The pre-classis workshop on the relationship of the church to justice finished. Delegates had been fully engaged in the discussion and supportive of the speaker’s perspective. But as they relaxed over coffee, a question quietly rippled through the small groups. How could any congregation engage in these conversations at all?
Today’s divisive political environment has seeped into congregations to such as point that most churches and their members avoid talking about God’s call to “do justice.” The divides are much deeper than individual opinions; various positions have taken on the aura of truth, at least according to their adherents.
So how does the church create a safe environment for difficult discussions of both a political and a non-political nature? What guidance is available for ensuring that opinions are constructively aired?
For those questing for help in this area, some of the following links might provide useful group discussion materials for church groups. Others offer more structured processes for modeling and creating alternative discussion venues.
- An interesting article in an unexpected magazine reminds us that the church has unique opportunities to be the place for civil conversation to happen especially in today’s divided culture. “Breaking Faith” by Peter Beinart analyzes this possibility in the April 2017 issue of Atlantic Monthly. Check it out here.
- The Banner reported on specialized training for spiritual conversation used by a church in Washington. Training for that kind of respectful conversation was available through Vitality Pathways. The article contains links to QPlace and Vitality Pathway's websites for those interested in exploring further, click here.
- A short article on the use of conversations through social media can be found on the website of In All Things. Entitled “We Need To Talk,” Neal DeRoo uses actual media quotes from a Christian college setting to show what has become accepted and suggests why, from a Biblical perspective, such communications are dishonoring. Read the article here.
- Looking for a short blog piece with some good advice on how to talk about politics? Check out Shannon’s piece entitled “How to Have Respectful Conversations about Politics” on her Of The Hearthblog. There you will find the basics for keeping even a short, casual conversation within the bounds of civility.
- A first-rate and readable book on the topic comes from Richard Mouw. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World acknowledges that it is not easy to hold to Christian convictions and treat sometimes vindictive opponents with civility and decency. He presents very helpful insights about what Christians can appreciate about pluralism, the theological basis for civility, and how Christians can communicate with people who disagree with them on critical issues. Order here through Hearts and Minds Bookstore.
- Need something more in depth and structured for group learning? Colossians Forum provides training and curricula for discussion around various hard issues. To quote its mission statement, “The Colossian Forum equips leaders to transform polarizing cultural conflicts into opportunities for growth and witness. Our vision: Christian communities that behave like Christ.” Explore the website for helpful videos and stories about how this organization embodies that vision.
- A Respectful Conversations website has been created by Harold Heie to model respectful conversations among Christian who disagree about controversial issues. The format for each topic has two Christians who have opposing views on a "Leading Question" engage in give-and-take in an attempt to uncover common ground and illuminate remaining disagreements in order to facilitate ongoing conversation. To check out the archive of conversations, visit the website.
- Not enough time to read through all the samples in Harold Heie’s website? Find some of his ideas in short form here.
- When the debate over the Marriage Amendment resulted, the Minnesota Council of Churches decided to train and host respectful conversations on the topic. Their intention was not to promote a perspective on the issue but to host discussions that respect differing opinions. The link to the results of their experiment is an insightful report that can be downloaded here.
- Not only does The Center for Public Justice develop thoughtfully biblical positions on various “hard issues,” it also encourages fellow Christians to have respectful conversations about them. For example, check out Let’s Talk Politics by Clay Cooke.
Finding other resources that might help to create good conversations on polarizing issues? Share them with the rest of us in the comments below. . .