Putting Theology Over Ideology

How One 5280 Fellow Turned Her Sense of Calling Into a Project on Civil Community Conversation

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Blythe Scott is a 5280 Fellow in the 2016-2017 session and co-facilitator of The City Forum, an ongoing event series in Denver that aims to cultivate civility by engaging in public conversations about issues that matter. Her involvement in the series came from a longtime call she had to build bridges of conversation and connection around tough issues. It also tied to her professional development project in the 5280 Fellowship, a tangible outpouring of her learning from the 9-month program experience.

We spoke recently about her passion for civil dialogue and how the 5280 Fellowship empowered her to learn more about her own sense of calling.

Tell me about how you got involved in The City Forum and why it’s important to you.

It was a divine connection. In the 5280 Fellowship, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my professional development project. Someone posed the question, “If you could do anything, what would it be?” And I was able to voice one of the things I’m most passionate about: providing a space for people to connect and have thoughtful, deep conversation around tough issues, for the furthering of the Kingdom and the common good, all with civility and grace. That’s when Denver Institute connected me with Brandon Addison (lead pastor at The Neighborhood Church). We had very similar visions for a conversation space for people in Denver to have these kinds of discussions. From there, it truly became a passion project. The 5280 Fellowship provided the catalyst for this idea and gave me the means to carry it out, and it’s been great to have the support of Denver Institute in the process.

Where did your passion for civil conversation begin?

Over the past four or five years, I’ve grown increasingly unsettled in my spirit about how the Church is engaging with culture on hard issues. I’ve had this growing conviction that we need to provide a space for followers of Christ to learn how to discuss hard issues, model it for believers and non-believers alike, and help each other converse well. To borrow a phrase I’ve heard a couple people say in relation to this conversation, my goal is to help provide a space to put “theology over ideology.” That phrase has come to embody one of my biggest passions and callings in life. I want to help the Church – myself included – do that in daily life.

Why do you think that is such a challenge?

When faced with tough issues, especially in our current divisive climate, it is hard not to bring our own selfish motivations, desires, preferences or expectations to the conversation. By putting theology first, we have to be open minded, even if someone’s point of view makes us uncomfortable or goes against what we’ve thought our whole lives. I don’t think the American church has learned how to do that well. This is a time when the Church can lead the way in our world by introducing a new conversation and showing people a way to converse well.

On March 15, The City Forum held its first discussion about the implications of the marijuana industry on work and culture in Colorado. What were some of the highlights of that event for you?

When Brandon first brought it up, it wasn’t one of the topics I felt immediately passionate about. But it was an incredible discussion. First, I was so impressed with the quality of expert speakers we had – four diverse speakers with different focuses. I learned a ton from them, so the variety of perspectives was really important and cool to hear. And second, the audience was wonderful. I talked to so many different people who thanked us for providing a forum for the topic, and it was so cool for me to see how the event was truly meeting a need in our community. The crowd was diverse, and it made for a rich conversation.  

For your next event on May 24, you’ve chosen the topic of immigration and nationalism. Why immigration?

We both felt really strongly that this was a topic we needed to discuss, since it is just such a “hot topic” in our culture right now. This is such a divisive, intense, personal and emotional subject, and for many people, it hits really close to some. Some people are angry. Some people have been misinformed. It is urgent for our speakers to provide facts and personal experience, and we hope to provide voices from law, policy, humanitarian organizations, and more. 

This conversation can get heated really quickly – we want to provide a safe space where this can be discussed civilly, thoughtfully  and creatively.

What can people expect from the May event, and why would you encourage folks to come?

I think City Forum is truly unique. We have not seen another space where this is being done in our city. Our goal is to talk about an issue with a sense of safety and openness for all participants, so you don’t have to come guarded or prepared to argue. We are not here to tell you what you should think. We want everyone to feel safe, listen, learn, and engage well. You can speak up, or not speak at all.

At every event, you can expect three or four speakers who are experts on different areas of that specific topic and who will come with different points of view. So you won’t be hearing from only pastors, or only members of a certain political party. There will be time to hear from each speaker, and then ask questions and engage in dialogue with the speakers and other attendees.

Finally, I think the number one reason to come is that this is a really important issue that we need to be informed about, and City Forum will provide a space for that.  

How have these conversations affected your own work journey and sense of calling?

In preparing for and hosting these conversations, God has affirmed this passion and calling he has given me, and it’s wonderful to be a part of that. Sometimes you embark on vocational journeys or dreams or passion projects and it ends up being a closed door. Or maybe there isn’t a need in the way you thought there was.

But this process has only affirmed the need and my passion and calling to do this. This is something I’m going to continue doing long-term. I’m so thankful that our fellows program provided an avenue to get this going.

I love Denver, and I truly believe City Forum is going to benefit our city in the long run. I think it will be an ongoing space for people from all walks of life and backgrounds and perspectives to engage hard issues with civility, and that is going to have an impact on our city. From there, this can hopefully serve as a model for other cities. I think we can affect the Church and our larger culture in a really positive way.