Whether it's a ballgame, a political speech, a hockey mom, a PTA meeting, a church board meeting, civility has become a four syllable as well as a four letter word. Abrasiveness is in; diplomacy is out. Speech that is incendiary is chosen over talk that might calm the atmosphere. Light the fire, fan it, stoke it--add gas not water. Words are intended to incite and provoke, rather than promote understanding. When is the last time you saw a political ad that was about issues rather than character assassination? (I can't recall, either.)
Sojourners, an organization whose mission "is to articulate the biblical call to social justice. . . ," has formulated a "covenant of civility" in an effort to counter the prevailing cultural tide. Here are the guiding principles of this covenant. I invite you to consider these Biblically-based determinations.
- We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
- We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other. "With the tongue we bless the Lord and [God], and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God ... this ought not to be so" (James 3:9-10).
- We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other's motives, attacking the other's character, or questioning the other's faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, "we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror" (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore "be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).
- We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs: "Before destruction one's heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor" (Proverbs 18:12).
- We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good, in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore "put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body" (Ephesians 4:25).
- We commit to pray for our political leaders -- those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made -- for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
- We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed "that they may be one" (John 17:22).
Can you imagine the next PTA meeting or hockey game or church board meeting if those attending were taking these "steps?"
I wonder what I would be like if I were practicing these steps.