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"Are courageous conversations enough?"  Current Student Lisbeth Rivera Responds to Visiting Author Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton's Book: A House United.

Two weeks ago we published an interview with Allen Hilton, who is the author of A House United: How the Church Can Save the World and founder of House United Movement. Earlier this summer, Rev. Hilton visited United'sReligion and Politics in America class taught by Dr. Silas Morgan. This current blog post, by Lisbeth Rivera is the second of two responses from students taking the course.  You can read last week's post, by Nathanael Welch, here.


Allen Hilton’s A House United explores the roles in which the Christian Church can engage in difficult conversations and collaborations toward peaceful cohabitation. It attempts to pose solutions to decrease the current polarization infecting the country and, in many ways, the world.

The idea of bridging across difference is not new. As a matter of fact, it is the hallmark of organizing: finding a common point of unity regardless of difference in order to benefit as many people as possible. Take union organizing: collective power as a strategy to improve working conditions of not just the individual but the unit as a whole.

Years ago, an organizing mentor described organizing as fear turned to anger in order to create movement. I cannot see a time when this is truer than today. In addition, we have perfected the monetization of said fear. I’ll paraphrase my Religion and Politics Professor Silas Morgan who said it doesn’t behoove organizations to create united moments. There’s no money in that!

Hilton presents us with several examples centered on “church” to exemplify the tagline of his book: "How the Church Can Save the World and founder of House United Movement." By acknowledging the Church’s complicity in our current state of polarization, Hilton calls it to action in solving the problem. Hilton calls us to engage in Courageous Conversations, an often used term for conversations where hard differences are centered in the dialogue, and in particular the model for these conversations he has created through his organization also called House United.

But can it be done, and if attempted, how long would it last? Are courageous conversations enough -- and what exactly is a courageous conversation? What do they entail? Who should join it? HOW many should join it?

Let me pause for a moment, and tell you that I work at this juncture every day. I am the Director of Faith Outreach and Training at a large national non-profit focused on LGBTQ lives. Attempting to cross that bridge of difference is my meal ticket EVERY DAY. It’s not easy; it requires patience not just with those who oppose us but also with those who support us -- but who need a thriving opposition to survive.

The elephant in the room that Hilton doesn’t address is the WHY we’ve gotten here. In my everyday conversations I find myself going back to Silas’ point; our leaders are unwilling to have the conversations and try to reach respect and agreement because that doesn’t “pay the bills.” Shouldn’t our goal be to work ourselves out of a job? To create a world where we can all exist in peace with one another?

Ideally I loved Hilton’s ideas and efforts. I thought the book was engaging and yet challenging, but in his efforts to demonize both extremes, the examples he offered felt too secular on the left and too “faithy” on the right.

His best example (that of his own Church) demonstrates the ineffectiveness of short term engagement and unplanned programming. It also left me with more questions than answers. I need more “how” than “why,” but if the purpose is to steer us towards his non-profit and engage HIM instead of us learning through the book, then he achieved his goal.

This book is a good starter for those interested in bridging difference. It gives a sampling of what to do or not do around the extremes. But what it doesn’t do is tell us how to speak to a movable middle that can be brought to center for as long as possible in order to come closer to the common good.

Interestingly enough, my favorite line from the book comes in the note section of the last chapter. It’s one that I wish more people would believe in:

“Academic leaders see that policy change doesn’t usually change culture…” (P. 226)

I wish funders, donors and others could understand this and engage in Courageous Conversations themselves. Policies are Band-Aids without the Neosporin of education. Too many of our organizations are invested in passing laws as solutions or enhanced policy, and they forget the hard work of educating a public about the beauty of difference, the ugliness of fear and the possibilities inherent in the common good.

Here’s to more practitioners opening brave spaces and engaging in courageous conversations.

This response is the third of three blog posts we will have published about Dr. Hilton's work in conversation with United's Religion and Politics in America course. At United we are committed to social transformation and do not shy away from rigorous discussions on the relationship between the religious and the political.

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Lisbeth Rivera

Lisbeth Rivera is a current student at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She is also is the Religion and Faith Program’s Director of Latino and Catholic Initiatives with the Human Rights Campaign.

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