| April 01, 2013
All it takes is a scroll through your Twitter feed or Facebook timelines to realize that civility is a lost art in our culture. Technological advances in communication have given almost everybody a limitless platform, the ability to share their most raw emotions with the click of a button or flip of the hand.
As Christian thought leaders, I think its incumbent upon us to teach our people the importance of civility, perhaps more than ever before. But it will take courage and thought to do it well.
When you mention the word civility to most people, it reeks of spineless compromise. People confuse kindness and magnanimity with a lack of courage. But the Scriptures overwhelmingly tell us that courage and civility are not enemies, but partners in communicating truth to the culture.
I'm amazed at how often in the New Testament; we are commanded to show respect, honor, and love toward people with whom we disagree. I've been particularly arrested by Peter's emphasis in 1 Peter. This is a letter written to a church that was marginalized in the culture. Christians were considered a fringe, even dangerous movement in the Roman Empire and would soon be the target of centuries-long bloody and cruel persecution. Peter, who himself would be martyred for the faith, describes followers of Christ as "exiles" and "temporary residents" (1 Peter 1:17; 2:11). Peter urged his followers to lean on Christ for courage to "stand firm" in their faith (1 Peter 5:9).
At the same time, Peter continues to encourage Christians to combine civility with their courage. Consider his instructions to "Honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the King." (1 Peter 2:17) or for Christians to "keep their conduct honorable (1 Peter 2:12). He says we should not return "reviling for reviling" (1 Peter 3:9) and urges believers to engage modern arguments with "gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15).
These are radical concepts in our opinionated culture, even among Christians. In fact, whenever I write or speak on the idea of civility, most of my pushback is from other believers who feel I've "gone soft." It's because we've confused incivility with courage. We think that the bravest people are the ones with the loudest voices.
We need to teach our people that it matters not simply what we say, but how we say it. Quite often the pushback Christians receive is not because of our faith, but because of our behavior. We act like jerks and pass it off as martyrdom.
But Peter, who knew martyrdom when he saw it, makes sure that Christians understood this. He reminds Christians to make sure they are suffering for Christ, not their own "evildoing" (1 Peter 4:15).
Scripture doesn't treat civility as an incidental virtue. It's a characteristic of those who live for another Kingdom. So as leaders, let's equip our people to make gospel-shaped arguments in a grace-shaped package.