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Laypeople learn keys to civil conversations

Posted: June 6 2023 at 11:37 PM
Author: Victoria Rebeck and Debbie Rogers

That our society has become polarized on many issues—to the point of rage, in some cases—is obvious to anyone who reads the news or follows social media. Is civil conversation on disputed subjects possible?

The co-lay leaders of the Northern Illinois Conference think so. During lay session on June 6, they led to participants to discover how to have Christlike conversations with people they disagree with.


Introducing the principles of Christlike conversations, Mark Manzi, one of the conference lay leaders, told those present that “it’s impossible to love Christ and hate others.” The painful conflict in the church has also challenged church members’ abilities to remain respectful when discussing controversial topics.

“Any response to another person needs to start with humility,” Mark said. “This was key for Jesus.

“Our job is to seek to understand. To understand, we must listen.

“We need to get better at listening,” Mark added. “We need to focus and not be distracted. We need to think, ‘Maybe I really can learn from this person.’”

He offered these practices for better listening:

· Repeat and summarize what your conversation partner said.

· Use minimal encourages, like “Oh?” “I understand.” “Then?” “And?”

· Ask questions to draw out the other person.

· Acknowledge the person’s feelings and background.

· Use “I” messages. Express and take responsibility for your own views and feelings.

· Don’t use the word “why”; it can be inflammatory.

· Don’t give advice that wasn’t asked for.

Mark said that most importantly, we need to practice these principles.

Participants divided into small groups and reflected on what they learned. They were encouraged to share what they learned with the Board of Laity, to help them with the planning in the coming year.

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