Republican Party presidential candidates have demolished the wall of civility.
Let’s review what happened at the Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina, home of a historic Baptist university, Furman; a very conservative university, Bob Jones; and a South Carolina Baptist university, North Greenville.
“You are the single biggest liar, you are probably worse than Jeb Bush,” Donald Trump fired at Ted Cruz.
Cruz returned the fire. “You notice that Donald didn’t disagree with the substance that he supports taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. And Donald has this weird pattern. When you point to his record, he screams ‘liar, liar, liar.'”
The Weekly Standard reported that Trump used some variation of “liar” or “lies” 10 times during the debate. Marco Rubio hurled a variant of the word five times.
It isn’t only the use of the word “liar,” however, that degrades civil discourse.
It’s also profanity. Profanity is a constant companion of Trump, whose every outing seems laced with swear words and in some cases vulgarity. He has torn down the partition between private and public foul language.
He drops the “f-bomb,” the “s-bomb,” the “p-bomb.” He uses the word “hell” repeatedly.
One of his supporters sought to justify Trump’s profanity because Trump was so passionate.
It goes beyond profanity in Trump’s case. He denigrates the disabled, says hateful things about women and maligns Mexicans as rapists.
Trump has now promised to halt his swearing. If past behavior is a predictor to future behavior, then that promise is likely an empty one. Nonetheless, one can hope his better angels will win the war for his soul.
Beyond Trump, one wonders if civility and decency can be restored?
Given the large percentage of evangelical voters in the Republican Party, a segment of Christianity that has prioritized piety and respectfulness, one would expect evangelical leaders to say enough is enough, no more potty-mouth pronouncements at podiums.
Given the large number of conservative voters, a group that values decency, one would think that conservative opinion-makers and leaders would call a halt to such destructive discourse.
Incivility is already surfacing on the Democratic side with Bill Clinton throwing the verbal fireball of “sexism” at Bernie Sanders.
Another Hillary Clinton supporter, Madeline Albright, said there was a “special place in hell” for women if they didn’t vote for Clinton.
In an attempt to apologize, she later justified her accusation based on being “excited” and having used the line a thousand times before to advocate for women.
If Republicans and Democrats don’t strive toward the restoration of civility now, imagine how out of control incivility will be in partisan races across the country.
Surely, advocacy for the return to civility is a commitment that churches can make across the theological spectrum.
Civility isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a moral issue – and one where churches can speak with authority.
Thankfully the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas has a free resource on civility from a biblical perspective.
“Anyone who pays attention to democracy and congregational churches knows the process of influencing and deciding can quickly slide toward volatile speech and personal attacks. There is, however, a better way – one that involves mutual respect as people contend with ideas. We call it acting with civility, and the Bible affirms this approach,” the document reads. “To be civil does not mean a refusal to contend for a position; it means we contend in a Christ-honoring manner.”
The piece includes a seven-point covenant for civility with each point identified with a passage of Scripture.
Yes, civility can be restored, especially if church leaders and members decide to be vocal advocates for civility.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.