9/30/09

Civility, Yes ... but Courage, Too!

When Mark DeMoss launched The Civility Project, I have to admit that I had mixed emotions. The Christian public relations expert said, “I decided to launch a project where I would talk not about unity, not about tolerance, not about getting along, not about compromise, but just about civility.” According to the project’s website, The Civility Project [is] a collection of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, and people of various faith—or no faith—who agree that even in sharp disagreement we should not be disagreeable.” So far, so good. I agree that we need to be civil in our general interactions in society. We need to show respect. We need to show love. [The photo above shows how not to act!]

That is difficult when the motives of those who call for civility are maligned. Some groups point fingers at the project, suggesting DeMoss and his group embody “bigotry with manners.” The problem is, some people simply don’t want a civil debate or even a nice discussion. They are hell-bent on pushing an unbiblical social agenda. To suggest anything short of agreement with their agenda is to be accused of “hate speech,” intolerance, and disrespect.

The biblical principle for believers is to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), to let love guide our conversations. What I’ve mulled over these days is how to balance that with some of Jesus’ actions as he walked and talked in the culture of His day. The Pharisees were committed to their understanding of truth, but they entirely missed the greatest commandment of all—to love God and others. Jesus called the Pharisees “whited sepulchers,” or whitewashed, stinky tombs (Matthew 23:27). We don’t call Jesus uncivil for His words, but rather, courageous and sensitive to holiness.

Another example: in righteous anger, Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13). I imagine that He did not speak quietly to the moneychangers as he condemned them for making the Temple a “den of robbers.” No doubt the money-changers (and probably the priests) condemned Jesus’ action, but He was passionate for and protective of the things of God. Over and over in the scriptures, we see Jesus rebuking, exposing, and using pointed sarcasm—actions and words born in holiness and love, not wickedness and hate.

In the flesh, civility vs. courageous confrontation is often a tough call; I often struggle with where to draw the line. But when I’m in tune with God, there are times that I feel God’s Spirit nudging me to speak up and confront—to share the truth, come what may, to take a stand for righteousness even when misunderstood. Other times I sense I’m to give a gentle answer so as not to stir up wrath (Proverbs 15:1); and God’s prompting in some circumstances is simply to stay silent and pray. Making the wise choice requires continuing intimacy with God. It requires learning how to fear God more, and fear the opinions of man less. Love must rule, and holiness must guide. We certainly need to listen more and interrupt less. Actually, the core values DeMoss espouses for the Project sum up all of these thoughts.

I admire Mark DeMoss for extending a hand of civility, even when it gets slapped. Civility, coupled with courage, will serve us all well in the continuing discourse with our culture. May God give us much-needed humility and wisdom.

What are your thoughts? How do you show civility? When is civility a struggle for you?

Related posts: Standing Alone in the Fear of God, Guts, Not 'Goo,' and Eagles or Turkeys, We Need Courage!

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