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Lively debate is a staple of our letters section because it's a staple of the United Church

By Muriel Duncan

A woman from Edmonton has sent us a question that should be answered here because I'm sure she is not alone in her view. Why, she asks, when she opens her Observer, does she "first of all have to read letters that disturb my soul and give me more questions than answers?"

Putting the letters to the editor first in the magazine "does not provide inspiration and encouragement," she says. So why not "put the letters on the back page and the good stuff in the front?"

We certainly hear that from time to time but surveys and the volume of letters that arrives each month tell us that the letters department is a big favourite, a "first-read" feature. More importantly, we put letters up front as a sign of our commitment to reader involvement. And there are deeper reasons.

Lately the debate on same-sex marriage has raised the letters debate a notch. An early flood of letters opposing church support for gay and lesbian marriage rights has been over taken in this issue by those in favour. It's a kind of slow-motion debate.

All sides need to talk to one another. If it's too hard to do in the pew, at least we can try to tell each other our ideas in the letters section.

That can't be the end of it, of course. Honest debate that moves people and brings understanding has to happen in the congregation. It accomplishes nothing to sing a happy song and look the other way. The truth is we don't always -- won't always -- agree as a church.

This is a questioning, venturing denomination and our letters reflect it. The United Church values tradition but it also feels free to change course in pursuit of what it has come to believe is just.

Unless the United Church re-invents its long-established personality, it will always have surprises and squabbles, resistance and streaks of joy.

By its very name, The United Church of Canada has consented to live with the tension of bringing together very different people. We believe worshipping God together is far more important than our differences.

We also believe in opening doors to all God's children. That means learning to live with people who hold opinions we don't -- which would be easier if we didn't have so many opinions.

But we prize justice as much as inclusiveness. So we take stands and issue statements. To complicate matters, this church also believes in free comment, even opposing free comment.

That is the tradition from which the Observer's letters section comes. It is what you send us. Sometimes the mail brings positive, intimate, sharing, seeking letters. The ongoing discussion in Letters about what we believe, for example, is furthering work on the new statement of faith.

And readers can affect the tone of the section. Writers can consider their words more, cutting out the harshness, using less of the old "we/they." After all, the section is for listening as well as venting.

Maybe understanding can find a place to grow and minds can relax enough to change.

Dialogue is a messy business but we've got to do it. Showing the truth of who we are is also part of the Observer's job.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
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