What Happened to Civility?

The catchphrase used to be, “Chivalry is not dead.” (Although that is probably too gender offensive for today’s hyper-sensitive vernacular police). Evangelical leaders, I challenge you to consider a less difficult mantra: “Is civility dead?”

What happened to the era when being kind to someone – (especially someone with whom you disagree) was appropriate and even commended?

The vitriolic tones and discord being communicated today within the Christian community leave me dumbfounded. Often, I see highly respected people who have faithfully led the way for decades suddenly get lambasted for simply recommending a book that presumptively contains heretical teachings. I always wonder how the critics had time to read the book that had only hit the shelves that very day. It reminds me of Congressional leaders who voted on a bill that they would read later.

What about when a local pastor is asked to pick a side between John MacArthur and Beth Moore? When it comes to a topic like women in ministry, he cannot remain silent. But in this day of inflexible labels and immutable camps, trepidation cautions him to give an off-the-cuff response.

Or should he merely remove all books from both of those authors that presently sit on his bookshelves and flippantly pick a side? Maybe an old-fashioned book-burning would be more advantageous.

And heaven forbid any spiritual leader put his arm around a state or federal politician! When a pastor cannot pray for an elected official in public, nor commend any of that leader’s commendable actions for fear of being labeled or limited, this Catch-22 highlights the reality that many of our churches are merely swimming in a cesspool of irrelevancy disguised as a critical battle as important as defending the Alamo.

Everything shouldn’t be a battle.

Having grown up in the Southern Baptist Convention and holding two degrees from an SBC seminary, I am thankful for the conservative resurgence. I love our convictions to God’s Word and I am fully committed to God’s mission. Still, I’m gravely concerned with the undercurrent of battle-ready language accompanying so many current topics. If everything within our denomination becomes a battle, then we are losing the real battle.

Without question, all topics — including, but not limited to, women in ministry, ethnic diversity, evangelism and discipleship, immigration, sanctity of life, marriage, biblical sexuality, church polity, etc. — should continue to permeate our discussions. And without hesitation, we should promptly respond to and proactively act on the misgivings, neglects or abuses of any such areas that allowed or even led to harming the bride of Christ or hindering the mission of God.

But where is the fruit when the very people who teach, preach and write about the Bible do not seem to reflect the very Bible they expound? And should any peer point out such un-Christlike behavior, their voice is swiftly dismissed, or worse, their character is questioned. Such quick depositions have become the norm for our denominational culture.

Following the conservative resurgence, your voice was not heard unless you held to the inerrancy of Scripture. With that seminal battle behind us, the culture of influence seemed to slide into a more subjective vetting. One’s voice was not heard unless their church gave the right percentage of money to missions through the Cooperative Program. And in recent times, the slippery slope appears to indicate that your voice will not be heard unless your church has the right number of men-to-women ratio in your church polity or appropriate ethnic diversity on the platform each week.

A disagreement doesn’t need to be a war.

For the average pastor – who is trying to be scholar, shepherd, supporter of all things SBC, visionary, evangelist, mentor, mentee, discipler, and preacher – it seems that we leaders are still stubborn sheep. I’d rather be a pastor who lives a life above reproach than a revolutionary who creates wars out of disagreements.

I will continue to diversify my intake from blogs and books while checking it all with the uncompromising standard of Scripture and discernment from the Spirit. But I refuse to get enlisted in a war that should merely be a debate.

Today’s evangelical leaders are not perfect, nor were the Gospel writers, nor am I. I hear a lot of debate on what Paul said or Moses wrote or Peter espoused. Still, I feel certain that God is the One who spoke His own structures and qualifications through each sovereignly chosen biblical writer.

Jesus is the only perfect vessel. Scripture is the only perfect writing. It is only by His grace and sanctification any of us are even a part of what is going to be presented as blameless at the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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