Office of Government Relations

Lenten Series: Week 2 Tenets for Civil Discourse

February 28, 2018
Office of Government Relations

“The Lord has shown, O mortal what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

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 2: Tenets for Civil Discourse.

Below is a list of important ground rules for civil discourse-centered in the Golden Rule: doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Baptismal Covenant calls you to be the best version of yourself that you can be-who God made you to be. Civil discourse requires that we treat people with respect as we seek and serve Christ in each other and strive for the respect and dignity of every human being.

It means treating people how we want to be treated, even in disagreement and even if we do not have shared values. Important tenets of civil discourse include: respect, listening deeply, mutuality, interactivity, openness, honesty, humility, and careful speech. As we live into our Baptismal Covenant and engage in civil discourse, please keep these important tenets in mind.

  • Respect – Respect each person you meet and take the time to truly consider what they are saying. Respond, don’t react. 
  • Listen Deeply – Listen to what the person is saying, focus on the ideas presented, and discuss ideas and issues-not people.
  • Speak for Yourself – Use “I” statements when commenting or responding. Share your personal experience. Own it.
  • Try to Understand – Try to understand the thoughts and ideas of others. Ask questions for clarification. Note: sometimes we may be discussing the same concept, yet use different words. 
  • Share Talk Time – If you are having a discussion with more than two people, make sure everyone has the opportunity to speak before speaking again.
  • Speak with Humility – You may not know everything about the topic at hand, and your experience may not be that of the other person’s. Lean into your knowledge, personal experience, and expertise, but remain open to the truth others are sharing.
  • Gratitude – If what someone has shared or asked helps with your own learning, say thank you.
  • Suspend Judgment – We all have presumptions, biases, stereotypes, prejudices, and other pre-judgments. Try to suspend pre-judgments and seek first to understand.
  • Disagree and Love – We seek to learn and listen. You can disagree with someone and still love them and listen to them. Civil discourse is about listening and learning together, seeking shared understanding and exposure to new ideas in the pursuit of improving our world and fulfilling our call as followers of Jesus.
  • Practice Forgiveness – We learn from trying things out and sometimes we make mistakes. Seek to forgive and to be forgiven as we learn together.
  • Pay Attention to your Feelings and Thoughts – If you do not feel safe asking a question or commenting on a topic, write it down and ask someone you’re more comfortable or familiar with to help you voice or talk it through with you. If someone hurts your feelings, acknowledge that the comment hurt your feelings and explain why. Be open to others sharing that with you as well

In addition to these tenets, we want to offer three additional suggestions:

First, all issues do not have to be fully discussed in one sitting. Civil discourse can be tiring and emotional, and taking a break-stepping away from conversation for a period of time-is not abandoning the practice or cutting yourself short in sharing your perspective. Civil discourse is a method of discussion framed within a context of long-term relationship building, a habitual practice useful over one’s lifetime. Productivity of conversation can diminish if we become too tired or overwhelmed, weakening our emotional capacity to follow the tenets listed above. Be patient with yourself and others. Make sure breaks are a part of your practice of civil discourse.

Second, try to stay focused on one topic at a time. Yes, issues are very much interconnected and overlap, and it is often hard, if not impossible, to discuss one issue without relating it to another. Yet, not everyone is going to have the same knowledge about those relationships between issues. Our conversations are not as effective if we jump around from topic to topic, lumping things together in an unstable manner. In such a scenario, we may end up reverting to partisan talking points, talking past each other instead of honing in on important details and following the tenets of civil discourse. If we stay focused and on topic, we can dig into the nuance and messiness.

And finally, in the event these tenets are not upheld, and in particular, if the safety of those in conversation is questioned, then further pursuit of civil discourse in this moment is unproductive and the conversation should be terminated. Signs that these tenets are not being upheld include verbal intimidation, personal attacks, deception, demonization, generalized character attacks, recklessly false and negative or misleading statements, vulgarity, threats, and racial, sexual or religious stereotypes.1 Hopefully, under different conditions and in a different environment, civil conversation can continue with greater attention to these tenets.

“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 who we meet. Amen.” (St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, Forward Movement)

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