Discussion of controversial topics needs to be set within guidelines that help the event be a safe place for people to share their views and learn from one another. Whether the event is a large public forum or a small study group it is essential to establish norms for the discussion that are agreed to by the participants.
Listed below, as examples, are guidelines recommended in the Diocese of Toronto and the Diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. as part of their discussion of homosexuality and/or same-sex blessings. These examples provide a helpful framework that may be used as is, added to by the participants in a particular event or you may choose to design your own.
Once established the guidelines provide the boundaries within which respectful discussion takes place. Facilitators and participants are expected to hold each other accountable for keeping within the boundaries set.
One aspect to consider in planning an event is the role of a facilitator. To allow space for all to participate freely it may be helpful to select a facilitator from outside your group. The role of the facilitator is to hold all participants accountable to the guidelines and to help each to hear the others. That may be easier for someone from outside the community gathered. Contact the diocesan bishop for suggestions of appropriate facilitators or contact Faith, Worship, and Ministry.
I FROM the DIOCESE OF TORONTO
SAME SEX BLESSING CONSULTATION
In hosting today’s consultation the Diocese of Toronto Dialogue Group brings years of experience facilitating events to help people listen and learn from one another around controversial and emotional issues. Some people have expressed concern at how safe they will be at these diocesan educational events. Those concerns are real and deserve to be addressed.
The issues that will be discussed today are very personal. Some of us may well feel that the discussion touches on our very being and most deeply held beliefs. Some of us may feel quite vulnerable from time to time.
Our baptismal covenant calls on us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves. We have promised to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.
Each of us must tread carefully at these events, therefore, respecting sisters and brothers in Christ whose views do not coincide with our own. A wide spectrum of feelings and opinions will be voiced from the podium and in the conversations around us. We will hear views expressed with which we agree and views with which we may have real difficulty. The presenters are aware of these sensitivities and will conduct themselves accordingly.
To help us make the most of today’s gathering the Dialogue Group and the Same Sex Consultation Working Group ask that we all agree to honour the following group norms:
- We will respect people’s integrity as members of this community of faith.
- We will assume that as people of faith we are all sincere in our beliefs, including our reverence for Holy Scripture.
- We will assume that lesbian and gay persons are present.
- We will not use language known to be offensive to others.
- We will respect the right of people to “name” themselves and their experiences.
- We will ask no questions that we are not prepared to answer ourselves.
- We will speak in the first person.
- We will respect the privacy of others.
II FROM the DIOCESE OF NOVA SCOTIA
GUIDELINES FOR DISCUSSION
Excerpted from Guidelines for Discussion produced by the Human Sexuality Task Force, Diocese of Nova Scotia.
- We expect that the full range of issues of human sexuality exists within the church;
- We acknowledge that gay and lesbian persons (as well as members of other sexual minorities*) are in the Church;
- We will always assume that gays or lesbians (or representatives of other sexual minorities*) are present:
- While we disagree on issues we will use language which respects the dignity of others;
- We will respect the right of people to ‘name’ themselves and their experience.
- If we ask a question, we will be prepared to respond to it ourselves;
- We will respect people’s privacy;
- We will respect people’s integrity as people of faith.
*eg. Singles, seniors, otherly abled, the sick, the dying, sexually abused, etc.
Tips on applying the guidelines:
- Speak for yourself. Use “I” statements. Avoid generalizations.
- Don’t argue – but don’t be obstinate either! (Don’t defend a position just for the sake of argument)
- Respect each other’s sincerity
- Discuss the issues. Don’t name people
- Don’t interrupt – don’t monopolize – encourage but don’t force others to speak.
- Use the language of respect