Office of Government Relations

Lenten Series: Week 1 Civil Discourse in Context

February 20, 2018
Office of Government Relations

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21)

We invite you to use our five-week Civil Discourse Curriculum for Lent to better understand and practice civil discourse particularly as it relates to politics, policy, and legislation. Below you will find language from week 1: Civil Discourse in Context.

The Office of Government Relations defines civil discourse as the following:

Civil Discourse is engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. Rabbi Steve Gutow, speaking at the Episcopal Church’s event Civil Discourse in America, remarked that, “civility is simply demonstrating respect for the dignity of our fellow humans–even those humans with whom we have sharp disagreement. Civility is allowing others to speak, and having the humility to admit that we may have something to learn. Civility favors truth over cheap gain, and patience over knee-jerk judgment.”

Why is civil discourse important for policy advocacy and civic engagement?

Individuals and institutions within our country contain a wealth of knowledge, experiences and perspectives that can help us create a better society and a better world. Civil discourse as a means of engagement, whether among politicians or individuals, is crucial for developing public policies. When applied to political debates, civil discourse helps us to see the merits and faults of particular positions including our own, and can open up new opportunities and ideologies previously unknown.

Through civil discourse, the Office of Government Relations of The Episcopal Church builds relationships by engaging with elected officials and career policy makers throughout the U.S. federal government. These relationships are formed through our advocacy for the policy positions of the Episcopal Church, as passed by General Convention and Executive Council with the aim of influencing federal policies. What this means in practice is engaging in conversations with decision makers about important issues of the church-from immigration policies, to care of the environment, to programs that aim to lift and keep people out of poverty. The policies of the Episcopal Church may not always align with the policy maker’s position, but through civil discourse, they engage respectfully, seeking to understand and be understood.

Another primary task is bringing the voices, resources and expertise of Episcopalians and Anglicans into the decision-making processes of our government. The Office connects policy makers to knowledgeable people through the church whose daily lives are impacted by public policy and can help provide unique perspectives and expertise.

A third primary task of the Office of Government Relations is listening to government officials to learn their point of view on a given policy and the concerns of their constituents. Listening to one another not only builds our relationship, but grants us and opportunity to collaborate with them on the development of legislation and policy.

As individual Episcopalians, civil discourse is important as we seek to understand our increasingly complicated world and make the best decisions possible when participating in the democratic process through voting, petitioning, and advocating. We must maintain a thirst to talk with each other respectfully, even in disagreement and even in debate. That thirst will continue to challenge us, expose us to new ideas, and bring us closer together as we continue the pursuit of justice and peace.

If we are looking to persuade others, we cannot do so without dialogue, and we cannot enter into dialogue without first a basis of civility and respect. We also cannot persuade others if we are only interacting with people we mostly agree with.

In this curriculum, we will cover tenets for civil discourse, values-based conversations, the messiness of policymaking, and the importance of maintaining a sacred space for debate. We hope it will motivate you and your communities to enter confidently into constructive conversations on the important issues facing our local communities, our country, and the world.

Lord Jesus, who traveled with the disciples on the road to Emmaus: Be with us on the way, that we may know you in the scriptures, in the breaking of bread, and in the hearts of all whom we meet. Amen. 

(Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, Forward Movement)

Don’t miss the Voices from the Church supplement to the Civil Discourse Curriculum!

The Office of Government Relations