Tuesday, November 11, 2008


What does civility mean to you? How does it square with some of the strong statements we read in Scripture? Do you think civility is a strong suit in our society or not? And why?

I contend that we live in a society where incivility is accepted and even infiltrates us as Christians. For me it comes from talk radio and from news television. Anything that smacks of that at all, leaves me behind and out the door. But I have to be careful, because in my disgust of incivility I can stoop to the same.

What should civility look like for a Christian, a follower of Jesus? How should this be played out in our discussions over important matters such as abortion, how to help the poor, the environment, etc.? Was Jesus "civil" in the gospels?

I don't like to take a contemporary term and our usage of it, and try to see where it might fit in Scripture and in the Story of God. But we at least can look for parallels, and see what importance it might have. Maybe I'm civil in ways that are not pleasing to God at times. While at other times I fall into the same incivility as the world which also is not pleasing to God.

One thing we need to remember in the blog world, and especially as Christians, we need to demonstrate a certain kind of civility as in being courteous, listening well, being moderate and understated while not watering down the truth at all (in other words, not exaggerating), etc. We need to consistently show a difference in the way we conduct ourselves before the world.

Any thoughts?


Lanny said...

So I'm curious, which do you think is uncivil, the agitators Paul speaks of or his call for them to brutally attack their own bodies?

My commment here got way too long. So I either dumped it or I'll turn it into a post. It is cold and rainy here and could very easily be a day to write 'till my fingers bleed.

Hope you and yours are having a splendid day.

The Wingnut said...

Too often in our culture, civility means no passion.

We're so afraid of offending and being offended that no-one dares speak out.

Obviously we should not seek to offend and divide, but on the flip side, we should not be so afraid of offending others that we don't speak out when we should.

We can be polite and civil and still speak out against abortion, or for environmental stewardship, or against war, or any other issues we face today.

Jesus was civil in the gospels when it was appropriate. But he did not keep his mouth shut when he saw oppression of the poor and the hijacking of the Jewish faith by legalistic dynasties.

If Jesus had spent his whole life being "civil" to everyone, then he wouldn't have ended up on a Roman execution stake.


atruefaith.com said...

What should civility look like for a Christian, a follower of Jesus?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves – Phil. 2:3

However, I’ll let you know if I ever achieve perfect civility. You may be waiting awhile.

How should this be played out in our discussions over important matters such as abortion, how to help the poor, the environment, etc.?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. – Eph. 4:2-3

In other words, our tone and the words we use matter.

Was Jesus "civil" in the gospels?

You mean in Matthew 23?

I absolutely think he was civil.

Anonymous said...

i am surprised that humans are as civil as they are.

preacherman said...

You definatly ask so very important questions that believers need to think about. I believe that we should in all aspects be like Christ to others: humble, patience, take care of the poor, show love, mercyl kindness etc..
Thank you so much for this challenging post. Fantsast!!!

JP Anderson said...

Hi Ted, it has been a while. Hope you are doing well.

I like to think of civility as, (simply but profoundly) showing regard and respect for others.

The complexity comes in our propensity to protest rather than persuade in our civil discourse. In that protesting we tend to engage in what James Hunter calls “a public discourse defined by the art and trade of negation." In this environment the substance of difference is overwhelmed by the strategy of response.

I am impacted by Os Guiness' book The Case for Civility where he argues that dealing with our differences is the chief question of humankind. When presented this way, the global discussion of how to be civil becomes SO meaningful in our multi cultural and religous dialogue.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Lanny, Cold here and we're getting plenty of rain and some snow off and on, but we're keeping warm.

Sorry to miss your "too long" comment, and look forward to your post on it.

I don't think Paul was being uncivil, of course. Truly the gospel was at stake, and what Paul said was for the good of all, even including those agitators.

Ted M. Gossard said...

the wingnut,

Excellent thoughts, and I so agree. I am looked at as controversial myself in some circles. I like to give another position on critical issues, and I've been known to raise my voice in doing so. And I'm not sure that sits well with everyone. But I don't think it's necessarily wrong in itself.

Thanks for giving us that angle, and I much agree!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes. Good passages to live out with reference to this, and good thoughts as well. And I agree with what you say of Jesus in Matthew 23. His strongest words, yet I think really civil as he spoke the stinging, devastating truth, but in love.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes. Part of us being made in God's image. Grace is really everywhere, because I think it's part of God's image, though the special grace of God in Jesus is something humans have to receive as a gift, of course.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Actually this post is kind of modeled on posts you have done on your blog. I think reading such posts rubbed off on me, here.

Thanks. It's something which certainly is modeled well on your blog, with the long threads and conversation you get on it.

Ted M. Gossard said...

JP, great to hear from you. Hope you and Rachel are doing well.

Excellent words and I must get hold of that book and read it! I love the thought that we must learn the art of persuading, instead of just protesting.


Every Square Inch said...

Wow - you got some really good, insightful comments, Ted. I think wingnut may be right in saying that in our culture, civility often translated to a lack of passion.

But I think what we term civility is simply exercising the Golden Rule - do unto others... as well as fulfilling the law of Christ...to love your neighbor. It shouldn't mean that we're afraid to speak the truth to others.

Anonymous said...

I've been a lurker here, Ted.

I don't know you personally but I respect the heart and the concerns that come through here.

Re the topic at hand, I'm not sure it's about being harsh or not being harsh more generally.

Looking at the actual practice of Old and New Testament models, seems like almost all of them are far harsher than anyone could get away with now.

Looks like they treated people in the believing community with far more compassion than they did 'outsiders.' In the early Old Testament they often slaughtered those outside the chosen community, though eventually the most far seeing prophets figured out that Israel--in the short and intermediate run--probably deserved the same fate when believers were no better than the unbelievers. The language throughout a lot of the OT is scary in its intensity and violence by most current standards.

Jesus was just as violent and harsh verbally, though he so dramatically shifted the focus of that kind of language. He personally welcomed specific 'outsiders' and went out of his way to make then at home, while at the same time laying out what can only be called harsh verbal threats against them if they failed to accept his teaching and authority over the longer haul. But he was far harsher verbally with the religious leaders of his day.

At the same time, he modeled little else than revolutionary practical and personal real time acceptance and love for even those most despised and misunderstood. Hard to know what to make of that kind of juxtaposition of very harsh language and practical love on a day to day basis. Personally, I just think there are immense cultural differences between the world they lived in then and the world we live in now.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks. And thanks for bringing up the Golden Rule. And a part of that is to tell others the truth, in love, even as we need to face that ourselves, and be open to receiving it from others- to be sure, as you well know.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Anonymous (I prefer you would not remain anonymous, by the way),

Thanks, and I appreciate and like what you say here. The culture factor is important.

I think when seen in context, civility was actually demonstrated everywhere- at least in God's eyes, even if not always in humans' eyes.

Though God's "strange" work (in the prophets, Isaiah perhaps) of judgment is hard for us (for me) as far as how it was worked out.

I know there are quite hard sayings of Jesus for his followers and for us all (like the passage on gouging out our eyes, or cutting off a hand if need be, to avoid sin). But I believe Jesus' harsh words were directed to those who stood in the way of God's salvation, and themselves were in danger of God's judgment. And Jesus was only more than ready to receive all who would come to him, regardless of anything about them. Of course bringing them in ultimately on his terms, and not on their own.

Tom Pratt said...

I was surprised with the 'anonymous' thing. I had a blog on blogger for years and comment regularly on a number of blogs. Must have clicked the wrong button :^. I'm Tom Pratt.

Lots of civility in the bible, of course, and even more extraordinary grace, subtlety and sacrificial love. I wouldn't even qualify it as 'civility in God's eyes.' It's 'full on, in the round' generosity and kindness that anybody would recognize. No need for God's eyes in that respect.

But the language and actions there are also very violent and harsh on a regular basis, even in the NT. Can't forget Ananias and Sapphira. Anybody treating that couple the same way today would be imprisoned for the rest of their lives.

Things change.

I just have a hard time with people that claim to be 'biblical Christians' who struggle with harsh language. That's the tradition we have, much of it sanctioned by God. I mean, just take a look at the interactions between the Protestant reformers and their 'enemies' (which included other Protestant Reformers). It's vicious verbally by any current standards.

Sort of like Rush Limbaugh. I don't say that as a joke. I think he's tapped into a pretty authentic biblical way of expressing himself, though I think he's a dangerous idiot. But I think that's part of why he appeals to so many evangelicals and fundamentalists who associate that approach with truthfulness. Forgive me for tapping into my own fundamentalist and biblical way of expressing myself there for a minute :^

Ted M. Gossard said...

Tom, Thanks for identifying yourself (I know Blogger on the comments can be tricky!).

Interesting. I don't like to listen to Rush Limbaugh myself, though I think he's an entertainer, who while serious about his politics, doesn't take the whole thing as seriously as some of his followers. But your thought about him tapping into Biblical language and practice on this is interesting.

I think we have to be careful here. In Jesus, mercy triumphs over judgment (James) and grace and truth, as well as truth and love, are forever joined together in Jesus. Harsh language should be rare or never used in describing others. We can express harsh words over what is advocated, to be sure. I think this is in keeping with both the tone as well as the imperatives (like, "Honor the emperor", I believe in 1 Peter) of Scripture.

I don't listen to talk radio or the loud stuff on news television for a reason. I believe for whatever justification we might give it from Scripture, it clearly violates a number of clear directives given to us in God's word.