Current Conversation:  Reforming Political Discourse

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A note from Harold Heie.


I wish to express my deep appreciation to the 23 conversation partners who made such marvelous contributions to my recently completed eCircle on “Reforming Political Discourse.” You all dealt very effectively with some contentious issues regarding politics in America today and you expressed your disagreements with your respective partners with great respect and love. This project would not have been possible without your splendid work.

As for three of my previous eCircles, I am now working on a book manuscript that hopes to capture the highlights of this eCircle. I am aiming to complete this manuscript by November 1, 2018, with a publication date shortly thereafter. My tentative title for this book is Reforming American Politics: A  Christian Perspective.

Below you will find a copy of a talk I gave on June 9, 2018 at the bi-annual conference of Christians in Political Science held at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain in Georgia. This talk presents the foundational premise behind this eCircle; my reflections on the “pre-conditions for a respectful conversation in politics and beyond”; a Table of Contents for my forthcoming book; and some “preliminary findings” that will eventually be elaborated upon in the book.

Harold Heie


I am the token mathematician in this splendid gathering of Christian political scientists.

I was delighted when Kim Conger, a member of the CPS Cabinet invited me to give a talk on the topic “Stability of the Numerical Solution of Hyperbolic Partial Differential Equations in Three Independent Variables.”

Just kidding! That was actually the title of my doctoral dissertation.

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Love: declining to comment is sometimes the best policy

To move toward any objectivity, you have to affirmatively focus upon your conversation partner. To paraphrase the Golden Rule, listen to others in the manner that you would have them listen to you.

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Civility and the Bodies Politic

the only site I can think of where there is a greater likelihood of individual transformation, where one must negotiate more contending forces pushing against you, and where there is closer attention to the potential for growth and the reshaping of relationships than the academy is the birth canal. 

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Inching toward a new paradigm of the public square in democracies

Mark’s presentation and mine make for a complete “bible” for the public square.

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Love and Shame in a Networked World

It seems to me that civility isn’t what comes after neighbor love (contra Tony’s suggestion that “You first need love, then you need civility”).  Civility is the way neighbor-love expresses itself in that context.  Civility is a form of neighbor-love.

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Is there a limit to public shaming? Is public shaming uncivil religion?

A breach of civility is obnoxious to the orderly mind and a threat to civil peace. However, it probably doesn’t destroy the social bonds as much as lovelessness. You need first love, then you need civility.

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Starting Points

Christian faith begins in a grace-filled revelation that is always disruptive and never determined by the prior holiness or the moral rectitude of either the speaker or the recipient of a revelatory word.  To the extent that living out a Christian faith is a continual project of discerning the word and work of God and responding appropriately, it is therefore hard for me to imagine any context in which Christians should refuse to listen to another person.  Of course, listening to another person is not the same thing as accepting what that other person has to say: discerning how one who is Wholly Other may be speaking also means rejecting words that are antithetical to the witness of the gospel.  And since the Christian life is a kind of pilgrimage, the practices of listening and discerning are wrapped in processes of developing particular virtues and resisting the temptations of particular vices.

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Subtopic 11: Are There Limits to Civil Discourse and Free Speech? (July 2018)

This July conversation is a “Redo” of the November 2017 conversation on this subtopic that was truncated after one posting due to a death in the family of one of the original conversation partners.

Leading Questions: Are there limits to civility? Is the call for civility a means of control by those in power? Is the call for civility a means to marginalize those “who have no voice?” Are there ideas so repugnant and dangerous that they shouldn’t be allowed to be uttered in public? If colleges and universities are committed to the quest for “truth,” what are the limits, if any, on free speech?  

Conversation Partners: 

  • Mark Douglas, Professor of Christian Ethics, Columbia Theological Seminary 
  • Tony Carnes, Editor and publisher, A Journey Through NYC Religions 

Closing Comments: Case Studies

If you would like to comment on the June topic as a whole, please do so below.

Jeff Sessions and Generational Trauma

Reading the other author’s posts in this series I’ve appreciated how much we have in common in our sense of the role that faith institutions play in the political realm. I especially appreciated the post in reference to Jeff Sessions’ application of Romans 13 because it demonstrated the idea that faith institutions aren’t merely inserting themselves into politics from the outside but elected officials themselves are often people of faith, acting on instincts handed down from prior generations. The Romans 13 citation from Sessions also highlighted that there is an expectation that scripture and faith traditions have something to contribute to policy decisions and that they can play a role in shaping debates.

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