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Bog-An-Open-Letter-On-Civility-to-Our-Community-05.31.17Dear Neighbors,

Is it past hyperbole to say that we are merely disappointed in the level of public conversation in the United States? As a people we can and must do better. The very fabric of our nation is at stake. As Abraham Lincoln wisely quoted Jesus when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25; Mark 3:24-25; Luke 11:17; cf. James 1:8). Friends, how can we continue when the disrespect and tone embarrassingly continues to find new lows?

We are one people. As citizens of the United States, only one thing ultimately matters – each one is a unique person created in the image of God. We share this great nation together. Are we different? Absolutely. This magnificent nation of people is made up of various races, expresses individual faith in numerous religions, identifies with several political parties, demonstrates creativity in many vocational fields, and finds satisfaction in innumerable ways. Yet as citizens we coalesce under one flag, submitting to the Constitution, and share individual responsibility as one people.

With freedom of speech comes responsibility. Over 660,000 men and women have died in combat, another greater number of people have died while in noncombat military service, and countless people have sacrificially served us in so many ways to protect our freedom to say what we want to say. But that freedom bears responsibility. Just because you can say anything, does not mean that you should say anything. Just because you have a right to say something, does not mean that you should exercise that right to say something. As Solomon said, “The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness” (Prov 15:2). Furthermore, “The mouth of a fool is his ruin, and his lips are a snare for his life” (Prov 18:7).

Demonstrate respect on the public square. The Bible makes it clear that we are to respond to each other with respect. Do we disagree? Of course we do, which proves we are human. Human conflict began in the Garden of Eden. But disagreement does not equal disrespect. I rejoice that most people who disagree with me do not also disrespect me. We are to show honor to all people (1 Pet 2:17). We can respect each other as people in the image of God and still disagree. In fact, we must if God is to be honored. This must be more than mere words; instead it should be demonstrated in our attitude, tone, and demeanor.

Focus on the problem instead of attacking people. Disagreement spurs great conversation and better understanding for all parties involved when it focuses on the issue at hand rather than ad hominem attacks on the person with whom we disagree. The goal or purpose behind our words should be to build up others according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen – as all grace does (Eph 4:29). We should refrain from words that are corrupt, that tear people down, that assume the worst, that harm or abuse, and that intentionally create discord. You can disagree without being disagreeable.

Choose kindness instead of harshness. As we engage each other in conversation we all make choices. Choose to be kind and helpful, compassionate and understanding, gracious and forgiving to each other (Eph 4:32). God in Christ is our example. Is it easy to allow ourselves to be carried away with passion, anger, rage, contention, spite, or ill will? You bet. In fact, because we are sinners, usually we go there first. Kindness is a chosen action; harshness is a reaction.

Be angry but do not sin. When someone else is sinned against or God is not honored, it is appropriate to be angry (Eph 4:26-27). But what is anger in the Bible? Anger is a momentary emotion that is meant to energize us toward a God-honoring solution. Therefore, anger gets us moving the right direction but has a very short shelf life. Through anger we are motivated to help; however, anger spoils quickly in the heart and leads to sin if it lingers.

Invoke the best in people not the worst. The Bible describes our behavior as light in darkness (Matt 5:16). The Bible exhorts us to encourage each other to better words and actions (Heb 10:24-25). When people read your thoughts through social media, hear you speak, or watch you conduct yourself, they should walk away challenged to be better, do better, and speak better. We should be provocateurs in the best way – not pridefully and foolishly in the worst way.

Begin with yourself and not your neighbor. This begins with you and me. One way you can check yourself is by strolling through your social media feed. How are you typically responding? Would someone be encouraged or discouraged by reading your comments? Do you help people or purposefully and rudely attack people? Are you helping the conversation move forward or just throwing stones at the ones with whom you disagree? Are you assuming the worst about people or seeking to give people the benefit of the doubt? Do you believe yourself to be better than those with whom you disagree or do you humbly recognize they just have a different opinion? Do you assume others are out to hurt you and just benefit themselves or do you give them the benefit of the doubt? After you have evaluated your own attitude, thinking, speaking, writing, and actions, then determine to engage with civility, respect, and kindness.

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What other ways would you suggest we can engage each other in civility?

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