Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Bell asked this simple and startling question when introducing one of his songs at a recent concert: “Could the churches of the land be known in the upcoming election campaign for leading the charge for civility?”
It’s a simple question because we know that the answer should be, “Yes.”
If you’re not convinced, have a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, qualities meant to mark the demeanor of followers of Jesus.
If you don’t like the word “civility,” find a term that works for you and express the fruit of the Spirit.
But it’s also a startling question because sometimes even within the church our discourses are not marked by civility.
The lack of civility is even more evident in the larger society, particularly in the political arena.
Politics in general, and election campaigns in specific, are meant to be about debating and discerning differences.
Citizens of a nation-state have differing perspectives on how life should be organized in their society, including what roles should be played by different actors, such as government, business, civic organizations, religious groups and so on.
These differences need to be discussed and debated, in the hope that consensus forms around good solutions.
This might be seen as hopelessly idealistic. Today, it is more accurate to say that preformed solutions are marketed to voters for their consumption and allegiance.
And even more accurately, that the opponents’ proposed solutions are torn down and pilloried.
Worse, often it is not a debate about ideas, but an attack on character and personhood.
Ideas have become personified and caricatured, distilled into sound bites about the leaders of each political party.
This does not sound like the output of the Holy Spirit. And we would not expect to see the fruits of the Spirit from those who are not filled with the Spirit.
But it would make sense that followers of Jesus, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, would engage in debate and discourse in a different way.
Many of them do, as I have seen plenty of examples of irenic interaction among Christ-followers who have differences.
But the cultural pull toward shifting into attack mode and demonization of the opposition is powerful. Social media exacerbates this pull.
To resist, we need to be reminded that every person we meet and every person we hear about is made in the image of God.
That image is now corrupted, of course; that is the nature of sin. But the image is not erased.
Both Canada and the U.S. are in the early days of what will be long election campaigns, where millions of dollars will be spent in a media fistfight with the goal of attaining power.
Each party is convinced that they have what their nation needs for the future. Each party knows that to win power you have to play the game. That’s a given.
This offers a prime opportunity for followers of Jesus to model a different way.
We will still worship alongside fellow believers who see things in a different light than we do. That’s fine. That’s normal.
This isn’t about erasing disagreement; this is about how we disagree: civilly. It’s about expressing the fruit of the Spirit as we disagree.
Maybe, as a start, before we read the news (and react to it) or review our Facebook feed (and respond to it), we should pray in order to remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are, and to remember our call as Christ-followers to bring blessing to our world in a manner that is Spirit-filled.
“Could the churches of the land be known in the upcoming election campaign for leading the charge for civility?” Bell asks.
If we were, imagine what a powerful witness that would be to a different way of living and of relating to others.
“Love your neighbor,” Jesus said. I think that includes during election campaigns.
Sam Chaise has recently ended his term as executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries and is looking to see what God has in store for the next chapter of the journey. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, I Am Sam, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @sam_chaise.