Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The Urgency of Civility

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The Urgency of Civility

Article excerpt

THE CALL FROM the member of Congress was almost desperate. This veteran representative lamented how divisive and hateful the political rhetoric in our nation's capital has become. Never, in the decades this member has served, has it been this bad. Political opponents are no longer just other public servants with whom we might disagree on various matters; they are now evil people who regularly lie and who desire the worst for the American people.

Every day on talk radio, cable news channels, and in the blogosphere, the political opponents of the media screamers are vilified and attacked in the most vicious ways, with the kind of language you teach your children not to use about others: "Liars," "Nazism" Democrats who want a "government takeover," Republicans who want their fellow Americans to "die quickly," "enemies of America," "unpatriotic" if they disagree with you on foreign policy, "un-Christian" if they don't agree with your morality, and either "baby killers" or "misogynists" or "fundamentalist extremists" or "God-haters," depending on which side of the debates they're on. And now, with the first black president, the edge of racism in some of the most hateful comments is evident, either subtly or not so subtly.

The other day a friend, a principled conservative, expressed his genuine worry about the growing number of people who get most of their information from singular news sources that simply bolster their predisposed ideological viewpoint. The stridency of cable TV and the Internet retrench us in our preconceived perspectives, and then ratchet up the public passions and attack the other side as horrible people who don't share any of "our" values.

I also get calls from people in churches who describe how the political warfare is creeping into their life together in the body of Christ. Pastors are under attack for trying to preach on divisive issues such as health care or immigration reform. I have even heard of some pastors fearing for their personal safety in the midst of such political rancor. The church, which is supposed to help overcome the polarization of society, is instead being overcome by it. The call from the congressperson was an appeal to the faith community to reassume the role of seeking to overcome the political polarization that has gripped the nation.

Our own biblical texts speak to a different kind of spirit. "Come, let us reason together," says the prophet Isaiah. We didn't see much of that in the town-hall meeting shouting matches this summer. What a change it would be to reason together in a civil and moral tone. …

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