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Civility

“Civility” is one of those words you intuitively understand as an adult and hopefully practice as the natural outworking of your faith in Christ in relating to others. Its synonyms are graciousness, respect, courtesy. Its opposite is rudeness. It means “formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.” 

The Apostle Paul described what I’m talking about when the Spirit of God prompted him to describe authentic love this way: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude (emphasis mine), is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4–6 CSB).

Whether your context is local church ministry as Paul was writing about, marriage and family life in your living room, or the political life of your child’s PTA or the public stage of social media, civility is the call of God to every believer. Sadly, civility is sorely missing in our world today. This is territory for Christians to claim. We have a bright and salty witness for Christ (Matthew 5:13–16) eager to show itself against the dark backdrop of rudeness in our culture.

God’s word sounds very different from what we see in the regular discourse of our nation, especially in the political realm. But here we go! It’s time for presidential politics again. Or is it so every day? It seems like everything is described as “unprecedented” these days, including the nominating conventions, the candidates, the issues, AND especially the lack of civility.

However, it’s too often been this way. Even a short review of our shared American history reveals that politics, the process of determining who will govern and how they will govern is a highly emotional and contentious mine field.

I recently completed the podcast series, “Presidential” by Washington Post journalist Lillian Cunningham. If you’re intrigued by all things presidential, her tour through history is fascinating. She did a good job reviewing each of the 44 American presidents prior to Donald Trump. With varying degrees, each faced their own significant share of rudeness. Several dished out their own fair share.

Many yearn for a more dignified, respectful and helpful form of statesmanship that often goes lacking. Through advances in technology, the high stakes game of politics, including the demonizing of the opposition, has reached new levels of intensity and creativity. Rudeness seems to be the tool of choice for this game.

Church families are not immune from the impacts of politics and this shortage of civility. Most pastors have stories of tension in small groups that emerged when differing political views arose in a gathering or fellow church members expressed their opposing views on social media.

One question pastors often fear or overly engage is, “Pastor, who should I vote for?” Other related “land mine” questions are these: “Pastor, who are you voting for?” “Pastor, why don’t you have a yard sign?” “Pastor, why aren’t you talking about this or that candidate or issue?”

During this month of September, we want to provide clarifying thoughts, probing questions and quality resources to help. How do pastors and churches help their congregations stay calm, collected—and influential—in this politically charged, emotionally stretched, very confusing period of time? 

A Pastor’s View will tackle the subject of civility. Maybe we should say we will “wrestle” with civility because sometimes pastors tackle it, at other times they get tackled by it! We hope to be practical, encouraging and helpful as you effectively pastor and lead your congregation to engage well as citizens of both heaven and these United States.

Our motivation in addressing civility is driven by two things that concerns every pastor: the call of God and the needs of believers. Jesus called us to be ‘salt and light’ (Matthew 5:16-17). All Christ followers have the joys and privileges of dual citizenship, both heavenly and earthly.

Writing to the Philippians in that sophisticated Roman colony, God inspired the Apostle Paul to say, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). We know that Paul treasured his earthly, Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25, 28). In the same way, we should treasure ours.

God beautifully describes our grace-based identity and eternal relationship to him. We are sinners saved by grace so profound that he is willing to now call us “saints” (Acts 9:13).

In the ‘Supreme Court’ of heaven, we are declared ‘justified’, and therefore not guilty because of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross (Romans 5:1-2). On the commercial auction block of enslavement to sin, Christ is our ransom, buying us back into the family of God (Mark 10:45).

Because Christ Jesus is our King and the New Jerusalem our ultimate homeland, how we live here as temporary ‘foreigners and exiles’ (1 Peter 2:11) should be shaped by who we are and will be there.

So let me ask, where and how is God calling you to be more civil with others privately and publicly?