U.S. Bishops relaunch ‘Civilize It’ initiative
September 15, 2021
By Tom Venzor
Faithful, Watchful Citizens
During the last presidential election cycle, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched a new initiative entitled “Civilize It.”
The purpose of the initiative was to ensure that focus during the election cycle was given not only to the issues and candidates being debated, but also to how to engage in civil and charitable dialogue on what are often controversial political matters. In short, the U.S. bishops wanted to make sure Catholics were equipped to be and act as Christians in the public square, a place where noise and division too often abound.
While the initiative’s resources were few, it was nevertheless important, impactful and insightful. It provided the basic tools that any person should have when discussing any topic, most especially politics. It underscored the importance of listening to understand those you are speaking with – especially your political “opponents” – and from this place of listening to be able to delve more deeply and authentically into the issues.
As we prepare for the midterm election cycle, the USCCB is relaunching their “Civilize It” initiative. As stated in its promotional materials, “As a Church and a nation, we are polarized and divided. Pope Francis challenges us to respond to building a ‘better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common’ (Fratelli Tutti, no. 154). We are called to overcome division, promote encounters with our neighbors, and seek the truth.” It is the desire of the U.S. bishops “to assist Catholics to counter polarization and division in Church and society by following the example of the Good Samaritan, who challenges us to ‘become neighbors to all’ (Fratelli Tutti, no. 80).”
Our political discourse is rife with toxic exchanges. Vile exchanges of communication in the context of politics are an age-old problem, one that has only been exacerbated by social media. But there is no reason this must be the norm – there is always hope and redemption.
“Civilize It” seeks to flip this dynamic by calling on Catholics to be leaven in the culture. “Civilize It” invites us to enter into the fray of political discourse and to reveal a “better kind of politics,” a politics that respects the other person and does not seek to vilify them or their sincerely held beliefs. “Civilize It” seeks to charitably meet people where they are, create a culture of human encounter between persons, and from that position strive toward a mutual understanding of the truth and how we can best strive for the common good.
If you, like me, have the tendency to be quick to judge or cast aspersions on your political “enemies” and find it difficult to be civil and charitable in how you conduct yourself during political debates and discussions, then I think you would do well to visit CivilizeIt.org and give some of the resources a look. Take them to prayer, give them a read and periodically return to them over the next year as our nation enters, once again, into the fray of election politics. As always, share them with family, friends, parishioners, political friends and adversaries, and anybody else in need.
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.