May 14-15, 2013: Over twenty Christian faith leaders gathered for a day and a half dialogue at the invitation of The Faith & Politics Institute to discuss how faith leaders can work together to promote deeper respect and greater civility in the public square. “Faith, Politics and Our Better Angels: A Christian Dialogue to Promote Civility” took place at the Frederick Douglass Museum on Capitol Hill. In attendance were representatives from a diverse range of denominations and organizations, including the National Council of Churches, the Family Research Council, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), Concerned Women for America, NETWORK (a Catholic social justice lobby), Focus on the Family, the Episcopal Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and many others.
The meeting was a follow-up to a gathering in June, 2012, after which a group of twenty Christian faith leaders committed to participate together in a ministry of reconciliation. Many of the participants in the June, 2012 gathering stayed involved in the project in the intervening year through praying together, publishing together and preparing for a second meeting together.
The purpose of the May Better Angels gathering was to strengthen relationships among the diverse group of faith leaders, to practice the tools and skills of respectful dialogue and to outline a plan to work together to help change the tone of political discourse. The Better Angels project is funded by the Democracy Fund of the Omidyar Network, which is dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of our democratic system.
Over the course of two days, facilitator Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, led the group of faith leaders through a series of exercises designed to improve their capacity to model and promote civil discourse.
One tool that was practiced was that of paired dialogues, in which two faith leaders with different perspectives on a contentious political issue sought to listen to one another and engage one another with respect and understanding.
Read about the gathering in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” and on the Religious News Service
The participants at the 2013 Better Angels gathering were:
Kenda Bartlett, Executive Director, Concerned Women for America
Rev. Pierre Bynum,Chaplain, Family Research Council
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Churches and Immediate Past President National Council of Churches
Mr. Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Marge Clark, BVM, Lobbyist, NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby
W. Mark Clark, Associate General Minister, United Church of Christ
Dr. Jeffrey Cooper, General Secretary/CIO, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Michael Cromartie,Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Fr. John W. Crossin, Executive Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr. Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Dr. James A. Forbes, Senior Pastor Emeritus, Riverside Church
Robert Gittelson, Vice President for Governmental Affairs, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Tim Goeglein, Vice President, External Relations, Focus on the Family(Not pictured)
Bishop Richard Graham, Metropolitan Washington DC Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Charlene Kammerer, Retired Bishop, United Methodist Church
Patrick Kelly, Vice President for Public Policy, Knights of Columbus (not pictured)
Dr. J. Herbert Nelson , Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church USA
Rev. Tom Reese, S.J., Professor, Georgetown University
Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, The Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church
Dr. Ed Stetzer, Vice President of Research and Ministry Development LifeWay Christian Resources
Dr. Mark L. Williams, General Overseer, Church of God
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Founder and President, Skinner Leadership Institute
Photos courtesy of Byron Buck.
Special thanks to Theo Brown, Better Angels Project Director, Jennie Ellwanger, Director of Development, Andrea Wise, Program Coordinator, Christy Bergheof, Program Assistant and Sean Murphy, Faith & Politics Intern.
The Faith & Politics Institute is grateful for the generous support of the Democracy Fund of the Omidyar Network and for the expert planning and facilitation of Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
“FAITH, POLITICS AND OUR BETTER ANGELS: A CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE ON PUBLIC DISCOURSE,” JUNE 27-28, 2012
The Faith & Politics Institute hosted 21 Christian leaders for a two-day dialogue and conference on Wednesday, June 27th and Thursday, June 28th 2012 to discuss the importance of promoting and practicing civility in the public sphere and possible next steps. The Faith & Politics Institute believes that religious leaders and communities of faith have a special role to play in encouraging Americans of different views to engage one another with respect, dignity and honor. We highly value and celebrate interfaith activity but we also recognize the value in reflective, ecumenical conversations within the Christian tradition. To that end, we invited prominent church leaders representing many different denominations and points of view as our guests.The program consisted of multiple parts, allowing our participants to engage with the public, Members of Congress, non-profit organizations, and each other. Here are some of the event’s highlights:
The Work of Hope Forum, presented by Rich Harwood
The participants started their visit on Wednesday afternoon with an informational session at the Dirksen Senate Building with honorary co-hosts Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo). The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation revealed its findings in a new study about American Civil engagement, “The Work of Hope.” This session was open to the public and was very well-attended. The reception allowed time for the Christian Leaders to mix with the public prior to and following the presentation. During the program, Richard Harwood spoke and fielded questions on the topic of hope and the longing for a source of hope in the American population. His findings emphasized the good work that Americans are doing together as they seek to restore belief in one another and in humanity. This affirmation of hope was acknowledged throughout the dialogue and helped move the discussion forward.
The Congressional Breakfast
On Thursday morning, some leaders in the political sphere gathered for a dialogue with the Christian leaders over breakfast at the Frederick Douglas Museum. Each table had Members of Congress and Christian leaders interspersed, allowing for informal dialogue. Members also made speeches expressing their ideas about civility and how they try to promote it.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) were our congressional co-hosts and former Senator John C. Danforth of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics was our honorary host. Sen. Danforth’s keynote address also helped to frame the further dialogue by declaring his three assumptions, three observations, and three suggestions, which were:
- Three assumptions
- government is broken
- disagreeing strongly on something doesn’t mean people can’t agree on anything
- all of the participants take the Christian concept of love seriously enough to work to promote civility
- Three observations
- politics is not religion
- if this diverse group could come out in agreement on something it would be a major event
- the participants have the ability to affect the tone
- Three suggestions
- have a product from this meeting
- create a continuing relationship with someone from a different viewpoint
- when they have made progress, start inviting politicians
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) spoke of the power of prayer to bring people together and Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) remembered the bipartisan foundations that marked his Senate tenure. Several other Members of Congress joined us at the breakfast: Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), Rep. John Boozman (R-AR), Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), Rep. David Price (D-CA), Former Member of Congress Mark Green (D-NY), Former Member of Congress Amo Houghton (R-NY), and Former Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). We were also honored to be joined by Paul Monteiro, the Associate Director of White House Office of Public Engagement for the Executive Office of the President.
The participants were grateful for the Members who attended the breakfast, whose thoughtful insights and willingness to listen were major assets to the event and to the cause of promoting civility.
Dialogue, in both small groups and plenary session, marked the two-day event. Caroline Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and founder of America Speaks, was the overall facilitator and led many discussions, each with a different focus and result.
The majority of the dialogue can be categorized in three areas: an assessment of the problem (in both secular and Christian terms), a search for the root causes, and generation of possible solutions. Each of these sections had its successes and its challenges, but everyone agreed that some action is worth pursuing and participated in making plans for that possibility. The Faith & Politics Institute is generating a full report about the discussion and is committed to providing a framework for continued productive interaction among this group of faith leaders.
Call to Prayer
The Better Angels Summit was made possible by a grant from the Omidyar Network’s and in partnership with the The National Institute for Civil Discourse, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, and the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. The Christian faith leaders who joined the dialogue have many demands on their time. The fact that they made time for this dialogue is a sign of hope that they might keep leading the effort to build hope and civility.
To learn more about the event, click on these links to see the Christian Post’s article or here to see the Christian Broadcasting network’s video and article. Also, see more pictures here.
Rev. Pierre Bynum, Chaplain, Family Research Council
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, Immediate Past President, National Council of Churches Minnesota
Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Bishop Sally Dyck, Minnesota Annual Conference, United Methodist Church
Dr. James A. Forbes, Senior Pastor Emeritus, Riverside Church
Bishop Richard Graham, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, the Episcopal Church
Dr. M. Cathleen Kaveny, Professor, University of Notre Dame
Sister Carol Keehan, President, The Catholic Health Association
Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout, Archdiosese of Washington
Dr. Richard Land, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Souther Baptist Convention
Dwayne Leslie, J.D., Public Affairs & Religious Liberty, Seventh Day Adventist Church
Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church
Dr. R. R. Reno, Editor, First Things
Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Chair, National Conference of Black Churches
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, Director and Senior Fellow, The Beverly Lahaye Institute, Concerned Women for America
Sen. Gordon Smith, The Church of the Latter-Day Saints
Dr. Ed Stetzer, Vice-President of Research and Ministry Development LifeWay Christian Resourse
Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, Professor, Howard University Divinity School
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, President and co-founder, the Skinner Leadership Institute