In Pursuit of Civility

July 31st, 2012

In January of 2009, several prominent and concerned people, both Republicans and Democrats, launched "The Civility Project." They asked all 100 US Senators, all 435 House of Representatives, and all 50 state governors to sign a pledge promising, "I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others, whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it." Of the 585 politicians who received the invitation to practice civility, a grand total of three people signed the pledge. Two years later, "The Civility Project" folded.

November is months away, but I'm already weary of mean-spirited political partisanship. It's going to be a long election season. It seems like America has lost the ability to engage in thoughtful political dialogue with civility. Instead of respectful civil discourse, it seems each side only wants to attack and destroy the other side, often with half-truths or distorted facts. The end result is political gridlock, and hateful feelings toward people with different political views.

I have no illusions that political civility is on the way. The demonization of political opponents and hard line ideology on both sides will only get worse as the November elections get closer. But as Christians, there are a few things we can do.

First, we can refuse to participate in hateful partisanship. For example, we can refuse to listen to radio programs or watch TV shows or read internet sites that engage in bitter partisanship, whether on the left or on the right. We can also refuse to talk disrespectfully about political candidates on either side of the aisle.

A second thing Christians can do is admit that many political issues are complex. Rarely is one political party all right and the other political party all wrong. Framing every political agenda as a completely black and white issue is not helpful. When we admit that many political issues are complicated, and that both sides include good people with good points, then genuine compromise is possible.

A third thing Christians can do is to obey God's word to "not bear false witness" and not spread untrue statements about our political foes. Even better, we can follow the Golden Rule to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," which, at the very least, means that we will respect people who hold different views from us.

The Church has much to offer in a world of bitter partisanship. We can model a better way to treat one another including mutual respect, fair-minded dialogue, and common sense compromise for the greater good. I'd like to close with a quote from Amy Black in her article "The Cure for Election Madness" (Christianity Today, January 2012):

In 2 Peter 1:5-8, the apostle encourages his fellow believers to "make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you posses these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Imagine the possibilities if Christians actually modeled such Christlike behavior in the political arena! We can and should lead by example, approaching politics with humility, grace, and reason, and giving the ultimate glory to Christ.

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