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We live in an age where many find it difficult to carry on a civil conversation with others who hold to different political views or faith traditions. The powerful and pervasive mass media, social media, and a seemingly on-going decline of traditional values are just a few of the common sources that fuel this environment of tense discord. In this polarized social climate, many Christians find it difficult to navigate relationships with friends and even family. Such division presents a problem for well-intentioned people who want to get along with others in their neighborhoods, communities, and workplaces without compromising their positions on issues of importance to them.
As ambassadors for Christ, Christians should seek God’s guidance, and commit to interacting with others in a God-honoring manner.
With this in mind, here are a few principles to consider:
Integrity, without civility, is diminished.
Christians are called to share the truth and transforming power of the gospel as presented in the Bible. Therefore, many Christians would agree that to compromise the beliefs and principles set forth in the Bible would represent a lack of integrity – a key value to which Christians should aspire. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines integrity as, “Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility.” This definition leaves no room for compromise on moral or sacred values. However, Christians must also discern that civility, while subordinate to integrity, is also essential to living a life in accordance to God’s Word. How can Christians display integrity while routinely lambasting others who hold different viewpoints? It isn’t possible. Clearly, to do so would reflect a lack of integrity to the Christian beliefs upon which they stand firm.
So, here we find that these values should be lived out in tandem throughout our daily interactions.
Yale professor and author of Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, Stephen L. Carter refers to civility as the habit of the heart and orientation of the soul that enables us “to come into the presence of our fellow human beings with a sense of awe and gratitude.” It is a social lubricant that comes from “the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together.”
Seek and maintain pure motives.
As Christians, we are called to promote peace with others. Jesus stated in Matthew 5:9 (NIV), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Furthermore, Paul states in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Scripture clearly tells us that we are to be more motivated to represent our heavenly Father as peacemakers, than by winning debates.
In a more pedestrian sense, when we approach others with a posture of humility and a desire to develop a relationship built on mutual respect as those created in the image of God, our primary motive is honorable. We will seek to find “common ground” and develop relationships based on those things upon which we agree. We don’t have to compromise our principles in relationships. In fact, we can demonstrate our commitment to our values by being kind, considerate and civil toward those who hold different opinions.
Remember the “Golden Rule.”
It seems that our selfish nature frequently interferes with a basic principle that most of us learned in kindergarten: “treat others how you’d like to be treated.” This Golden Rule is derived from Matthew 7:12, which says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
In many cases, we find it difficult to put this simple rule into practice. It proves to be simple to understand, but not easily mastered! Certainly, we want others to treat us with respect and compassion when we hold to or express beliefs that are different from theirs. Even when our positions are so significantly different that it prevents us from maintaining friendships, we should strive to treat others according to the Golden Rule.
The next time we find ourselves engaged in a discussion revolving around a touchy subject, let’s keep these three principles in mind. While it is important to remain firmly devoted to the truths of the Bible and never compromise our belief in them, there are times when we may be tempted to fiercely defend positions that are grounded in our faith simply for fear of being considered weak, or from a prideful posture of heart. It is during these times that we should remember the words of St. Francis De Sales: “There is nothing so strong as gentleness, and nothing so gentle as true strength.”