We’ve Lost the Art of Civility

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It’s come to my attention that it’s been almost a year since I last blogged. Oops. So, I’ve decided today to come out of the drought. In your college and young adult ministry, we’ve been doing a series called Messy Faith which I will explain in future posts. Needless to say, it got messy, as our faith often does whether we admit it or not.

There were 2 presentations regarding Faith and/or Science from our students. Things got a little out of hand including rebuttals from the crowd. While it’s unfortunate that emotions flared, feelings were hurt, and we’re walking through the aftermath, I believe it’s a learning experience for all of us.

It’s apparent that the young man had no idea the way he was coming across. Even though he was well-prepared and knowledgeable about his topic, his demeanor diminished his credibility. This happens too often in the best of circumstances where the powerful truths of God’s Word are coated with our fleshly attitudes and responses, preventing people from hearing the crucial message.

Years ago, I preached 11 weeks on 1 verse out of 1 Peter: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. BUT do this with gentleness and respect…”

It bothers me when Christians use social media as another opportunity to demean those of other beliefs and political ideologies. That’s only an invitation for trouble. Does our Facebook status really need to be a venue to further divide people simply because we can’t exercise self control and sit on our opinions? And of course, we excuse it by stating our need to preach the Gospel and stand for truth…except for the fact it’s not quite the truth we’re called to proclaim.

Are we mature enough to be able to sit down at a table across from someone who’s beliefs are diametrically opposed to our own, have a spirited debate based on civility (courteous and polite behavior proper to civilized persons); then stand up, give each other a big hug, laugh, and move on?  Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, so that’s cool.  Respect does not equal agreeing with someone, conceding to them, or wussing out spiritually.  It is an acknowledgment of a person’s worth and value.

Here’s some things I’ve learned and relearned…and relearned…along the way:

  1. We don’t always need to be right. We’re not here to argue or win debates, but to explain to people what and why we believe. If they don’t believe, that’s not our issue. We are simply messengers.  If our pride is the issue…crucify it!  Let’s win people, not fights.
  2. It’s not just WHAT you say but HOW you say it. Body language. Tone of voice. Posture. Be very aware of what you’re doing with your eyes (are you looking away, rolling your eyes? rather than remaining engaged through eye contact and your hands (are your arms folded? Are your hands constantly in their face or waving, stirring up an already heated discussion).
  3. Be careful of side quips, snide remarks, sarcastic comments, and patronizing phrases, otherwise we run the risk of undoing and demolishing the most articulate of statements. Be careful of phrases like “I disagree” or “that’s illogical” or “that’s ridiculous.” These only fuel unproductive arguments, get people emotional, and make us veer off course.  Avoid stating the obvious.  It’s already intuitively obvious to the casual observer that you disagree without having to reiterate the fact.
  4. Don’t get defensive. Again, we’re vessels for God. We can’t afford to take it personally. Obey Him. Get the job done.
  5. God doesn’t need us to defend Him. He’s Sovereign, Almighty, Omnipotent, Omniscient. He’s huge. He can take care of Himself just fine…long before we took or first breath, and way after we’re 6 feet under.
  6. Don’t get in the way of the Holy Spirit. Not just Forgotten God but forgotten “partner” and overall director. Say what needs to be said, then get out of the way so God can make His move. It’s not our articulate discourses and rhetoric that will move people’s hearts. It’s God’s job to change people.
  7. Be polite and learn to ask permission. “May I please interrupt?” “May I respond to that, please?” “Are you ok if I share my thoughts?”  This diffuses tension and again displays mutual respect and courtesy.  We American Christians are definitely not experts on that.
  8. LISTEN!! And let them finish.

Go spread joy!  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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