"You cannot predict beforehand the results of a respectful conversation."
I am appalled at the sad state of public discourse in contemporary society, including the realm of politics, the media, and many churches and educational institutions. The engagement between persons who disagree with one another is increasingly shrill and nasty, too often characterized by demonizing the other, listening to only an echo of yourself, and holding to fixed positions without openness to learning from those who disagree. Such broken discourse does not bode well for the future of our schools, churches, local communities and nation. It is urgent that we take immediate steps to seek a better way to engage those with whom we disagree.
That better way is to create welcoming spaces for those who disagree with one another to have respectful conversations. As a Christian, I believe this better way is integral to the call for Christians to love others, for a deep expression of love for another person is to provide a safe, welcoming space for that person to disagree. That goal can be shared with all persons of good will, whatever their religious or non-religious convictions.
But lofty rhetoric will not reverse the pernicious state of public discourse. What is needed is for thousands of us to model this better way by initiating respectful conversations in our local communities.
The MISSION of my respectful conversation project on this web site has two components: To model respectful conversations regarding controversial contemporary issues; and to encourage others to initiate their own forums for respectful conversation about important contemporary issues and to assist in facilitating such additional forums.
MODELING RESPECTFUL CONVERSATION
Instead of just bemoaning the current sad state of public discourse in contemporary society and just “talking about” the need for forums where those having strong disagreements about contentious issues can engage in “respectful conversation,” I decided to just “do it” on this web site (to borrow a phrase from Nike).
Therefore, this web site contains a number of electronic conversations (eCircles) that actually model such respectful conversations (go to Previous Conversations for three eCircles, and to the Home Page for the fourth and latest eCircle). The results of my previous eCircle on an “Alternative Political Conversation” were summarized in the book Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues: Sustaining a Respectful Political Conversation, and the results of my eCircle on “American Evangelicalism” were summarized in the book A Future for American Evangelicalism: Commitment, Openness, and Conversation. A book on my latest eCircle on “Christian Faithfulness and Human Sexuality” is forthcoming (tentatively titled Respectful LGBT Conversations: Seeking Truth, Giving Love. and Modeling Christian Unity).
FACILITATING OTHER FORUMS FOR RESPECTFUL CONVERSATION
My strategies for facilitating respectful conversations outside of this web site are as follows:
- I have included in this web site various resources that may be helpful for those interested in promoting respectful conversation.
- I invite and encourage readers of this website to initiate conversations on issues of importance to them in their local contexts. For details on initiating such conversations, see Conversation Circles: Starting a Circle. Online conversations can be accessed at eCircles. For possible “rules for engagement” when conducting a Conversation Circle or an eCircle, see Conversation Circle Guidelines.
- I will be happy to consider invitations for speaking engagements or consultations (in person or online) to assist any person or group wishing to initiate a Conversation Circle or to follow up on the content of this website.