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Ten Guidelines for Dialogue

From More Light Less Heat by Joseph Phelps

  1. Risk. We will face our differences. We will consider all views and information, even if they conflict with our basic assumptions about the issue and result in conclusions that differ from our own.
  2. Respect. We will cultivate respect for our dialogue partners as human beings and as fellow Christians. We will take each other’s views and convictions seriously. We will not question one another at the point of sincerity or Christian commitment.
  3. Fairness. We will not judge people on the other side by popular stereotypes or by their least admirable expressions. We will allow people to define themselves, rather than presuming to know them from inference, categorization, or outside observation. We will allow those on the other side the freedom to restate, change, or expand their position in the course of the dialogue without interpreting these actions a sign of weakness, or ambivalence.
  4. Humility. We acknowledge that our understanding of God and the things of God is limited and finite. We recognize that issues requiring dialogue are often complex and ambiguous, even when they appear straightforward from one particular vantage point, and that no one has a final answer to the question at hand. We will avoid the presumption of oversimplification.
  5. Teamwork. We will work tougher as partners with those on the other side of the issue in order to learn something new about our own position, their position, or a new position yet to be discovered.
  6. Openness. We will be open about the nature of our disagreement and will test our assumptions about where the points of disagreement are. We will not judge the correctness or orthodoxy of a position solely by how it relates to our own position.
  7. Listening. We will stand next to people on the other side and attempt to hear the issue from their place. We will avoid formulating our response while another is speaking. We will attempt to empathize with other side’s point of view.
  8. First-Person Speech. We will limit our speaking to the information, materials, and evidence we have available to us. We will focus on how we can deepen our understanding of the other side and narrow the gap from our side, rather than worry or complain about what the other side will or will not do.
  9. Depth. We will explore the complexity of needs, interests, feelings, and convictions that underlie the various positions on the issue. We will search for the secondary, interconnected issues and assumptions behind the presenting issue. We will be cautious of quick, easy solutions that appear to heal instantly or convert others to our side, but merely mask the point of disagreement.
  10. Patience. Because we recognize that good dialogue is always a sustained conversation, we will stay with the process and not avoid or abandon the dialogue.

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