Lack of Civility on Centre-Stage
A spokesperson for the Coalition to Beat Back the Far Right said they were “determined to stop the right-wing fundamentalist Christian conference from going ahead.” She said that the WCF was “a fringe group of religious fanatics” with “crackpot ideas.”
Despite a large police presence at the fifth venue, conference participants were confronted by dozens of protesters as they entered. One woman protester managed to breach security and rushed onto the stage where she spilled fake blood on her white outfit. “We don’t want your backyard abortions,” she yelled, before being ushered outside.
It was then that Teresa Martin, the president of Cherish Life Queensland, said to those in attendance “Can I ask everybody to take one moment to pray?” For it was only the previous year that she was confronted by protesters at the Rally for Life in Brisbane. Dressed in black, they stormed and took over the stage and shouted slogans and profanities.
Power of the Tongue
Such incidents have led many commentators to alert us to the rapid decline of civility in our society.
According to an article on the Ethics Daily website,
“Civility is a public virtue which includes using our powers of speech to persuade and not to coerce; making our case but not manipulating; debating those with whom we disagree, but not demeaning them; and being clear and passionate about our convictions, while listening receptively to the passions and convictions of others.”
Such civility is a huge challenge for it goes against our basic inclinations. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote,
“People can tame all kinds of animals … but no one can tame the tongue.
It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father,
and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. …
Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”
~ James 3:7-10 (NLT)
Modern examples of untamed tongues include —
- Politicians in Parliament who interrupt and use offensive language to tear each other down.
- University students who twitter against and shout down controversial guest speakers.
- Sport fans who denigrate and swear at umpires and referees for calls they made.
Chuck Colson, the founder of Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said,
“We need to engage the culture, engage those who disagree with us. And engaging others means, first of all, listening patiently to what they have to say. And then when we speak our turn, we must respect them as men and women made in the image of God, realising that because they are made in God’s image, they are always susceptible to the in-breaking of Truth.”
Be a Champion of Civility
Christian thinker Os Guinness, author of The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It, gave this sketch of a great champion of civility —
“William Wilberforce entered the ring in 1787 when he argued for the abolition of slavery in the English House of Parliament. He was defeated, defeated, defeated and defeated. Every year he entered the ring again. It took him 20 years to win. He was prepared to enter the ring [as often as it took] to persuade and prevail. That’s democratic civility.
Twice, opponents physically attacked him in the street. He remained gracious even when he was the most disparaged man in the world. He never vilified his opponents. A lot of reformers are fanatics. … Wilberforce was never a fanatic. He was a follower of Jesus, humble, gracious and loving. That’s how we should be known.”
The Godliness of Civility
When we exercise civility in the public square or in our private lives, we reflect the character of God.
Once, when Moses sought God’s counsel in the Tent of Meeting on how to lead the Israelites, God told Moses to present himself on top of Mt Sinai. There God revealed His character, saying,
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to a thousand generations, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.”
~ Exodus 34:6-7
Forty days later, Moses descended the mountain with the Ten Commandments in his hands. These too reflect the character of God and provide us with a solid framework for civility in our society. The third commandment, for example, is “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” The ninth is “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:7,16)
The supreme example of civility, however, is Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b). True civility takes place as we follow the example and teachings of Jesus who gave us the so-called Golden Rule to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). He also set a standard for civility that went far beyond any human society that has ever existed. He told His followers to:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
~ Luke 6:27-28
But how can we ever hope to live up to these radical teachings, Jesus?
The good news is that God will help us for His ultimate goal for us is that we become “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). As we seek to become more and more like Jesus, we can prayerfully study His life in the Gospels, asking the Holy Spirit to form Christ-like attitudes in us – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). The bottom line is that civility is being the heart, hands and feet of Jesus to our troubled society.
Father God, Thank You that Your Word declares that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Thank You for Your Son Jesus who set us an example and taught us how to love others, even our enemies. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, help us to reflect Your character to our society which is drifting away from its Judeo-Christian foundations. Help us to exercise civility and treat those with differing views with respect and dignity, remembering that every person is made in Your image. May we always be found “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Help us to be humble, gracious and loving like Jesus, so we can be champions of civility in our society. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.