A More Credible Call for Civility
Recently we recommended that our readers sign the Covenant for Civility that was put out by numerous Christian leaders. The call is a good one: to encourage members of the Body of Christ to be more civil in their public discourse, and if you haven’t yet had the chance to add your name to the list we certainly recommend you do so. What I want to talk about today, however, is the credibility of those making this call for civility.
While the list of sponsors is bi-partisan and covers a broad political spectrum, it seems that recently the people that have been propagating it the most are all decidedly left-wingers. I see two possible explanations for this. One is that, perhaps, liberals are just much more good-willed than their conservative counterparts. And if those on the right were controlled, our society would be brimming with love and peace toward all. Hopefully your memory can stretch back at least as far as the second half of the Bush administration, when the hatred and vitriol spewed from the left was taken to a whole new diabolical level. This should rule out the possibility that liberals are just naturally more loving and kind than conservatives.
My second explanation, and the one that I find to be most persuasive, is that the left is leading the charge for civility because they are on the retreat everywhere else. The 2010 midterm elections were decidedly one sided for conservatism, meaning that the left has little political capital with the populace, meaning they are on the losing end of the public debate, meaning they want a more civil environment for their ideas to have more of a chance at success.
Now, before you accuse me of being a rabid, mindless, conservative, propaganda machine, let us reflect back to the political environment in early 2007. The Democrats had just regained control of Congress and had all the momentum. Riding to success on the unpopularity of the President, liberals had tons of political capital and weren’t about to slow down. Conservatives, sensing their back was against the wall, would complain that the new partisan gridlock was bad for the country, that the disrespect shown the President was incredibly unpatriotic, and that we must return to a more civil environment. The problem with their complaints? They were on the losing side and therefore had no political capital to spend on a call for civility.
Now, let’s reevaluate today’s “call for civility” in light of our current political environment. Those pleading for a more civil public square are, for the most part, leftists. Their intentions may or may not be pure, but regardless, the credibility of those issuing the call is somewhat limited by their thrashing in the most recent election. So, what are we to do?
The first thing we must recognize is that the current animosity that characterizes our political environment is not good for the country. Additionally, the way that Christians on both sides of the aisle contribute to the incivility is utterly appalling. As ambassadors for Christ we are called to demonstrate love and peace to our enemies, not bash them over the head with our respective ideologies. Civility need not be the enemy of truth; rather it should be the manner in which we communicate truth to a lost and hurting world.
Secondly, we need to make sure that our first priority is to keep our own actions—as well as those of our political allies—are civil and kind, especially when we are the ones with the political capital. When our side has won the most recent election we need to reach out to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the aisle in a spirit of humility and kindness. Issuing a call for civility when your side is on the losing end of the public debate is less credible than it would be coming from the victor’s party.
Regardless of who brings the need for a more civil public square to our attention, it is certainly a call that we should heed. And as followers of Christ, we should be the ones leading by example, not waiting until we spend all of our political capital on pet initiatives. For now, let us each make sure that our speech is characterized by charity towards those we disagree with, and love for our political enemies. Let us not win a political battle at the cost of the sanctification of our souls.