Seeing Many Sides

The Passion for Discussion
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There's a link on the desktop on my computer gathering cyber dust. It’s been there for two years, a long time in the world of internet information. But I haven’t deleted it. Each time I look at it, I’m reminded a little of the rush I felt when I first encountered the article it links to on the Commonweal website. I was a junior in college and fascinated by the religious-liberty debate sparked by the contraception mandate in Obamacare, and especially by the U.S. bishops’ objections to the mandate as put forth in their statement “Our First Most Cherished Liberty.”

For me in that particular year of college the question of religious liberty was a momentous one. It seemed that the stakes—the relationship between church and state in the unique cultural and political landscape of the United States—were very high. What did this battle mean for my identity as a Catholic but also as a citizen? To be honest, I couldn’t find a platform that fully engaged both sides of the debate.

Then I stumbled on Commonweal. The magazine had published a lengthy symposium on the issue (“The Bishops & Religious Liberty,” June 15, 2012), presenting expert voices from a variety of perspectives. I learned later that Commonweal often compiles this sort of an exchange of views on the most pressing questions facing the nation and the church.

It’s hard to express the relief I felt. I had thought that only hot-headed, partisan debate on the question existed. I was under the impression that in order to hear both sides of the issue I had to jump between liberal and conservative, religious and secular outlets to get anything close to a full treatment of the question. Commonweal was different. It evidently believed in presenting all sides—or at least most sides.

Last summer I spent seven glorious weeks interning at Commonweal. My principal project was to help organize local discussion groups, Commonweal Readers Communities. The idea was to bring small groups of readers together to discuss articles in the magazine but also other questions that mattered to them. A year later some of you have participated in these groups, and all of you are welcome to start your own! All you need is a subscription to Commonweal to get things started. (Check out

I found out in contacting readers all over the country that a real passion for this kind of discussion exists. In fact, many readers were eager to host such conversations. The beauty of Commonweal is that the magazine and its readers are more concerned with exploring new insights and considerations than giving or receiving ready-made answers.

From our 90th Anniversary feature "Formative Years," in which we asked a number of our former staff members (along with our current marketing coordinator) to write about their responsibilities at Commonweal, what they learned while working here, and about their hopes for the future of the magazine. See all of their contributions here.

Published in the October 24, 2014 issue: 

Joanna Gardner handles communications for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, and writes for the Diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Star Herald.

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