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We need to be more civil

I dealt with a lot of contentiousness yesterday. People just seem to be quicker with their jabs at one another these days. One of our World Racers had so many rude comments from antagonistic readers that we had to take her comment section down. Maybe we take our cues from our mud-slinging politic…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I dealt with a lot of contentiousness yesterday. People just seem to be quicker with their jabs at one another these days. One of our World Racers had so many rude comments from antagonistic readers that we had to take her comment section down. Maybe we take our cues from our mud-slinging politicians.
Doug Holladay, a missionary in that most Machiavellian of cities, Washington D.C.,  wrote the following about civility. We need more of it in this rude and abrasive world of ours.

In Stephen Carter’s book, Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy, he defines civility as “the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together.” He goes on to say that civility is a “signal of respect for our fellow citizens, marking them as full equals, both before the law and before God.”

When we are rude and hateful we diminish others. Isn’t it still possible to challenge another person’s ideas, yet treat them civilly and lovingly? I recall that my tutor at Oxford, Dr. John Walsh, would regularly rip my thesis and writings apart and yet invite me for a lager at the pub to laugh and carry on. ‘Nothing personal’ was his scathing critique.

I recall him lamenting that American students at Oxford take criticism of their work as though it were a very personal attack upon them. In the 60’s, scholar Marshall McLuhan coined the term “the medium is the message.”  

Today, the message and the messenger are considered inseparable. We attempt to destroy the messenger if we can’t beat the argument. Unfortunately, using negative politics works. There is very little substance in today’s highly charged political campaigns. Yet if I can hang something on my opponent-without regard to whether true or not, I win. How sad.
The bar keeps being lowered and lowered and lowered. Aggression seems in vogue. And the excessive and abusive speech in politics particularly, feeds on itself and demands greater and greater put-downs to be noticed. 
So where is the hope? After 9/11, I started an organization with Muslim scholar and diplomat, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, called The Buxton Initiative.  The intent is to bring Muslims, Jews and Christians around a table to engage in important civil dialogue concerning issues that truly matter to them in our ever-changing world.

The bedrock of this effort is civility, but not capitulation. In other words, we truly believe that differences make a difference. It is dishonest to pretend that we all agree, so we still argue our positions and worldviews vociferously, we just avoid doing so in a hateful manner. The result has been pretty amazing. Take a look at the link www.buxtoninitiative.org. Also check out the article that Akbar and I penned several years back at the inception of Buxton. 
So my suggestion to you is, let’s celebrate civility and genuine care for others. Let’s not join the legions of polarized parties and groups who vilify those with whom they disagree. Let’s journey together to discover the olden way, the way of civility.

Comments (6)

  • Thanks Seth and have a blessed Christmas.

    It is ironic you posted this missive on civility since a few days ago that was my writing passion. I do have to offer one insight……

    The greatest anger and passionate “incivility” I have seen is within the tribe of those who claim to follow Jesus.

    That should not be a shock. Look at the pattern of those times in the New Testament when Jesus seemed to have a need for blood pressure medicine. đŸ™‚

    It was the lack of honor, kindness and protocal within the religious order not outside of it.

    I have so many gay, lesbian, agnostic, dying with Huntington’s Disease, “left the faith”, hate the church people who are now part of a tribe I feel blessed to be a part of forming.

    They want truth. Angry and empty voices waiting to write the next bestseller or hot Christian movie don’t want their company.

    The great thing is–that is more than OK. The outcasts feel the toxic backwash and need fresh air.

    Scripture tells us a “little leaven” changes all the dough. How true.

    Peace comes to those not striving anymore.

    And setting peaceful boundries with a striving person is a sacramental act.

    That is the way of the cross.

    By the way I am starting a new Christmas tradition. I’ll offer some small gifts to kids in a Hispanic community I am growing to love.

    And I plan to fish the entire day on a secluded lake.

    Jesus loved and recruited fisherman.

    You and Karen have been that for the Kingdom.

    Love to the Barnes this Advent.

  • No joke, as Allison and I were working thru all of this incivility, I told her, “Man, this must be what it’s like to run for political office!”

    No thank you, I say, to the limelight.

  • i didn’t see the comments but did read her AMAZING KINGDOM-focused blog. she’s fighting and satan’s fighting back. praying for her and for the subject of her blog!!!

  • I think bad attitudes are all the harder to take from the church because we know what their standard is and can see clearly when they are not meeting it. It rarely amazes me anymore how appalling Christians are to each other, though I heartily wish it were not the case. As a rule, my non-Christian friends are kinder and more gracious.

    Then I just read the Gene Edwards book The Tale of Three Kings last week while away in Austria. That put a lot of this stuff into perspective. Saul-like spear throwing is something latent in all of us and making the choice between seeking outward power or inward transformation can only lead to brokenness if you choose the latter………but brokenness is by far the better choice. And God often uses the spear throwers to bring about such brokenness.

    My friend John had a line in one of his songs that went: “the church is full of hypocrites. That’s not true, there’s always room for one more……”

    Yes, civility and respect in our dealings with one another and with the world are essential things to seek and to live out, but it’s also important not to do the same in reverse and sling mud at the people who were slinging it in the first place. The urge to correct can make you just the same as they are in the end if you are not diligent. Agreeing to differ and refusing to judge are hard but good paths that are worth taking. I’ll leave my righteous indignation and anger with God – He knows how to sort them out better than I do.

  • Thanks for this post Seth. I am noticing more and more how people think “being rude” is just “the way they are” but Christ tells us be more like Him, and I doubt Jesus was ever rude. He is holy.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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