Civility in American Religion and Life

In our 24-hour news cycle and short attention span culture, there is often a concern of the moment. That is a concern that is taken upon by people, believed to be a mass concern, and is often, unfortunately, dropped in order to promote the next concern of the moment.

Right now, the concern of the moment is civility in American political discourse, especially in light of this month’s tragic shooting in Tuscon, Arizona. It has gotten the attention of both the Political Right and Political Left, as well as religious leaders on both sides of the political and theological spectrum. Even more, President Obama is likely to discuss civility issues when addressing the nation in his State of the Union Address.

Civility is needed in American political discourse – from both the left and the right. However, it will take more than a few words and passionate remarks from President Obama to change the landscape towards more civility. This is not to discredit the power of the presidency and the bully pulpit that is the White House. Instead, it is to recognize the deep problem that exists within America in regards to the lack of civility. No one person can bring this change about. It will only take place with a movement of concerned people who take up the cross of moving against the current of rash discussion, and bring forth language of peace and respect.

To become more civil, we have to want to be civil. There is no other course of action than that. In order to be more civil, we have to, once again, view our neighbor as our neighbor; to see our co-worker as no competition for the next promotion but as a colleague and supporter; we have to see those on the opposite political aisle as not barbarians of the worst kind, but as public servants seeking to do what they believe is best for the country. We have to respect one another.

Ultimately, we must realize that America is one giant community – for that matter the world is one giant community as well – and we are all together. Our community is simply not limited to just those whom we can agree with, get along with, or want to be with. Our communities are much deeper. They must include those whom we disagree with our not like, because humanity is not stripped away simply because we do not like the viewpoints one may share.

This is not going to happen overnight, nor will it take place in time for the 2012 election. Our republic is one that has professionalized uncivil behavior from the political sphere – a brief political history from the 1800s will show we’ve not always had the best intention at heart. Yet, it must happen if we are ever to be untied under one cause, or to be united for what is best for this country.

Let this not be an argument against disagreement. We can, and should, disagree on what is best for the country, and what decisions are to be made. But, it is the mentality and action of our disagreement that must come into question. Let us end the slander and libel from both sides of the aisle, let us end the parade of gotcha accusations, and let us end the vile nature of politics that is all about the name on the front of the jersey, and not on the cause of what is best for the people of this country.

Who should lead this charge? I believe the president has a lead, but I believe those who care about the future of this country – in the moral sense – must take a stand as well. The church cannot sit silent and act as though the world does not exist, and that there is uncivil or immorality taking place. We’ve failed when we believe the only problems we can address are those sitting in our pews each Sunday. We must take a stand. We must represent the true nature of Christ’s love for all people.

We can be a more civil union, once again. I believe we have no other choice.

The only question remains – do we want to be more civil? That is a question for all of us – voters, political leaders, columnists, and others – to decide in the days and weeks ahead.

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