Have you been listening to the public discourse in our culture recently? Through endless rounds of debate on the 24/7 news, reality TV, talk radio, blog posts and social media, it appears that civility has all but disappeared from this generation. Even our most popular comedy routines are based on mockery and disrespect.
Consideration, graciousness and good manners were once the norm—even when opponents bitterly disagreed about social, political or religious views. Thankfully we have the freedom to express our strong views and passionate positions openly in this country; however, we are failing in our ability to engage in respectful discourse and debate without pointing fingers, raising voices and name-calling—even a “silent seethe” closes off relationship in an equally uncivil manner.
What examples does this leave for our children and grandchildren? Is there any distinction between followers of Christ and those who do not believe in his name? The apostle Peter wrote, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants be submissive to your masters with respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” (1 Peter 2:17-18) The command is clear, just as the apostle Paul wrote Timothy, “We are to pray on behalf of all, for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Civility does not act rudely, but builds rapport by seeking common ground with the person who approaches things differently than we do. Civility uses persuasion rather than manipulation to influence others. Civility is grounded in the love of Christ and respect for the dignity of all people who share God’s image. This does not mean we cannot disagree or debate the essentials of our values and the worldview that informs them.
James 3:17-18 (New Living Translation) identifies the characteristics of godly wisdom as: pure, peace loving, always gentle, willing to yield (reasonable—NAS), full of mercy and good deeds, shows no favoritism (unwavering—NAS), always sincere. I’m not picturing a mouse that runs into its hole whenever an opponent approaches. We need men and women who will stand firm in their love and commitment to Jesus Christ and His Word. Although true civility should be reasonable and peaceable,we can’t always be peacekeepers. Neither are we to be peacefakers. We need the Lord to empower us to be peacemakers. “And those who are peacemakers plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)
Ultimately, we must be more interested in winning hearts than winning arguments. That’s the only approach that will bring a new attitude to the public square.
Serving Him with you in the marketplace,
Lord, I ask You to help me to think longer before I speak. Remind me that every human being is your creation, worthy of the honor and respect you have for them. I need your strength and wisdom to stand up for your Truth, while extending grace and generosity to people who don’t hold those same values. I pray that You would let Your light shine brightly through me today, so people around me might be drawn to You, Jesus.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln