Beyond Civility

Election Day — November 12, 2012 — is fast approaching.

Some members of our church family feel that this day is important and voting is an essential exercise. Others in our church family feel this day is irrelevant and voting an exercise in futility.

Some members of our church family cannot wait to cast their vote to re-elect President Obama. Others in our church family cannot wait to vote for Governor Romney. Still others in our church family do not like either candidate and so will vote for another candidate or refrain from voting in the presidential election.  And still others will vote for “anybody but Obama” or “anybody but Romney.”

Some members of our church family will enjoy every minute of this election cycle. They will attend rallies, watch and listen to commercials, talk back to the television during debates, and be enthralled with the entire experience. Others in our church family are dreading the whole experience — the debates, the television and radio political ads, the blog posts, and status updates.

At some point in the days leading up to November 12 the debate will turn nasty, the ads will go negative, the name-calling will become demonization, and some pundits and other talking heads will call for civility in the public discourse.

What role should Christians play in all this? Let me make it clear that I am not talking about what candidate Christians should back. Again, as I stated above, Christians — including those at Lafayette– are all over the map on political affiliation and candidates. I am talking about the role Christians can and should play when it comes to civility.

Christians should lead the way in promoting civility. In fact, Christians should not be satisfied with civility. Our standard should be even higher — the golden rule, for example. Perhaps the standard should even be love, kindness, and compassion.

So if you are interested in the election — whether you are red or blue; R, D, or I; voting for Obama, Romney or a third party candidate — don’t settle for civility. Go beyond civility. Watch your words and your tone. Be careful not to personalize issues and demonize candidates or their supporters. Think twice before you pass on an email, tweet, or status update that is filled with angry rhetoric and information and accusations that might not even be true.

What would it be like if Christians took the lead in setting the tone for public discourse by going beyond civility to love, kindness, and the golden rule?

On Fighting Monsters

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” Friedrich Nietzsche, from Beyond Good and Evil

Have you ever become what you hate? You know, when you see something wrong, some injustice, some way in which people are treating others unfairly and you just want to react furiously to that injustice?

The struggle for me is to, in reacting to the monsters of unfairness, injustice, even slander to end up becoming what I hate; that is, I become just like what I am condemning. In fighting monsters, I often end up becoming one myself.

If you are like me in this way, perhaps you could benefit from spending time praying through the following Bible passages. And as we pray we can take time to confess, repent, and ask for strength to overcome and be more like Jesus.

Matthew 5:38-42 NLT
“You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”

Romans 12:14-21 NIV
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

May God protect us from ourselves. May He keep us from becoming monsters!

Payback

“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Lashing out to achieve revenge is so very natural, at least to me. When someone hurts us, mistreats us, or wrongs us it is a natural reflex to strike back. I remember saying more times than I care to confess, “I’m going to give him a dose of his own medicine!” We like to even the score with someone who has taken advantage of us or wounded us. And, let’s be honest, sometimes just getting even is not enough. Sometimes we want to “do them one better.”

This kind of vengeful payback is “natural” in more than one way. It is “natural in the sense of being an almost automatic response. But payback is also “natural” in the sense of being “fleshly.” Scripture is clear; there is nothing remotely spiritual about settling the score with someone who has acted in an evil way toward you.

  • “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).
  • “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:16-18).
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

Rather than retaliating when wronged, God’s people are called on to respond with kindness. “Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out” (The Message). “Always try to do good to each other” (NLT). A response that’s all about kindness, goodness, and looking for the best in others rather than retribution is expected from followers of Jesus.

Eventually, inevitably, someone will wrong you. Sometimes the wrongdoer will be your brother or sister in Christ. Other times it will be someone who is outside the family of God. Revenge is to be avoided whether the offender is a Christian or an outsider (“to each other and to everyone else”). This is difficult teaching, for sure. But it really comes as a relief when the offender is not a brother or a sister or an outsider, but me instead.