Uncivil Discourse

The bombing has begun. My television is under siege with political advertisements and I feel like a hostage behind enemy lines. I know I could hit the off button but that is not going to happen during baseball season so I just try to withstand the onslaught. One commercial I viewed about five times before the seventh inning the other night was a powerful message. It was a warning about a candidate who is a pro-communist, China-loving, liar who supports child abuse. On top of that he is a lawyer, perhaps the worst accusation of all.

I don’t even know what office he is running for or the name of his opponent. On election day I guess I will just scan the ballot to find his name and vote for anyone else running for the same office. One of the more interesting aspects is that this is a primary election so both of these candidates are members of the same political party. In a few weeks the loser will be expected to support the winner in order to defeat someone who is even more sinister.

What I just wrote in the previous two paragraphs is not new information to anyone who is paying attention. Politics has become a wasteland of name calling, horrendous accusations, and conclusion jumping. What is truly tragic is that we have come to the same point when it comes to religious discussions.

It is to the point where if the other person does not agree with us on every theological issue they are not worth listening to or conversing with. A prime example occurred among my Facebook friends this past weekend. I probably should call them Facebook “acquaintances” since most of the folks on my friends list would be total strangers to me if I bumped into them in the mall.

Apparently Rick Warren, very well-known pastor of a huge church, made a comment on Twitter that was taken out of context. It seems he was replying to a specific question but the comment was read by my theologian friend as a statement about a recent tragedy so he wrote a scathing article, condemning Warren for not believing in evolution. (I know this makes no sense and it gave me a headache trying to figure it out so I might be wrong.)

This theologian and one of his followers on Facebook made it clear that Rick Warren is not to be trusted because he doesn’t hold the same position they posit when it comes to the origins of the universe. This is all so fourth grade that I feel stupid for even trying to make sense of it. During a short six paragraphs he said, “Warren is wrong…” five times and also accuses him of disrespecting and devaluating scientists and educators. He arrives at these conclusions from a fourteen word tweet made by Warren.

When I go to the poll to vote, I hope Rick Warren’s name is not on the ballot as the opponent of the other guy I’m not suppose to vote for. That would really create a conundrum.

Here is the problem as I see it. We tend to wrap ourselves up in a tidy box, complete with all the correct religious doctrines and political positions, and then steel ourselves to take on the world. Anyone who holds any different belief is an enemy and must be defeated so we accuse, defame, and belittle until they are pounded into submission. We have lost the ability to have civil discourse.

Civil discourse simply means to engage in conversation intended to enhance understanding. It requires respect for one another. This kind of conversation does not diminish the value or worth of the other person, nor does it question their motives.  It is conversation that avoids hostility and antagonism.

Most of the political and religious conversation today is not designed to enhance understanding. It tends to be accusatory and demeaning, lacking in logic and thought. It is easier for a politician to attack an opponent than to take the time to come up with legitimate solutions to problems. For example, I don’t really know how to solve the national debt problem but as long as I blame the other party for causing the problem I can get by. Or, I’m not really sure how to prove evolution to everyone’s satisfaction so I will simply label all creationists as uneducated boobs.

Why can’t we just talk together? Why does every issue have to be the ultimate battleground? Why is everything I believe correct and everything you believe incorrect?

In 1991, Rodney King was savagely beaten by police in Los Angeles. When video of the beating circulated, the consequence was a series of horrendous race riots in the city. The result was 53 deaths and several thousand injuries. The U.S. military was required to end the fighting. During the riots, Rodney King went on television and said, “Can we all get along?” A plea that needs to be heard once again.

When Ronald Reagan was President, one of his most strident political enemies was Tip O’Neill, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts and Speaker of the House. They stood on opposite ends of many political positions. When Reagan was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, O’Neill visited his political enemy in the hospital. He entered the room and walked to Reagan’s bedside, took hold of both his hands and knelt. “Thanks for coming, Tip,” the President whispered. They recited the 23rd Psalm together and then he stood, kissed Reagan on the forehead and said, “I don’t want to keep you from your rest.” Then he quietly left the room.

These two political enemies could agree to disagree. Not having the same opinion on every issue did not make the other worthless. It has been said that if we both agree on everything then one of us is unnecessary. When we connect our ego to our opinion then we must fight to the death in order to protect ourselves. The truth is that we need one another, even those who do not agree with us.

At church last Sunday we studied the words of Paul in Ephesians 2 describing the amazing work of Christ in breaking down the barrier that stood between Jewish believers and Gentile believers, making us all one in Him. Then our little group shared the bread and cup together, the powerful reminder of the truth that we all belong to Him; we are united. Tens of millions of other believers around the world also shared that same meal together last Sunday, celebrating that same truth that we all belong together.

It seems logical to anticipate that since we all belong to Christ we can have civil discourse with one another. I saddens me that many of the most malicious, both in the theological and political realm, are professed followers of Christ. It is great that you defend your position and that you speak out about your beliefs. But it is not necessary to do it with anger and baseless accusations. Speak the truth in love!

If you are unable to do it with love, at least study up on some logic and quit saying stupid things.

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4 Comments

Filed under Church, Politics

4 responses to “Uncivil Discourse

  1. Wow! Terry, you just said everything I’ve been thinking for a long, long time. It seems the “civilized” world is full of some of the most “uncivilized” people. Great post. I will definitely be sharing this.

  2. rick ballard, sr.

    Terry, Your right, we are on the same wavelength! Well said, my friend.

  3. David Bowman

    Good stuff!

  4. Two notable quotes:
    “Civil discourse simply means to engage in conversation intended to enhance understanding. It requires respect for one another.”
    And:
    “If you are unable to do it with love, at least study up on some logic and quit saying stupid things.”
    The first is a head scratcher, like “Yeah, why doesn’t this happen more? Oh yeah, there’s the respect thing.” Of course that doesn’t apply to EVERYONE.
    And the 2nd, ought to be a bumper sticker sold in Christian bookstores!
    Except one little thing. There might be a slight loss of respect, on my part, for the person I would give the sticker to. 😉

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