Each week as we gather for prayer circle, we not only pray for those on our prayer list, we have a time for a meditation. This week we had a discussion about civility that was led by Dani Rupprecht, and I am sharing some of those thoughts and especially guidance from scripture about the need for and the practice of civility.
There’s been a lot of talk in the news about “civility” primarily related to politics. I want to address this from the standpoint of what scripture says about civility. One definition is “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” The word in ordinary usage comes to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle and measured. The scriptures are filled with angry discourse but also talk of charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech.
Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. (Eccl 10:12)
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. (Eccles 9:17)
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19)
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11)
In his article Concerns for Civility, Mgsr Charles Pope says “The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less hyper-sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be “clarity” with “charity,” the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. Perhaps an old saying comes to mind: Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”
And I share this thought from the Institute for Civility in Government. “Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s is ignored.”
The word within this message that is most striking to me is “listen”. We all need to practice the somewhat lost art of listening. By taking the time to listen to one another and to look for common ground in the midst of our differences, we can go a long way in engaging in more civil behavior and discourse.
I pray that we will heed the scriptures and the wisdom to seek to be a more civil society in the midst of the uproar that seems to surround us.
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