Civility and the Challenge of Christendom
CHRISTIANS in America often think of themselves as the norm and others as the variants from it, but this is both an empirical and a theological error. It is an empirical error because the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as Christians has been falling steadily in recent decades. Some of the loss comes because other religious traditions have gained, but much of it comes because more and more Americans describe themselves as not particularly religious.
It is a theological error because Christians are not supposed to be just like everybody else. As John Murray Cuddihy pointed out twenty years ago, if by civility we mean inoffensiveness, it would be a grievous wrong for Christians to be civil.1 Christians live in a tradition whose teachings on subjects from sexuality to wealth to war might make the secular world uncomfortable, but if Christians believe the teachings of the faith to be correct, it would be bizarre not to share them. We do no justice to our faith, and show little respect for our fellow citizens, by muting our voices so that others will not be offended. (Nothing in this argument turns on what one thinks traditional Christian teachings actually are.)
I do not take Cuddihy to mean that Christians should strive for active incivility in dialogue, that Christians should ignore the admonition to love the neighbor. I think he means--or at least I want him to mean--that Christians should not be reluctant to stir things up. Christians should never see themselves as servants of the