We Did It: Uncovering Political Common Ground By Means of Respectful Conversation
Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 02:39PM
Harold Heie in Conclusion

The Alternative Political Conversation (APC) that officially concludes on October 31 was intended to model a “better way” of talking about important public policy issues than the current vitriolic political discourse that is characterized by name-calling, demonizing and the unyielding commitment to “fixed positions” that has made it virtually impossible to uncover the “common ground” needed to govern.

If I do say so myself, I believe we have accomplished this purpose to an admirable degree. As to the level of web activity, we had over 24,100 “Page Views” and slightly more than 8000 “Unique Visitors” during this nine month project. But more importantly, if you read through the postings of our six regular commentators on each of twelve important public policy issues, and the comments posted by interested readers, two qualitative conclusions clearly emerge.

First, the conversations were indeed respectful. Commentators holding to some strong disagreements about controversial issues demonstrated a deep level of respect for those with whom they disagreed. Contrary political opinions were expressed with deep conviction without calling into question the integrity or motives of those who disagreed.

Secondly, we demonstrated that when persons who situate themselves at various points on the political spectrum, from “left” to “right,” respectfully share their positions on difficult public policy issues, it is possible to identify some “common ground” in the midst of their differences, and to illuminate their differences in a way that opens the door to the possibility of continuing the conversation.

This is not to suggest that our APC was a “perfect” model of a better way for political discourse. At times, the postings from our regular commentators read more like “serial monologues” than “dialogue.” I think we addressed that shortcoming somewhat when we made a “mid-course” correction that called for three of our commentators to post their papers a few days after the initial three postings, with an encouragement for the latter commentators to respond to the positions taken by the initial commentators.

Something else we “learned by doing” was that the uncovering of some common ground among our regular commentators on a given public policy issue was always accompanied by the uncovering of disagreements and unanswered questions that beg for continuing the conversation. In light of that result, I am pleased to announce that I have struck a book deal with Abilene Christian University Press that will continue and sustain the conversation that was started on my web site.

Tentatively titled Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues: Sustaining a Respectful Political Conversation, this book will consist of twelve “synthesis” essays that I will write, one for each of the public policy topics our APC considered, along with an introductory chapter, and “postscripts” written by our six regular APC Commentators.

Each synthesis essay will first identify the “common ground” that emerged from the postings of our six commentators on the given issue, and will then identify the “remaining questions” that reflected either disagreements or aspects of the given issue that were not addressed.

To give you just a glimpse of the first draft content of one of the synthesis essays, on the issue of Immigration, here is something of what I gleaned from my second careful reading of the postings on this topic (for the “sample synthesis essay” that I included in my Book Proposal to ACU Press). Although there was no unanimity as to the possibility of “comprehensive” immigration reform, consensus appeared to emerge on the need for some type of pathway to legalization for current undocumented immigrants. But agreed upon “respect for the rule of law” led our commentators to conclude that some form of punishment was called for in the case of immigrants who have entered our country illegally. No commentator argued for the current severe punishment of deportation. But the question then remains as to the most appropriate “middle-ground” between no punishment and deportation.

This forthcoming book is currently scheduled for release in the fall of 2013. It is my hope that this book will prove to be useful in venues such as political science courses in colleges and universities, and educational programs in churches and civic organizations. My fondest hope is that steps will be taken by many concerned citizens to invite local, state, and national politicians to prominent public venues to discuss the content of some of these synthesis essays, for the purpose of showing politicians on both sides of the political aisle that “it can be done;” they can find the “common ground” needed for “governing” (not just getting “elected”) if they will be willing to talk respectfully to one another. How is that for a utopian dream? Hope does indeed spring eternal!

I close with four expressions of thanks and deep appreciation. First, I want to thank my six regular APC commentators: Amy Black, Paul Brink, David Gushee, Lisa Harper, Steve Monsma, and Eric Teetsel (with an added word of thanks for Steve Monsma for his very helpful input as I shaped and refined this APC project). Despite their own very busy schedules, they faithfully posted their position papers every three weeks over a period of nine months. I personally benefitted a great deal from my reading of their thoughtful and insightful papers. They are the persons who made this project work.

I also want to thank the readers of our APC who submitted very thoughtful comments on the postings of our six regular commentators. Your respectful comments added richness to our conversation.

A special word of thanks goes to the leaders at the three organizations that graciously co-sponsored this APC project: Tal Howard, Director of the Center for Faith & Inquiry (formerly the Center for Christian Studies) at Gordon College; Kevin den Dulk, Executive Director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College; and Stephanie Summers, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Public Justice.

Finally, I want to thank Christina Wassell, who did splendid work in setting up my web site, and who served with distinction as my “web manager” throughout this APC project. Her support and encouragement are greatly appreciated.

Respectfully submitted,

Harold Heie















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