1. Of, relating to, or befitting a citizen or citizen
2. Sufficiently observing or befitting accepted social usages; polite
1. Verbal expression in speech or writing
2. Verbal exchange or conversation
1. An engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding.
2. A polite verbal exchange or conversation
Perhaps you have not noticed, but our nation is greatly divided these days. An article by the Associated Press reads: Americans are more divided than ever, gridlocked over social issues, race, gender and the economy. This is a bold statement. Are we truly more divided now than ever? I can think of other times in our history when we were more divided than today. For example, there was that little skirmish we call The Civil War. I was only a kid during the Vietnam War, but I remember my dad serving in the California National Guard, trying to keep the peace during many riots at that time. So political division is not new to our nation. What seems to happen during times of great division is the erosion of one of the things that has made our nation so great: Civil Discourse.
Our great republic has always been able to compromise politically. Some compromises have proven to work better than others, but our nation has survived, even thrived, because of our ability to conduct civil discourse when addressing divisive issues. The ability to “reach across the aisle” and find common ground is what makes us the greatest republic in the world. Yes there have been some exceptions (see Preston Brooks and Charles Sumter), but throughout our history we have a strong tradition of discussing the issues when making decision that affect our collective society. When voting on issues we used to talk with each other, trying to convince each other to see things our way while at the same time seeking to understand the other person’s point of view. This is what is meant by civil discourse.
Today’s climate is much different. There seems to be little civility in today’s political discourse. Invited speakers are chased off college campuses by angry mobs who disagree with them. A congressional candidate physically assaulted a news reporter. Social media has become a forum when insults are the norm, and threats of violence are becoming much more common. Disagree with someone? Call them a fascist, or a Nazi. Confront them in a public place such as a restaurant or a department store and shout at them until they leave. Recent events have gone much farther than this, resulting in a massacre that left 11 dead and many injured in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
As Christ-followers, how do we respond? Here are some Scriptures to consider:
- The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools” (Ecclesiastes 9:17)
- Anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)
- With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10)
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19)
- Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, (Colossians 4:6)
- But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:8)
There are, of course many more. The idea is to show respect and not instigate useless arguments from those we may disagree with. Our goal is to introduce others to the saving grace of Jesus, not to win arguments. Here are some ideas on how to engage others while exemplifying civil discourse:
- Respect – Respect each person you meet and take the time to truly consider what they are saying. Respond, don’t react. No blaming, shaming or attacking another person. If the other person is an idiot, do not treat them like one!
- Listen Deeply – Listen to what the person is saying, focus on the ideas presented, and discuss ideas and issues – not the other person’s intelligence. No side conversations as they distract from engagement and listening. Do not interrupt while others are speaking. Saying, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” will not help.
- Try to Understand – Try to understand the thoughts and ideas of others. Ask clarifying questions. I love this. When the other person sincerely believes you are listening, they may follow suit.
- Speak respectfully – When you choose to speak, respect your fellow learners and do not try to be the one that knows everything about the topic at hand. Sarcasm only makes things worse.
- Suspend Judgment – We all have presumptions, biases, stereotypes, and prejudices. Try to suspend pre-judgments and seek to understand.
- Disagree, Don’t Debate – Learn and listen. You can disagree with someone and still love them and listen to them. This isn’t about who is right, but about listening and learning together.
- Practice Forgiveness – We learn from trying things out and sometimes we make mistakes. Seek to forgive and to be forgiven as we learn together.
I know this looks good on paper and it sounds much easier than it is. Many people are not interested in civil discourse, and there is nothing we can do to change their behavior. Yet our behavior does not need to reflect the divisiveness that dominates today’s political climate. Instead our behavior may set a different tone, and while we cannot change other people’s behavior, we may be able to introduce them to our Savior who can transform their hearts and renew their minds. Let’s make that our goal, only let’s do it with civility.
Your servant in Christ,