Civil Conversations needed

Has anyone noticed we do not know how to have a substantive conversation anymore? Whether in public, private or in the political arena we seem either to have chats where everyone is on the same page, and we spend time going over and over our agreeing with one another or we engage in word versions of a food fight where disagreement is messy, combative and often personal and destructive.

Left, right and center have adopted these tactics. We no longer have rational and polite conversations with those with whom we do not share opinions (fearing perhaps we might learn something of value from the opposite view). The parish I grew up in did not have alikeness as their descriptor. We had working class conservatives in the same Sunday discussion forums with deeply committed progressive professionals and a sprinkling of vocal liberals; we had those who were leaning towards the John Birch society in weekly conversation with those whom the House Un-American Activities Committee might have wanted to question. The ground rule was simple – we shared ideas and opinions as brothers and sisters in Christ. We actually learned from one another and occasionally found common ground. The basement of the church was the site of these weekly conversations. And at the end of the conversation time we went upstairs to the church, and shoulder to shoulder gathered round the table of the Lord to be fed.

I learned above all that it was not a personal attack to have the other think differently. As a high school and college student my opinion was often in the minority. But I was listened to – and was not stifled because of my youth, inexperience or enthusiasm (often unsupported by reason or facts).

While outside that church basement voices were raised and threats made over issues of war, race, politics and civil rights, inside that church basement was a different way of being and of talking. And for me, and I believe others, we were taught to listen and to work for common ground.

I am convinced our church and every church needs to recapture being a safe haven for conversation and exploring more than one side of an issue. We need to be safe places for civil conversation. And not just among ourselves. I think we need to begin to offer this to our neighborhoods by developing community forums to discuss issues of importance, insist that we treat one another with respect and listen to the reasoning behind the opinion we oppose. If we listen well enough and hard enough we may be able to find solutions that honor all and marginalize none. Or do the least amount of harm to the fewest number of people.

If we can begin to do this we may move a few inches close to God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven…”


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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2 Responses to Civil Conversations needed

  1. Hutch says:

    I think there are, unfortunately, a lot of churches that need to learn how to do that with one another before they step out to offer it to the neighborhood. And doubly sad, they often do not realize the need for practicising their own process before offering their expertise to others. I agree with you – we need to learn how to have civil conversations – that different is not wrong, desiring other things or mission is not wrong, etc. Seems as a society we have gotten very used to some of the ugliness in media that shows us to attack another makes us somehow better and stronger. So – for those who can show us the way – keep leading and hopefully someone will follow.

  2. don says:

    You are right . And we need to learn how to do that internally among ourselves within a congregation.

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