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Words Have Consequences - Civil Discourse in the Classroom and Society

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At this point, no one knows the motives behind the recent tragedy in Arizona. The shooting spree has sparked a lot of conversations about the level of discourse in our country, the heated rhetoric, the language used in defining those with whom we disagree. These conversations provide us all with an opportunity to examine the way we communicate with each other and society about issues we care deeply about.

Our friends at Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, have a wonderful kit you can download to teach about civil discourse in the classroom and the contents can be easily applied to other environments as well. Click here to visit the main page for the curriculum. 

We're HUGE supporters of The Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance program, which provides materials like these and comprehensive learning kits to teachers free of charge. If you love their work too, click here to make a donation to support them.

Faithful Reform in Health Care just put out this newsletter (below) with resources they recommend for civil discourse in faith communities.

Civil discourse and dialogue resources for faith communities

The work of the Faithful Reform in Health Care coalition has always elevated the need for listening to one another and finding value in each other's perspectives on an issue as difficult as health care reform.  We fully understand the need to build consensus for the common good and know that the work we do on health care reform will contribute to how we relate to one another on other social issues.

As political tensions remain high, we affirm that one of the greatest gifts that people of faith can offer to the health care justice movement is the ability to create space for dialogue and civil discourse.  Because of our willingness to talk in the midst of our rich diversity, we are uniquely positioned to help move our national focus from debate about what is politically prudent or economically feasible to dialogue which embraces compassion and justice and the common good.

Below you will find resources to help your community of faith on this journey.  Please send an email to Faithful Reform with other resources that you have found to be helpful.

Faith resources for civil discourse about health care reform

Faithful Reform in Health Care:  The Heart in Health Care Reform - Resources to help people of faith movebeyond cable news caricatures of health care reform to intentional reflection and conversation about reform based on the faith-inspired values that give meaning to the lives we share together.     

Discussion Guide Preview:  Let's Talk about "The Heart in Health Care Reform"

Order Discussion Guide - $10 (free for 2010 and 2011 donors)

Vision and Voice:  Vision and Voice: Communities of Faith Raising Vision and Voice - Curriculum developed collaboratively by the Bon Secours Health System, St. Joseph Health System, and Faithful Reform in Health Care  (The content is perhaps a little dated because it was produced prior to the 2008 elections, but the activities to help facilitate dialogue are still very relevant.)

St. Joseph Health System (Orange, CA): Our Healthcare Future: The Dialogue – A field-tested process and materials to engage the general public in a dialogue about our health care future

Faith resources for general civil discourse

California Council of Churches:  Building Bridges of Understanding – An Interfaith Response to September 11 - A congregational study guide that has been distributed to over 20,000 congregations world-wide to help participants understand neighbors of different faiths (Though specific in content this resource offers helpful insights about leading sessions on potentially divisive topics.)

East Jefferson Interfaith Clergy Association in New Orleans, LA: Faith Statement on Civility in Public Discourse – A statement which calls for a return to respect and reasonable, issue-focused disagreement without distortion or misrepresentation. 

Maine Council of Churches: Covenant for Civil Discourse – A call to civil discourse, asking lawmakers and congregations to commit to civil discourse to make democracy work in order to build "a society of justice, compassion, and peace..."

NETWORK:  A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby: Civility and the Common Good from Connections Magazine Jan. '10 – An article by former Republican Representative Jim Leach in which he addressed the increasingly rancorous discourse on Capitol Hill and throughout the country. and says “Civilization requires civility. Words matter.”

North Carolina Council of Churches:  With All Due Respect – A policy statement urging politicians, churches, church members, citizens, and the media to create an environment in which differing views are respected and the democratic process can work; alsoGood Government - A statement that affirms the faith community's role in the governing process.

Unitarian Universalist Association:  Building the World We Dream About – A curriculum which is focused on communication across racial boundaries, but offer offers broader insights about how to have respectful civil dialogue.

Additional resources suggested by Faithful Reform partners:

The Kettering Foundation:  Democracy's Challenge - Reclaiming the Public's Role and numerous other resources that help define what it will take to "make democracy work as it should."

Johns Hopkins Civility Project: Choosing Civility, by P.M. Forni, Cofounder of Johns Hopkins Civility Project – A description of twenty-five rules of civility, with civility placed within the framework of ethics.

Verbal Judo, by George Thompson

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense; More on The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense; The Last Word on The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense -- all by Suzette Haden Elgin.

A Prayer for These Dayscandles

Because the shooting of Representative Giffords seems to be painted with undertones of her vote on health care reform, among other things, a prayer by people of faith who are committed to health care justice seems appropriate at this time.

We offered this prayer for the national moment of silence on Monday and continue to pray with these words:

In the sacred bonds of our common humanity, we give thanks for the life that we share and for our calling to care for each other.  In this time of national tragedy, grief, and uncertainty, we remember the victims of this senseless act of violence.  For those who were greeted by death, we pray for the benediction of holy light and peace.  And for those who struggle to recover from injuries, we pray for the blessing of healing. May those who hold all of these persons dear feel the compassionate embrace of their national family.

We pray also for ourselves, knowing that our most deeply held commitments to the common good and our concern for our sisters and brothers are being smothered by our inability to live together in peace. So we ask for forgiveness, that we may rediscover the ties that bind us together and give us strength for the journeys of our days. May the darkness and pain of these moments be transformed into a dawn that invites us into new relationships in which we not only give voice to our own ideals and passions, but deeply listen to one another and respect the gifts and viewpoints of others. 

In all things, may we be instruments of reconciliation and compassion. 


If you know of other curriculum Reach And Teach should be promoting on this topic, please click here to email us.

We continue to hold the victims of the shooting in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for the survivors to recover fully, their families and loved ones to feel the tremendous outpouring of love and support surrounding them, and we grieve the loss of those who died in this senseless act of violence. 

Green America approved