Civil Discourse

Many of us lament the increased divisiveness that surrounds us and wish we felt more equipped to engage in conversations about difficult topics with people who think differently than we do. We might want to seek to understand others’ values and opinions without resorting to argument or judgment. Here are some resources to help you get started in initiating and holding difficult conversations, including establishing ground rules before you even start talking. These resources might be used as curriculum materials for a Sunday-morning faith formation forum or class, or an evening discussion group.

  • The National Institute for Civil Discourse is an initiative to “revive civility.” The website includes helpful language for exploring what this means and offers some basic resources that can be used for hand-out and discussion.
  • The Essential Partners organization is all about facilitating difficult conversations. Their mission “is to foster constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values.” The website excellent resources. Two that are especially helpful include:
  • Fostering Dialog across Divides. This guide is quite involved, but groups could easily pull out sections for reading and discussion.
  • Reaching across The Red-Blue Divide is just 10 pages and outlines how to initiate and hold difficult conversations, and get them back on track if necessary.
  • In the fall of 2017 the Episcopal Church developed the curriculum Civil Discourse. It is a free, downloadable, 5-week curriculum with leader guide and participant pages. It allows participants to work through what it means to enter civil discourse in a practical, hands-on way, and includes relevant Bible references.
  • Better Angels says “political polarization did not start with the 2016 election — it’s been gaining momentum for over 20 years. But with the rancor and divisiveness that has been on display in recent years, polarization may have reached its worst level in the United States since the Civil War.” Better Angels offers Red-Blue workshops and civil discourse skills training throughout the country.
  • A House United: How the Church Can Save the World is written by Allen Hilton, founder of House United (think Abe Lincoln’s “house divided” speech). House Divided is a nonprofit dedicated to “bringing people together across political, religious, and racial difference for the common good.” The book helps congregations have what Hilton calls “courageous conversations” and be a force for creating unity in our nation and beyond.
  • Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown is a great book for challenging ourselves to enter the “wilderness” of civil discourse/difficult conversations. It could serve as a standalone book study or suggested reading for a group exploring civil discourse through use of some of the resources above.