The Archdiocese of Portland's Office of Life, Justice and Peace has reminded us of the importance of civil dialogue as election season nears. Our nation needs this lesson badly. It's not simply a matter of being polite, it's living out our cherished belief in human dignity.
A letter sent out by the office urges voters to focus on the policies and behaviors of their political opponents, not the people.
"Jesus is the Truth, yet even the apostles who knew Him differed and disagreed," the letter says. "We aspire to a sense of personal confidence and inner peace that allows us to accept the differences between us and to accept that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we walk different paths at different paces as we journey to the Truth."
This does not mean we agree with everyone, or allow debeaters to take immoral positions without expressing our views. But we do our faith and the gospel no favors by being nasty or smug. When we speak the truths of our faith, we should speak in a way the non-believing world might be able to accept. Our primary job is not to have elections go our way, but, as the archdiocese puts it, to "manifest the love that God has for us."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a set of ground rules for civil dialogue in political season:
1. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak.
2. Share personal experience, not someone else’s.
3. Listen carefully and respectfully. Speak carefully and respectfully. Do not play the role of know-it-all, convincer or corrector. A dialogue is not a debate.
4. Don’t interrupt, unless for clarification or time keeping.
5. Accept that no group or viewpoint has a complete monopoly on the truth.
6. “Be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than condemn it,” as St. Ignatius of Loyola said.
7. Be cautious about assigning motives to another person.