By Gerald Patriarca
America is more divided than ever. One group hopes to have people hear the other side in a heartfelt and meaningful way.
Raymond and Ren Ussery started Love Is My Religion to promote a healthy discussion of controversial topics. Points of conversation have ranged from abortion to sexual orientation.
The nonprofit aims to create a world where “love wins,” Raymond said. He added they do that by providing a vulnerable space where people can bravely share themselves.
The group of about 30 in each session contains a mix of conservative and liberal leaning participants.
“It’s never a debate,” Ren said. “We never are out to change anyone’s mind. It’s really about having people having experience of being heard.”
Their website highlights the reason why the nonprofit started. It explains that they want to leave a legacy of love, and it’s done by creating an environment where people can share who they were in a place without judgment. “The idea was to be able to have people hear the ‘other’ side in a heartfelt and meaningful way,” the website explains.
Eric Mann attended an online discussion and explained how he felt a connection with others. “I felt like I deeply heard and understood some folks and their experience in a way that I hadn’t before,” he said. “I walked away, not feeling threatened by people who had a different experience.”
Mann, who is a middle school math teacher, added examples of how he sees students engaged in dialogue, similar to what he experienced in Love Is My Religion.
He provided an example of how 20 students are in a conversation, and one might make a mathematical claim, but asked if the student can justify that claim.
“Social media seems to play a lot in this,” he said. “The feeling that…it’s not possible for Democrats to talk to Republicans.”
Love Is My Religion aims to bridge that gap. Ren explained how they once had a married couple in attendance at their Round Table; she was a Democrat and he was a Republican. They talked about how they received different facts about certain topics.
“A very clear ground rule, which our number one is that people must be respectful, and if they’re disrespectful, they will be ejected from the call,” Ren said.
Melissa Petrini also has experience with participating in Love Is My Religion and hopes the movement spreads.
“The discourse out there is not civil anymore, and it’s a very you know each side shouts at each other and we they throw mud and all that stuff,” Petrini said.
Petrini identifies as a conservative and moved to the Puget Sound region from the Bay Area, and started a group prior to Love Is My Religion after seeing a documentary about Seattle. Then, the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) formed. Petrini posted on the site Nextdoor, and a discussion in the comments followed.
“I would love to just, you know, maybe get together with some people and talk about this,” she said. “I was able to invite local leaders to come to our little community meeting.”
Then she met Raymond.
“He reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I actually have this organization and we do kind these roundtables, and we’re doing stuff like that where we’re trying to get people to together talk and listen’,” Petrini added. “The discourse out there is not civil anymore, each side shouts at each other and we they throw mud and all that stuff. This group is for listening.”
The next discussion is titled “Be Heard about Media Bias” and will take place on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. More information about Love Is My Religion can be found at limr.us.
Gerald Patriarca has a BA in Communication from Seattle Pacific University with a background in journalism. He has written articles for his high school and college newspaper, spent time as an intern at KING 5 and KOMO 4 and worked at The Seattle Times. Aside from writing, Gerald, his wife Alma, and their son James own JAG’s Auto Detail in Tukwila. To schedule an appointment and for more information, please visit jagsautodetail.com.