Civility in a Post-Civil Age

Civility in a Post-Civil Age

No one can deny that over the past few years we have witnessed a significant decline in how people interact with those who disagree with them, whatever the topic.  When the topic in question happens to be one that the people involved are passionate about (politics, religion, or football), it can become heated in a hurry.  If you add the layer of social media, where those who are commenting do not have to actually be face-to-face with the other person, then things can get really ugly.  All of this underscores what many, including Judge Robert Bork, warned about in the coarsening of the culture.

I’ve learned over the years not to think that things can’t get worse; they invariably can.  After watching the recent confirmation hearings for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, some people wondered if we had reached a nadir in terms of our political discourse.  While I agree that it was one of the worst spectacles I have witnessed in my lifetime, I also realize we are on a descending slope when it comes to our treatment of one another that has not yet reached its lowest point.  Accordingly, I was not surprised when I read on Tuesday of this week an article where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “”You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”  She went on to call on her party to follow the advice of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and “get tougher.”  My first reaction was, “Do you think that hearing was civil?  And you want to make it less so?”

Many have decried the loss of civility in our culture.  People with differing viewpoints and opinions are no longer viewed as such; rather, they are viewed as enemies who need to be vanquished.  Liberals are deranged and have mental disorders while conservatives are heartless and want to see the elderly eating dog food to survive.  These caricatures allow us to avoid the difficult work of living, functioning, and cooperating in a society with people who may not look at the world the way we do.  Instead of seeking to understand why a person might view the world through the lens they do, we would rather dismiss them as being somewhat less than human.

These attitudes have sadly spilled over from the culture wars into the Church.  Those who prefer a style of music different than our preferred style are heretics.  We argue over secondary and tertiary points of doctrine, elevating them to fundamental beliefs that if not held cause us to question the very salvation of the other person.  I have seen people state unequivocally that they would not partner with a church from another theologically orthodox denomination on an issue such as opposing abortion and supporting a crisis pregnancy center, all because their ecclesiology was different.

Brothers and sisters, we must firmly stand for what is right (Matthew 5:13-16), but we can do so in a way that is civil and Christ-honoring.  We must resist the temptation to follow the world’s lead, refusing to be civil, kind, and loving toward those who disagree with us.  If we respond to the world in kind, how then are we different from the world?  How then can we witness to them about the transformative power of Christ in us?  In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus used a person from the most despised group in the eyes of the Jewish people to demonstrate what it meant to be a good neighbor who loved others as himself.  As our society continues to coarsen, we would do well to hear the message of the Good Samaritan afresh.  Just something to think about…


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