civil discourse

Gun Talk

Kubko / Shutterstock
Kubko / Shutterstock

SO YOU WANT TO HAVE a chat with someone on the other side of the gun control debate, but you’re worried that it could quickly go south, descending into interminable and acrimonious debate. Well, fear not! Here are a few simple guidelines that can help avoid that outcome.

1. Resist false dichotomies

There are a wide range of positions that Americans hold on issues related to gun control. Polls consistently show that most gun owners support some degree of gun regulation. Similarly, few of those who choose not to own a gun believe that, therefore, no one should be allowed to own a gun. Given this, why does the debate so quickly deteriorate to: “You and Obama wanna take my guns!” on the one side and “You folks just don’t care about the gun violence epidemic!” on the other? The first step toward mutually respectful dialogue is to get rid of the false dichotomies.

2. Don’t caricature the other side

It’s an unfortunate part of our everyday discourse that we often attempt to dismiss our opponent’s position by creating an absurd caricature of it. You know the drill. Someone makes a sympathetic comment about gun regulation and the response is: “Oh, so you want to repeal the Second Amendment!” This sort of caricature avoids serious engagement with the issue by recasting it in terms that exaggerate or misrepresent the other’s position. Serious engagement on this issue, or any other, for that matter, requires careful attention to what the person actually says. Resist the temptation to cheapen the discussion by caricaturing the other’s position.

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What Are Our Foundations of Morality?

“There can be no high civility without a deep morality" ~ R.W. Emerson

“Why can’t we all just get along?” ~ Rodney King

Some of the most heated conversations I have ever participated have been with other people of faith whom I sincerely believe want the same things I want, worship the same God that I worship, and labor as hard as I do to promote human flourishing.

During this election time, we have come to expect the rhetoric to replace reason and civility is a term that has no place in our discourses. Our disagreements are often not cognitive disagreements, but differences in morality and decency. This is why they take a personal tone that is easily offended and strongly defended.

It is interesting that modern psychologists have demonstrated that our understanding of morality is actually not as easy as “right or wrong,” but rather based on five different axes or foundations. According to Psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, each foundation contributes to our formation of how “right” or “wrong” an action is.

Facebook: The New Public Square

"Facebook" illustration via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3185202042
"Facebook" illustration via Wylio, http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3185202042.

Even though I use Facebook frequently, I doubt my usage pattern will justify a $100 billion valuation for the company or send a new crop of Silicon Valley paper millionaires to Ferrari dealerships.

I never click on sidebar ads, I immediately block all games, and I have no intention of using Facebook's virtual money. I've done some advertising -- to little effect -- and will do more, but not much.

On the other hand, I find Facebook intriguing, sobering and oddly encouraging. To me, Facebook is an intriguing window on the world. It's the raw stuff of human diversity, not filtered through self-serving politicians or media summaries. When I decided to "friend" people whose views differ from mine, little did I know how much we differ.

Name an issue — say, the recent dust-up over breast cancer funding for Planned Parenthood — and I read not only the rage and indignation of fervent extremes, but deep divisions within the sensible middle. The hope that we could find common ground by moving to the middle could be delusional. Divisions are still there, but maybe they're just calmer.

Jim Wallis and Richard Land Discuss Evangelicals and 2012 Elections

Tonight, Sojourners and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are co-sponsoring an event to discuss religion and the 2012 elections. Rev. Wallis and Dr. Richard Land will delve into what they believe the religious issues will be and should be from now until election day.

The event is already turning some heads. A Washington Post article by Michelle Boorstein summed up the unique nature of the event in a headline, "Evangelical opposites to hold discussion on 2012 presidential race."

Watching Democracy Happen

When some of these local young people heard about my event, and asked the church if they attend, the church graciously gave them free tickets. Apparently, the word spread and a big crowd of protesters descended on the already large audience. It soon became clear that Occupy Grand Rapids was in the house as they enthusiastically participated in the discussion, offering very civil, but also very challenging questions.

After the program ended, the young Occupy Grand Rapids activists asked if I would spend some time with them, to which I quickly agreed. But they also asked the Mayor to stay, and bravely, he also accepted - a decision I thought was in keeping with what a responsive democracy should look like.

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