This content was originally published by the Longmont Observer and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
The Longmont Observer's Publisher, Scott Converse, sat down with Pastor David Barker of the Central Presbyterian Church. The two talked about a new initiative that brings together gun rights and gun control advocates to have a discussion about guns in America.
Pastor Barker, along with others from the faith community, plan to use the World Cafe model. It's described as a 'methodology of providing a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue'.
The event will be happening at the Longmont Museum, located at 400 Quail Road in Longmont, on Sept. 12th from 6:30 p.m. to approximately 8:30 p.m. It is free and open to anyone interested in coming, but seating is limited to 120 people. As of 8/30/18, approximately 1/3 of the seats had been reserved.
To register, Click Here.
The following is a transcription of that conversation between Scott Converse and David Barker. It has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity:
Scott: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and talk about this upcoming effort to bring together the various sides of the guns in America debate that's happening in our country right now. I originally heard about this and was encouraged by one of our council members, Tim Waters, to talk to you about this. There's been some activity around gun laws locally in Boulder County and I think that kind of started this and Tim was hoping to begin a conversation on the subject.
David: Well, to the extent that he came to me and began the conversation, yeah. I think what precipitated conversation was that over in Boulder, there was an ordinance about assault rifles. And, because of what was going on over there, I think Tim was catching some wind that might become a conversation here. Tim and I had an earlier conversation, and had agreed, that when something happens in this country, a shooting, typically, it raises the whole issue of guns. And the conversation pretty quickly, just kinda becomes people on both extremes of the issue just kind of shouting at one another.
So, you’ve got people on the one hand, strenuously advocating for gun control and stricter gun laws. And on the other hand, you have our brothers and sisters in the guns rights movement, the second amendment supporters, who are resisting that. And as a result, nothing really gets accomplished. There’s the whole idea of thoughts and prayers in response to it but the conversation never really seems to go anywhere.
Anyway, so, when the assault rifle thing happened in Boulder, there was some sense that that conversation might shift this direction. I think that’s what precipitated Tim to come and talk to me because he felt like, and I agreed, that we needed to find a potentially more productive way to have a conversation about this. He really felt like the faith community was the group within the city that had the greatest likelihood of being able to do this.
So, I told him that this was something that I felt strongly about myself and that I would be happy to pursue. And so, it was just a matter of reaching out to other churches here in the area. Not just to Christian churches. We reached out to our Jewish brothers and sisters as well. And just telling them, we have this idea about having a community conversation about finding a way that we can get people on all sides of this issue together. But with an eye towards getting past just Person A trying to convince Person B that A is right and B is wrong and vice versa. Finding some way that we can talk about people in this community being able to live as free as possible without the fear of gun violence while at the same time respecting the rights of people to bear arms. And, so that’s how it started.
And through Tim, this is something that the city has become involved in and this is not something the city is sponsoring. We’ve been very clear about that. The city is supporting it but they are not sponsoring it. And so, this is part of the reason, I think, that we have ended up at the Longmont Museum. Because, they are very supportive of us having this kind of a conversation and the way that we are actually going to go about having the conversation, by using what’s known as the World Cafe Model, which I have participated in but do not profess to be an expert in.
But, I know enough about it to know that has been very successful around the world, literally, in getting people together to talk about, what are sort of inherently divisive, emotional issues; allowing them to reach some common ground, and some common understanding. And so we have an individual, here in town, who also happens to be a member of this congregation, Steve Kukic, who has had a lot of experience with World Cafe. So, he’s going to moderate the evening for us. And so, people are just invited to come, however space is limited. Are you familiar with how the World Cafe model works?
Scott: I do not know what it is.
David: World Cafe model, if you’re going to do this literally and to the letter, you sort of set up this cafe ambiance. The idea is you have tables, like ideally, round tables, and they have tablecloths on them and little bottles in the middle with flowers in them and each table sits six to eight people. And that’s very intentional because the developers of this approach discovered that if you kind of create that kind of an ambiance, it lends itself to people being more willing to sit and listen and talk respectfully. I don’t know if it plays on the idea which is actually biblical, that just like when people gather around a table and break bread together, you’re able to talk about things and see things and hear things you might not otherwise be able to. Not that we’re serving food, because you don’t. And each table has a table host, an individual who has been given a little bit of training on what a table host does and they are essentially a conversation facilitator.
Typically, there are two questions that are posed about the issue that’s at hand. The exact wording of the questions at this go-round has not been determined but there’ll be two questions that are going to be dealing with the whole issue of guns and gun culture, what we, as a community, can do and what I, as an individual, can do to help create an environment in the city, where people can live as free as possible from the fear of gun violence and yet we still respect the right of gun ownership. People gather at these tables, four to six to a table, and you have the two questions, and you give them a period of time to talk about them and the facilitator's job is to encourage everybody to participate. At the end of that time, everybody gets up and you move to different tables. You don’t go with the same group of six or eight to the next table, you split up so you’re talking with different people at each table.
And this happens two or three times, over the course of the evening. Then everybody comes together and the table hosts share what it is that they were hearing and out of that you begin to see that there is some common ground here. There’s nothing magic to this process, but time and again it has demonstrated that there is just something about the dynamics that this process creates that it really does result in people, who otherwise would just be talking past one another or at one another, come to a point where they are able to find some understanding and potentially some common ground. This may be the first of a series of conversations, we’ll see how this one goes. In a nutshell, that’s what that’s about.
Scott: So the meeting itself, what would you title it? What are you calling it?
David: Well, I think that the working title we have given this is “Community Conversation on Reducing the Risk of Gun Violence.” The city has set up a page where people who want to participate can come and register. Registration is necessary because they can only fit so many tables in the atrium of the museum. That’s the working title we are giving the conversation, although my understanding is that the World Cafe model really encourages you to have a very succinct title for it. And so I think that, actually the night of the meeting, it is going to be referred to as the Safety and Respect cafe, I think is what it is, don’t quote me on it.
Scott: What do you hope to get out of this?
David: I think what we hope to get out of this is that we can still hold on to the individual rights or needs that we have, be they being free of the fear of gun violence or the right to bear arms, we can still hold on to those, while recognizing and asserting that as a community, we need to live together and we need to be together. We’ve got to find ways that we can disagree without being disagreeable, if need be, but find ways that we can talk about this issue and find some common ground and do it in a way that’s respectful, a way where we are as invested in listening to one another as we are in being heard. And I think if we accomplish that, then I think that we have accomplished a fair amount. I would regard that as a pretty significant step. It’s just getting folks on all sides of this issue to listen to one another rather than talking at one another.
Scott: Alright, well that basically sums it up. There’s a whole bunch of things that could come out of this. It’s really starting the conversation.
Scott: That’s really what this is.
David: That’s ALL this is. This is starting the conversation.
Scott: And that’s the key phrase, word, conversation, as opposed to yelling part?
David: Exactly, because this is not going to be a panel discussion where you go and sit and listen to people talk. This is not a debate where you’ve got one side trying to convince the other side of the rightness of their position and the wrongness of the other. It really is just starting the conversation. Just, can we sit and talk to one another about this and understand one another a little better?
Scott: So, let’s say this goes reasonably well… You’ve got a fair representation from both sides. What would the next meeting be about? You said a series...
David: Well, I think it’s possibly the first in a series. I think that we wanted to wait and see how this one goes, what kind of response we get and how it actually plays out over the course of the evening.
Scott: How long will it go for?
David: It’s from 6:30 to 8:30 or 9:00. This seems to kinda find its own length, which is not to say that it’s going to drag on until midnight, but it’s not as if, OK, 8:30, we gotta get outta here, so if it runs a little longer than that then so be it. But, I think that the next thing would be another conversation that will probably be driven by what came out of this one. And what I mean by that is, the questions that would be asked in the next conversation, that we want people to talk about, would be determined by what comes out of this conversation. So it would continue the conversation.
Scott: So, you have no real preconceptions at all?
David: No, no. We don’t wanna have any agenda here beyond just wanting people to be able to sit down here and talk respectfully and listen respectfully to one another about this issue that tends to be incredibly divisive and emotional.
Scott: Do you think you’ll get 120 people registered?
David: Well, the registration has been open since last Friday morning (8/24/18) and as of right now we have forty people registered.
To register (required to attend), Click Here.
What are your thoughts? Comment below.