics.

Abby Ferguson: And I think a lot of people feel like their voice doesn't matter. And sure, on a national level, like you said, it's hard. You're removed how far, but if you want to get involved for a local community issue or just on a local community events board, they're always looking for people to help in all different types of ways. So if you have the time and energy and interest, I can assure you that there's a place for you to do that.

Rick Langer: You can find someone who'll make use of all of that, huh?

Abby Ferguson: Yeah, definitely.

Rick Langer: One other thing I'd love to talk about with this is that one of my concerns about the way we carry forward our political discourse is that every issue is apocalyptic. Everything is about the end of the world. And of course that makes people anxious. But the other current that I've noticed goes with it is what Tim had just mentioned, is that we're always talking national, and that maximizes our powerlessness. It is the area in which to whatever extent we feel like we have influence or control, we feel like we have that least relative to the national concerns.

I was talking to somebody about this and they were very, very agitated about political issues, and they had firm conviction about who they're going to vote for, but it was all national level. And when I was talking to them about what they were most worried about, it was a bunch of things that might pertain to a local school board. Things that, "Yeah, I'm going through this mental list and I'm going, you know what? You should be worked up about local politics, not national politics for the areas of concern that you happen to have."

And even some of the issues with abortion and things like that right now, now that front is being carried forward at a local level, much more local, at the very least state level and sometimes even more narrowly. I think it would be a great thing if people had a sense that some of them things I really care about are things that are close enough that I really could make a difference, and therefore we would feel less of a sense of being disenfranchised, angry, and resentful at the fact that all we get is fear and no chance to do anything about it. No chance to make a difference.

Abby Ferguson: I think it's easy for people who haven't been involved to feel overwhelmed about what can I do? An opportunity being involved with an organization like Unify America and doing these programs is that it does give an opportunity for a little bit of reflection and it's going to leave you a little bit more hopeful. And I think that's what society needs a little bit more of.

Tim Muehlhoff: So let's end with two questions. What if a listener is saying, "I'm in. I absolutely want to do this. You had me at hello." What would they actually do to sign up? Where'd be the first step?

Abby Ferguson: You're going to just go to and you'll see the link to go participate in the open challenges to have this conversation. What we are doing, kind of our next steps is to build additional programs. The second Unified Challenge College Bowl experience that we're getting ready to pilot. So I can't promise that it's going to come through, but I'm fairly certain. It's going to be a little bit deeper conversation on two topics, two or three topics. And so instead of going over this survey guide that's 15 goal statements.

This is going to be framed a little bit differently so students can get in a little bit deeper conversation. So it's very simple to participate. We made the program as easy as possible for professors to sign up, for students to sign up, for the general public to sign up. So there's not any questions or any reason really to not do it.

Tim Muehlhoff: And wasn't this one of your most successful years ever for the College Bowl?

Abby Ferguson: Yes. So like I said a little bit ago, I started this with four professors on my own, and then I got up to 10, and then I got up to 40, the second college bowl. And then the third one there were about a hundred. And this last semester there were close to 300 professors. We've had about 150 institutions with a professor or more participating. And we're working to get institutional adoption at all sorts of schools for deans to want to implement it in different departments. So when I say this really is the beginning, I do believe that.

Rick Langer: And let me just plant a little seed in your mind here, and we can probably talk about some of those afterwards too. But though Tim and I are both college professors, we spend a fair bit of time doing things with churches. I'm thinking just yesterday was having a long conversation with someone about a workshop that we're going to be doing at a church in a couple of months. But as you're describing this, I thought that would be a great thing for the church to do ahead of time, have participants who are coming to this workshop say, "Hey, before you participate, we'd love to have you do this with Unify America, journal out some things about your response. And then when we get together, you'll be able to talk with the other people around the table about your shared experience because you guys have all done this ahead of time, and we'll be able to build off some of the things that they had in that experience of actually having a face-to-face conversation with their political opposite."

Because it seems, again, so natural and so easy, and I can't help but think we could build that into a curriculum for Sunday school classes and things like that too, because I've done many Sunday school kind of one-off things that are church or situation like that, or longer sessions at a Sunday school class for four weeks or something talking about issues like this. This would be a great thing to unfold into that.

Abby Ferguson: And one other thing I wanted to mention about the Christian colleges, as you said, you work with churches in general. So I've reached out to all sorts of Christian universities and colleges and haven't gotten much a response on that front either. I think it's that there's a real hesitation that student administration is going to feel like their students are going to be uncomfortable. And that's just not the case with this conversation. I hope that we can develop strong partnerships because we want your students from all these types of universities at the table. I mean, they're just as important as anybody else.

Rick Langer: Yeah. Well, and I appreciate you saying that. One of the things I would absolutely say that came up... So I had think 24 students in my class. They each submitted a four-page response to this experience where they respond to three or four different questions. Absolutely. One of the themes of their responses was that this was a thing that deepened their convictions. And sometimes that was because they realized one of the students... Well, I think I read part of this one quote where they realized, "Oh, I have these two areas that I felt like I did have responses to, but I think my lordship of Christ's sort of commitments mean that I need to have Christian viewpoints all across the board."

And I realized when we were talking through these variety of issues, I didn't really know what to say about some of these issues. And their comment was, "I really appreciate the tools that..." in this case, that they gotten from us at Biola. I'm sure this would be true at other Christian schools as well, but I feel like I've gotten these tools, but now I realize I need to apply them in more settings because I realize I really wasn't prepared because I just hadn't thought through, I hadn't applied the tools to these other areas. So I just really feel like this is a thing that should be building and deepening convictions, not somehow threatening us.

Tim Muehlhoff: And, Abby, I would add to that, that I'm a communication professor in the School of Fine Arts, and this is what we do. This is what communication professors were about. Be it PR, journalism, communication theory, we want to interact with people and create a new generation of students who don't shy away from differences, but find productive ways to talk about it. So you've done such a gift to us, and we very much look forward to partnering with you in the future.

Abby Ferguson: Well, that's all for me to say that the Unify America team is a special gifted team. I just happen to be involved with the outward facing role here. But I love that you said that you're a communications professor, because when I started this, I naturally was reaching out to the political science professors in civic engagement departments and all those things. But what has ended up happening is that this is spreading across campus, right? It's being required in political science, but not communications, English, philosophy, psychology. You name it.

Rick Langer: Bible classes like mine, for example.

Abby Ferguson: Right. So it's everywhere because any professor that is interested in teaching their students the importance of the different perspectives are important, and they're incorporating it in the way that works with their curriculum.

Rick Langer: That is so great, Abby. Is there anything else you want to share?

Abby Ferguson: Our lives are fast-paced, and I think if we all take a little bit of time over the next week and reflect, we're going to be practicing those skills that the Unified Challenge teaches to sit and to quiet down and to reflect and humble ourselves. And in those moments, that'll give us a little bit of opportunity to find more empathy. I think that's what society is missing a little bit these days, is just empathy. I just wanted to share that I'd been thinking about that, and I hope that you will take a moment to slow down. I know we're all busy.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, thank you, Abby.

Rick Langer: That's a great word, Abby. Thanks so much. Thank you for joining us listening in on this special podcast we did with Abby Ferguson from Unify America. We are thrilled to have you joining us for the Winsome Conviction podcast. We'd love to have you be a subscriber. You can find us on Apple Podcast or Spotify, or check us out on the website where you'll also find some other resources that we make available to those who are supporting our project. So we're so grateful and we wish you the very, very best. As you look ahead, we pray that God will be blessing your conversations and we pray for our country and for all of the individuals who make it up in the coming year as we face an election cycle, that can be very, very challenging.

We pray that we would find in the midst of that grace, and at the same time we'll be able to communicate effectively the differences of our convictions and still weave our communities together into a single hole. So that would be our prayer. Thanks so much for listening.