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Reforming Political Discourse 

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INSTRUCTIONS

 ...including the Purpose and Hope for this Project

FACILITATOR/MODERATOR:  Harold Heie, Senior Fellow, Center for Christian Studies, Gordon College

I anticipate a deluge of hyper-partisan and vitriolic political discourse leading up to the November 2012 elections, characterized by name-calling, demonization, and the impugning of motives. In stark contrast, the PURPOSE of this electronic conversation is to model an alternative political conversation in which Christians who situate themselves at various points on the political spectrum present their positions on some important public policy topics and engage each other in “respectful conversation” about anticipated differing points of view. 

My HOPE is that the results of this conversation will help Christians, and all other citizens, to clarify their own views on selected public policy issues, in preparation for their voting decisions in November 2012.

SPONSORSHIP

This initiative is co-sponsored by the Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College (MA),

the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College (MI),

and the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D. C.

COMMON GROUND

Six individuals have agreed to regularly post 600-800 position papers on pre-announced public policy topics.  You can read about these regular commentators here.


The regular commentators share agreement with the following Basic Christian Principles for Politics and Public Policy, although I anticipate they will differ significantly in their beliefs about the implications of these principles – reflecting the importance in political discourse of distinguishing between “ends” (for which agreement may be forthcoming) and the best possible “means” to attain those ends (for which one can expect significant disagreement). 

 

  •  Truth-telling is essential.  Truth is often sacrificed by persons, political parties, and interest groups as they struggle to win elections and to sway public policies being adopted.  But this is not the Biblical way.  Christians engaged in political discussions and debates ought always to tell the truth and to evaluate contending political forces by their truthfulness.  This truth-telling includes avoiding not only outright lies and fabrications but also the telling of partial truths in an attempt to misrepresent or distort.  See Ex. 20:16. 
  •  All human beings are created by God and in His image.   Men and women were created as God’s image bearers and the crowning achievement of His creation.  This means that all human beings possess an inherent, God-given worth or dignity that sets them apart from the rest of God’s creation, and that all human beings, no matter what their gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality have an inherent, equally great worth or dignity.  See Gen. 1:26-27. 
  •  Human beings are both fallen and capable of redemption.  The human heart is inclined towards selfishness and evil, but through God’s loving work redemption and human progress—while limited—is possible.  Although governments and their public policies can bring about good in society, they will always be subject to flaws and failures.  Human progress, including through governments and their policies, is possible, but failure and regression are also ever-present possibilities. One must avoid a triumphalism that expects a great and perfect society will be created by our own efforts.  See Gen. 3:6, Rom. 3: 23, and John 3:17. 
  •  Government has been established by God to promote a just order in society that benefits the common good.  Governmental authority and rulers are a part of God’s benevolent provision intended for the good of all persons in a fallen world.  Governments ought to seek to pursue justice for all, whether that involves meting out punishment for those who have violated the rights of others or promoting justice for both those who have been denied opportunities to be what God wants them to be as His image bearers and those whose enjoyment of the fruits of their labors are threatened.  Public policies ought not to be evaluated by how they affect one personally or certain segments of society, but by how they affect the common good.  See Rom. 13:4 and Deut. 16:18-20. 
  •  The existence and importance of civil society.  In between individual persons and governments are of host civil society institutions and structures, including families, religious congregations, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, health-care and human service agencies, and many, many more.  These civil society institutions and structures are a part of God’s ordering of society, and therefore governments and their public policies ought to protect their appropriate freedoms, avoid weakening and undercutting them, and work with them and strengthen them as appropriate.  See Gen. 2:18-24 and I Sam. 10:19, and Matt. 22:21.

 

METHODOLOGY:  A day or two before a “launching date” for a conversation on a given public policy topic, the APC page will announce the topic, propose some possible “leading questions” (meant to be only suggestive and not binding), and announce the “launching date.” The first topic will be “The Federal Budget Deficit” with a launching date of February 1, 2012.

The regular commentators will then post their position papers on the “launching date.”  After this initial set of postings, the regular commentators will have the opportunity to submit responses to each others papers, and other readers will have the same opportunity to submit their comments, in accordance with the guidelines presented in the section below.

A new public policy topic will be announced approximately every three weeks, continuing until close to Election Day 2012. The day before a lunching date for a new topic, the conversation on the precious topic will be closed (no more “comments” will be posted).

GUIDELINES FOR POSTING COMMENTS: All submitted comments will be read and I will post all comments that I judge to satisfy the “Guidelines for Posting Comments” that are listed on the Conversation Guidelines page on this web site.