The Wheatley Institution

Fellow Notes


Models of Civility

“Moral acuity; sound reasoning; and skilled, penetrating analysis of fundamental truths are the best preparation and the most important and able guarantor of civility.”

Richard N. Williams | February 1, 2014
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Two people shake hands as a mark of civility, virtue, kindness, and mutual respect.



Last week, April 4-5, I attended a conference sponsored by the Anscombe Society chapter at Stanford University. The title for the Conference was Communicating Values: Marriage, Family, & the Media.” The Wheatley Institution has developed a collaborative relationship with the Love and Fidelity Network at Princeton, New Jersey, participating in a number of their events related to defense of marriage and family. From its origins at Princeton University, the Anscombe Society has grown to have chapters at many leading universities around the country. It is an effective forum for educating the public, particularly university students and other young adults, about the values of sexual integrity, conjugal marriage and intact families. Invited speakers at the conference presented the intellectual and cultural case for these values as clearly and effectively as I have heard them presented. My intent in attending the conference was to lend the support of the Wheatley Institution and its initiative on defense of the family to this effort and to the scholars who presented there.

Most exchanges were respectful; the conference was a model of civil dialogue.

This forum had been the center of a lively conflict at Stanford as is evident in the press coverage that preceded it. The organizers of the conference and the presenters were models of civility. The conference attracted many attendees who did not share the commitments of the sponsoring organization to traditional sexual values or to traditional marriage and family. Due in large part to the civility of the students who organized and hosted the conference, the faculty who helped them, and the restraint of those who disagreed, most exchanges were respectful; the conference was a model of civil dialogue.

It is the uninformed, and those who care less about truth... who are the most prone to incivility

Ironically, some of the presentations included reports of the results of incivility and attempts to control speech and prevent opposition to any agenda that favors traditional marriage and family and sexual integrity outside of marriage. The opposition the Stanford Anscombe Society encountered against holding the conference at all was another indication of what is at stake in the current debate over same-gender marriage and support for the traditional conjugal family. The article featured here from ChristianHeadlines.com speaks to the importance of civility in discussing these important issues. It also speaks to the importance of speaking truth. The more truth is at stake in an issue (such as traditional marriage and family), the greater the importance of civility in our engagement. From the experience at the Stanford Anscombe conference I took away one message above all others: Moral acuity; sound reasoning; and skilled, penetrating analysis of fundamental truths are the best preparation and the most important and able guarantor of civility. It is the uninformed, and those who care less about truth than they do about prevailing, who are the most prone to incivility. Unfortunately it has ever been so. It is our responsibility as citizens of a free republic, and as Christians, to be sure that civility and truth are never separated in our minds or in our hearts. We have a compelling need to be expert in both. We have a compelling interest in the triumph of both.