Do you need new rules of engagement?
Based on the state of public discourse these days, it seems a lot of us do.
Not too long ago, it was unthinkable that a U.S. president would use his Twitter account to bash professional athletes, foreign governments, even his own citizens who disagree with him. Now it is commonplace.
Not too long ago, it was unthinkable that restaurant owners would refuse to serve government employees just because they work for said U.S. president. Now it is even encouraged by other elected leaders.
We’ve forgotten, or stopped caring, how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Christians are called to lead the way out of the deep mud of incivility in our communities. I pray more of us do so.
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” says the Bible’s book of Romans.
If there is to be civility among people – even those with whom we have strong disagreements – much depends upon us. If you need proof, just consider these earlier words in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” says Romans 12:14. And then, “Repay no one evil for evil.”
No one of us can control what our president does with his Twitter account. And those of us who don’t own restaurants have no influence over who does or does not get served.
But each of us can examine our own responses to those we disagree with and consider whether we’re easing, or worsening, the acidic climate of conversation in our communities. The tone of our public conversations and our use of social media either helps, or hinders, the cause of restoring civility.
Not too long ago, a fellow called my office and wanted to know if I was that conservative religious SOB who wrote about such and such in the newspaper. Turns out, I am.
He went on to ask how I would like it if someone came to my neighborhood or church with a bullhorn and declared me to be a you-know-what. Turns out, I wouldn’t.
Our conversation remained unproductive when he insisted that another person’s expressed opinions, with which he disagrees, are automatically hateful and abusive.
However extreme, he represents an increasingly common false dichotomy: to disagree with someone is to hate them.
This is the new narrative of public discourse. It’s the inevitable result of insisting that truth is relative to each person. And it’s wrong, let alone confusing.
Again, Paul’s words are instructive: “If it is possible… live peaceably with all men.”
In other words, we cannot be at peace with everyone. In fact, we cannot be at peace with those who equate disagreement itself with hatred.
More specifically, we cannot speak the gospel without some people – perhaps many people – being offended.
Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church. He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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