Brave Church / Hard Topics

In the Fall of 2022, Grace started a new midweek offering called Brave Church/Hard Topics. Using the book Brave Church: Tackling Tough Topics Together by Elizabeth Hagan (2021), we explored topics that Christians often find difficult to discuss with each other, either because they are too personal or too controversial. The focus of the class is not to tell people what to think (or say) or to change minds, but to learn how to have productive conversations around hard topics.

Topics, background materials, and notes from the Fall 2022 session can be found in the Brave Church/Hard Topics Archive.

This winter/spring, we will continue our discussions as we explore topics that go beyond Elizabeth Hagan's Brave Church book. Those topics are listed in the Topics and Schedule, Winter/Spring 2023 section below.

Beginning February 1, the class will meet on Zoom on (most) Wednesday evenings from 7:00-8:30pm. You can get the Zoom link from the weekly E-News emails, weekly Brave Church/Hard Topic email updates from Nelson Thurman, or by contacting the office at Grace.

BC Book

Topics and Schedule - Winter/Spring 2023

For each discussion topic, we'll provide links to resource materials and scripture passages so you can prepare in advance of the class. We'll also include questions we'll explore based on the readings. Additional materials may be added as we move forward, so please check back often.

Covenant Rules: See p. 20-23 of Brave Church

    • We will accept conflict and commit to the way of kindness.
    • We will take responsibility for how our own words are received.
    • We will ask permission before we challenge someone’s views on a subject.
    • We will show respect for one another and graciously receive feedback if someone feels disrespected.
    • We will use ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ statements. We will not accuse or attack.
    • We will give everyone who wants to speak an opportunity to do so.

You can download the covenant with more detail here:  Brave Church Covenant


2/1    Why Engage in Difficult Conversations at All?

Facilitator: Nelson Thurman

Article for Discussion:

Other Resources: Some tips on having conversations on difficult topics

Scripture Passages: 

Questions for Discussion: 

    • Having conversations on difficult, controversial topics can be challenging, stressful, frustrating, argumentative. Why even have them? What obstacles get in your way?
    • In Talking to Those Who Are "Against" Us (link above), the author wrote that, even though they strongly disagreed with each other on the topic, she said they were "fundamentally... on the same side." How often do we see ourselves as "fundamentally on the same side" as Christians with whom we disagree? How challenging is that to you?

Slides used in the discussion: BC-HT Why engage in difficult conversations 2-1-23.pdf

Chat log from the discussion: BC-HT Chat Log for 02-01-2023.pdf


2/8 (Part 1) Is Social Justice a Christian Heresy?

Facilitator: Cheryl Outland

Resource For Discussion:

Other Resources:

Scripture Passages: 

Wrestling with Scripture:

Questions for Discussion: 

    • In what ways is the social justice movement a Christian heresy?
      In what ways is the social justice movement in line with Christian faith and practice?
    • Why do some Christians believe equity, diversity, and inclusion are a "false Gospel?" How do you respond to that?
    • Does your covenant obligation to God and neighbor effect caring for “the least of these” in our midst? How does that influence your thinking about taxes, tax policy, and social programs?
    • Does ideology that promotes social justice shape your view of Theology? Does your world view shape your theology or does your theology shape your world view?

Slides used in the discussion: Social Justice February 8, 2023.pdf or Social Justice February 8, 2023 with Notes.pdf

Chat log from the discussion: BC-HT Chat Log for 02-08-2023.pdf

2/15 (Part 2) What Does Jesus Say about Justice? Reflections from the Sermon on the Mount

Facilitator: Cheryl Outland

Scripture Passages: 

Questions for Discussion: 

    • From the Beatitudes: Does craving righteousness/equity motivate you? What happens to poverty, sorrow, and oppression?
    • Who are the people in need today? What are their needs? How can we respond?
    • Who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness today?
    • What does it mean to be a Peacemaker during a difficult conversation?
    • Is the kingdom of heaven open to anyone who lives a moral, honest, socially-equitable and charitable life?

Slides used in the discussion: Social Justice-Sermon on the Mount February 15, 2023.pdf or Social Justice-Sermon on the Mount February 15, 2023 with Notes.pdf

Chat log from the discussion: BC-HT Chat Log for 02-15-2023.pdf


3/1 (Part 1) Why Are So Many Christians Lukewarm about Climate Change?

Much of this session will focus on ways to talk about climate change with skeptics, but with the recognition that a number of Christian denominations have opposed efforts to address climate change while other denominations have been less than enthusiastic in their efforts to address it.

Facilitator: Nelson Thurman

Resources For Discussion:

Scripture Passages: 

    • Matthew 22:36-40  Greatest commandments: Love God, love one another
    • With the greatest commandments, we have all we need to encourage us to be loving stewards of God's creation and of the people who are part of that creation. However, if you want more, here are a couple of additional resources:

Additional Resources:

    • Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC)  PEC is a national eco-justice network that cares for God’s creation by connecting, equipping, and inspiring Presbyterians to make creation care a central concern of the church.
    • Science Moms is a nonpartisan group of climate scientists (who are also moms!) working to demystify climate change, talk honestly about its effects, and protect our kids’ future.
    • Christian Climate Action is "a community of Christians supporting each other to take meaningful action in the face of imminent and catastrophic anthropogenic climate breakdown. Inspired by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, we carry out acts of public witness, nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to urge those in power to make the changes needed."

Questions for Discussion: 

    • On a spectrum of 'alarmed' to 'dismissive', where do you see yourself regarding climate change?
    • In terms of all the concerns in your life, where do you place this?
    • Do you think Christians have a critical role/calling to play in addressing climate change? Why or why not?
    • How well do you think Christians are fulfilling that role/calling?
    • What are the things that matter most to you? Your family? Your community?
    • What connections do you see between the things that matter to you and climate change?
    • What actions are you willing to take to address the impacts of climate change?

Slides used in the discussion: BC-HT – Prison 1- Slides

Whiteboard generated by participants: BC-HT Concerns/questions about prisons

Chat log from the discussion: BC-HT Chat Log for 03-01-2023.pdf

3/8 (Part 2) Climate Change and Social Justice 

Climate change has disproportionate impacts on certain segments of the population. Additionally, shifts away from fossil fuels impacts people and communities who depend on fossil fuel industries for their livelihood. What roles and responsibilities do we have in addressing these impacts?

Facilitator: Nelson Thurman

Resources For Discussion:

    • Crash Course: Climate & Energy Video Series - Crash Course provides high-quality educational videos that are very accessible/ understandable and informative. Climate & Energy will eventually be a 12-video series (each less than 15 minutes) that "explores the ways climate change is affecting our planet ... and learn to think critically about how we, as individuals and as a society, can affect the outcomes."
    • Why climate change is inherently racist – BBC Future (1/26/2022)
    • How Black History Can Inspire Climate Activism - Sojourners (2/27/2023)
    • ‘People, planet, profit, in that order’ - Faith & Leadership (10/4/2022). "A social enterprise in Huntington, West Virginia, focuses on the dignity of its workers while seeding the green economy and helping strengthen Appalachia." We may not get to this article in our discussions, but it is informative to look how new ways of doing things can grow out of challenging situations.

Additional Resources:

Potential Questions for Discussion:

    • What do we, who have benefitted from fossil fuel use, owe to developed countries that are experiencing the negative impacts but not the benefits of energy development?
    • What options are you willing to support in response to climate change impacts in other parts of the world?
    • Does benefitting from fossil fuel subsidies mean you are responsible? Why or why not? Are you willing to advocate for removing the subsidies that keep fossil fuel energy low? If not, why?
    • Is addressing climate change constrained by zero-sum thinking? Why or why not? How do we break that bias?
    • How much sacrifice are you willing to make to address climate change?
    • In what ways could Grace Church make a difference?
    • How can we as a church encourage, empower, and equip youth in Springfield and beyond to engage in solutions to an issue that greatly concerns them?

Slides used in the discussion: BC-HT Climate Change Social Justice 3-8-23.pdf

Chat log from the discussion: BC-HT Chat Log for 03-08-2023.pdf


3/15 The Prison System (Part 1): Race & the Prison System

Facilitator: Rev. Katie Murchison Ross

Resources For Discussion:

    • This excerpt from Michelle Alexander's groundbreaking (in 2010) book The New Jim Crow
    •'s report on "The Whole Pie," that is, the whole story about all the different people incarcerated (federal, state, county, immigration, juvenile, etc.) in the U.S. There's a lot there and we'll review some of the big facts in class, so scroll down just a bit and focus your attention on the "Eight myths about mass incarceration" if you don't have time for the whole report.

Questions to Ponder in Preparing for the Discussion:

    • What concerns you about the U.S. prison system?
    • What questions do you bring to this topic?
    • What element of scripture/theology/faith guides your thoughts?

Slides used in the discussion: BC-HT– Prison 1 Slides

Whiteboard generated by participants: BC-HT Concerns/Questions about U.S. Prison System

Chat log from the discussion: BC-HT Chat Log for 03-15-2023

3/29 The Prison System (Part 2): Christianity & the Prison System

NOTE: No class on 3/22

Facilitator: Rev. Katie Murchison Ross


4/5 The Prison System (Part 3): What Can We Do?

Facilitator: Rev. Katie Murchison Ross


4/12, 4/19 Anti-Racism 


Additional dates to be scheduled: 4/26, 5/3, 5/10, 5/17, 5/24