A Case for Civility
When I (finally) became a mother, I was surprised to learn that certain parenting topics were super-duper controversial. Here are just a few examples:
- Breastmilk vs. formula
- Cry it out or rock to sleep?
- Stay at home vs. working parent
- To spank or not to spank?
- Vaccinations: Harmful or helpful?
When it comes to raising kids, there are thousands of little camps of opinion, and when we join one, we fiercely defend it. We view those in opposing camps with suspicion.
I'm easing into this article by using parents as an example. But don't you think that people in general (not just parents) are divided by many strong feelings and opinions on enough topics to fill the Grand Canyon?
Abortion, LGBTQ+ issues, illegal immigration, gun control, healthcare, economics, foreign policy, and the list goes on … We see divisive topics splashed across Twitter, with various views passionately defended by thumbs tapping in zeal.
Even as church members, we may think very differently on some issues.
Imagine two perfectly friendly-looking moms pulling each other's hair and punching each other over an argument about childhood vaccines. Vaccination isn't a trifling issue, but two ladies brawling isn't exactly productive.
As servants of God, we should take a firm stand on certain matters, especially those that are clearly laid out in scripture. And there's nothing wrong with being passionate and even vehement in our stance on these things. But does this mean we need to abandon civility while defending our position?
Civility means politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. It's not soft-pedaling or sugar-coating. Rather, it has a lot to do with the golden rule: How can we expect others to show civility to us if we don't treat others that way?
First, if I refuse to even engage in a friendly two-way conversation with someone with whom I disagree, that's uncivil. It's plugging my ears and singing la-la-la-la. It's staying inside my safety bubble.
Second, when I am willing to talk, if I start arguing and name-calling, and I'm not really listening to the other person, and my temper is getting the better of me, then I'm clearly demonstrating incivility. I close the door to a genuine exchange of ideas.
True, there are plenty of instances in scripture where Jesus, the apostles, and other great leaders employed condemning language and behavior. But there are loads of verses that also encourage me to communicate with love and respect. I've provided a little list at the end in case you want to study up, but here are a few guideposts:
- Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. (James 1:19)
- Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)
So, the next time I find myself on opposite sides of the court with someone — especially with a brother or sister in Christ — I want to do my best to stay within the bounds of civility. I want to really listen and understand. It's not easy at times, but my relationships are worth it. The social fabric of my country is worth it. The unity of the Body is worth it.
Even when I'm face to face with someone who not only disagrees with me but who purposely offends me and seeks my ill, I want to remember the words of Jesus: "Love your enemies."
More scriptures about courtesy, civility, and wise communication:
- Leviticus 19:14
- Psalm 19:14
- Psalm 37:30
- Psalm 141:3
- Proverbs 10:14, 19
- Proverbs 12:18
- Proverbs 15:1-4, 28, 31-32
- Proverbs 16:23-28
- Proverbs 17:27
- Proverbs 18:2, 13, 21
- Proverbs 21:23
- Proverbs 24:6
- Proverbs 27:6
- Ecclesiastes 9:17
- Ecclesiastes 10:12
- Matthew 12:34-37
- Matthew 14:12
- Romans 12:10
- Romans 14:19
- Ephesians 4:2-3, 15-32
- Philippians 2:3-4
- Colossians 3:8, 12-14
- Colossians 4:6
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- James 1:26
- James 3:1-12
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.