Does urging Christians to practice civility rob them of their ability to speak out on issues of great importance to them?
This is the criticism I hear most often, that somehow striving for a more respectful dialog fosters a watered-down approach to the issues that confront us.
Some have suggested that following this admonition is simply a clever ploy to silence the Christian voice. Some have even charged that it is a watering down of the gospels or religious political correctness.
Being civil or practicing Christian civility places the same restrictions on us that being Christian has already demanded.
If we are to honor Christ, we must act only out of love and concern for the well being of other people. Being Christian demands good stewardship of our language.
Before I unleash an attack on another person, I need to examine my own behavior.
Have I been careful to remove the plank from my own eye before I attempt to remove the speck from yours? Is what I am about to say helpful? Am I speaking the truth with love?
Will my words bring honor to the cause of Christ? Will my words bring light and clarity to the situation, or am I bringing fuel disguised as righteous indignation?
This is a heavy burden. Christian civility recognizes that the other person deserves my respect as a fellow creation of God.
It does not require that I agree with him or her or that I forsake my point of view. It does demand that I listen and give arguments a fair hearing free of interruptions.
There are times when I should recognize that I am being bullied or that I am being invited to a fight. Either way, I have a choice to make.
There are times when I need to decline the invitation. If I recognize that no possible good can come from the situation, then I should walk away.
I have committed my most grievous mistakes in this area by operating out of a false belief that I needed to defend God.
No God worth believing in needs me as a defense attorney. I have sinned out of a false belief that I was responsible for protecting and preserving the church.
God has given me a specific role to play. I am on the invitation committee. I am not on the credentials committee.
My gift of language is part of God’s equipping me for service. It is a sacred trust that I am to guard with every fiber of my being. I am to build up the kingdom, not destroy it.
Is Christian civility different from just ordinary civility? I think it is. When we preface our actions with the label of Christian (either stated or implied), we have taken on a much greater responsibility.
First, we must do no harm. Then we must be truthful, helpful and honoring of the other person.
Will we always get it right? Of course we won’t, but that doesn’t excuse our not trying. Our faith is always on display. Our speech simply represents what is in our hearts.
Others quickly focus on the disparity between what we do and what we say.
When Christians behave in a civil manner, we have more rather than less voice. People are more willing to listen to a calm, reasoned voice than one that is raving and ranting.
Why would anyone listen to me if I do not show respect for her or him as a person?
Love trumps hate. The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell in her book, “Living into Hope,” says it well. “Words are not cheap. They are holy. They pave the way for reconciliation.”
MitchCarnell is a consultant specializing in organizational and interpersonal communication. He is the editor of “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” He blogs at www.mitchcarnell.com. He and his wife, Carol, are members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C.
A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.