Putting the “Civil” back into “Civilization”

A “civilized” nation has the responsibility to act with civility.  If we lose that—and we are dangerously close to losing all traces of respect and civility in our public speech in America—then we cannot continue to call ourselves a civilized nation. 

You can see the lack of civility and respect in the way we treat each other, talk about each other, act with violence, and spew profanity in public. And the worst part of it for me—a Baptist pastor—is that I’m seeing Christian people in the pew and in the pulpit applaud America’s lack of civility and even participate in it.

Can I share some examples, from the absurd to the serious?

  • From the absurd files:  Many politicians attacked Big Bird—a fictional character—because a Sesame Street tweet mentioned that he received a vaccine.  (He wasn’t attacked like that when he got a measles vaccine in 1972.) Does promoting a vaccine make a person a communist, as one leading Arizona politician claimed? An evangelical pastor called Big Bird’s public health message “the most demonic thing I’ve seen in a long time.” Our country did not react this way when Elvis Presley publicly got a polio vaccine prior to an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I know that there are differing opinions about vaccines, but the complete lack of respect in sharing those opinions deeply concerns me.
  • The animated video by a congressman showing him attacking and killing another congressman and then attacking the President was at the least extremely immature and at the most a serious threat to public leaders.  Either way, we can and should expect much better behavior from our elected leaders, and we shouldn’t be reluctant to say so regardless of our politics.
  • The looting and violence during various public demonstrations in the last year (think of the Black Lives Matter Protests and the January 6 attack on the Nation’s Capital) were out-of-control rioting that led to the loss of human life.  The behavior of Americans—and the defense of the behavior by those on both the left and on the right—is anything but civilized.   
  • Both of the last two presidents (Presidents Trump and Biden) have come under near constant vocal and written attacks that have crossed the line from political speech to extreme hate speech.  Profanity?  Nooses?  Decapitations?  Bloody artwork?  Are these the symbols of a civilized nation?
  • The most egregious example to me (because it happened in an event by a supposedly Christian crowd on the campus of a megachurch) occurred two weeks ago.  The leader in the pulpit led thousands in chanting “Let’s go Brandon,” a coded way of cursing at the President.

I’m not picking on Democrats or Republicans.  But neither am I going to defend those in either party who participate in it. It’s wrong, and those in leadership must refuse to participate in it and must be willing to rebuke and correct other leaders who do—regardless of their political persuasion.

I especially refuse to defend my fellow believers who participate in ungodly speech.  We are called to be the “salt” and the “light” in our nation.  Spewing profanity, posting hate speech, defending looters and criminal behavior, and using hateful putdowns instead of persuasion are not acts of “light.”

It’s not right, and there is no defense.

As a pastor, I encourage our members to be involved in our community, including the political process. But please do so only if you can do so with respect and civility.  When we don’t act like Jesus, we hurt the cause of Jesus.

So, bite your tongue.  Pause your typing.  Stop the chanting. Leave an event when necessary. Take down the flags, signs, and bumper stickers if they don’t represent Jesus. Refuse to laugh at ungodliness. And be willing to say, “That’s not right” to Christian friends who are inappropriate.

Remember the “Thumper Rule?”  In the movie, “Bambi,” Thumper (a rabbit) quotes his father as saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

You can speak disagreement. You can point out flaws. You can promote your favorite politician or political party. You can debate a position or a point of view. 

But if you can’t follow the “Thumper Rule,” don’t do it at all.

We need to put the “civil” back in “civilization.”  And Christians need to lead that charge.