A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet. 

Truman Capote

Several years ago Henry H. Knight III and Don E. Saliers wrote a book entitled The Conversation Matters. Because it specifically addressed concerns in The United Methodist Church, the sub-title was Why United Methodists Should Talk With One Another. I regret that I gave away my copy of that book when I retired three years ago.

The current climate, both secular and religious, demonstrates the need for guidance as we discuss (debate) issues of significance for all people. It seems that we are more likely to yell AT one another than to talk TO one another, especially when it comes to “hot button” issues. Knight and Saliers offer wise counsel to everyone, not just the targeted denominational population. We need to learn, or re-learn, how to talk WITH one another. That is true in all segments of society.

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Christian conferencing was a cornerstone of the early Methodist Movement. John Wesley believed that Christians gathered together in conversation guided by the Holy Spirit could discern God’s will. Christian conferencing was one of the Means of Grace that Wesley taught to assist persons in their spiritual formation.

I believe that John Wesley was onto something that will work not only for Christians but for people of all religious or non-religious orientations. If people will “reason together,” the possibility of solutions to our plaguing problems are promising.

“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.”
Romain Rolland, Above the Battle

The introduction to Knight and Saliers’ book said, “While applauding those of the left and right for their commitments to matters of conviction, the authors point out that the acrimonious and accusatory nature of current debates does little to forward the truth that both sides contend is at stake. The authors argue for the recovery of … a way of carrying on debate that is (1) true to principles believed to be of crucial importance and (2) open to the possibility of changing one’s mind. They argue for ‘speaking the truth in love’ in a way that makes respect and love for others the paramount concern, and in which making an argument is not the same thing as having an argument.”

“I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.”
Elie Wiesel, Open Heart

The Apostle Paul offers guidance in his words to the Colossians when he said, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

In a letter to United Methodists Bishop Janice Huie wrote, ” In much of the Western world, results are measured in terms of winners and losers. Holy Conferencing does not work that way. It focuses on discerning where God is leading us. It focuses on prayer, rational and respectful conversation, and a belief that with God, all things are possible.”

Lord, help us to regain the ability to have civil dialogue and mutual respect for all people.

Jamie Jenkins

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