Better Angels Project History

Twenty-five Christian faith leaders representing diverse political and theological perspectives gather at the Frederick Douglass Museum  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.

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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.

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of National Institute of Civil Discourse, facilitates the Better Angels dialogue.

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.

Mark Clark of the United Church of Christ and Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research paired for a dialogue.Sr. Marge Clarke of NETWORK and Tim Gittelson of the Evangelical Latino Leadership Conference

Mark Williams, General Oversee of the Church of God and Jeffrey Cooper, General Secretary of the AME Church.

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:

Rev. James Forbes, Pastor Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York City and Kenda Bartlett of Concerned Women for America paired for a dialogue.

Kenda Bartlett, Executive Director, Concerned Women for America


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Rev. Pierre Bynum,Chaplain, Family Research Council


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Rev. Peg Chemberlin, Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Churches and Immediate Past President National Council of Churches


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Mr. Richard Cizik​, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good


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Marge Clark, BVM, Lobbyist, NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby


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W. Mark Clark, Associate General Minister, United Church of Christ


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Dr. Jeffrey Cooper, General Secretary/CIO, African Methodist Episcopal Church


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Michael Cromartie,Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center


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Fr. John W. Crossin, Executive Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


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Dr. Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission


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Dr. James A. Forbes, Senior Pastor Emeritus, Riverside Church


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Robert Gittelson, Vice President for Governmental Affairs, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference


Tim Goeglein, Vice President, External Relations, Focus on the Family(Not  pictured)


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Bishop Richard Graham, Metropolitan Washington DC Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


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Bishop Charlene Kammerer, Retired Bishop, United Methodist Church


 Patrick Kelly, Vice President for Public Policy, Knights of Columbus (not pictured)


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Dr. J. Herbert Nelson , Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church USA


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Rev. Tom Reese, S.J., Professor, Georgetown University


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Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, The Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church


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Dr. Ed Stetzer, Vice President of Research and Ministry Development LifeWay Christian Resources


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Dr. Mark L. Williams,  General Overseer, Church of God


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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.

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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.



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 2012-06-27 FPI Our Better Angels -1practicing 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

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Richard Harwood Addresses the participants and members of the public on his findings.

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

Nelson Watkins, Senior Congressional Liason for the Faith & Politics Institute,addresses Members of Congress and participants at the breakfast

Nelson Watkins, Senior Congressional Liason for the Faith & Politics Institute,
addresses Members of Congress and participants at the 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.

The Dialogues

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(from left to right) Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America,Dr. Harold Dean
Trulear of Howard University, and Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner of the Skinner Leadership Institute.

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

Click here for more information. For the 2013 Call the Prayer, click here for more information.

In Gratitude

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 DiscourseThe 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