The lost art of civility

screaming-1368564297America has for centuries been a shining beacon of democracy for the world. The people of the world want to live here, vacation here and have their medical procedures done here. Our elections have been a model for the world’s governments who too often cannot transfer power without the shedding of blood. With the risk of sounding boastful, our model of freedom, based upon individual rights and responsibility, has made us the greatest nation in the world.

Dr. Oz Guinness shared recently that America has been unique because of our “Civil Public Square”. In the ancient world there was an actual “public square” where people would gather and discuss issues of the day. In more recent centuries that public square was figurative as books, newspapers, magazines and more recently radio and television have been the place of discourse. Today our “Public square” is “virtual.”  With the internet and devices, everyone is everywhere speaking to all people at once.

Dr. Guinness described the three types of public squares in the world, The Sacred public square where government and the church are one. You are only free to embrace the ideas of the prescribed religion. Detractors are punished. Iran, Saudia Arabia are modern examples. The Naked public square where there is absolutely no religion allowed at all. Communism has illustrated this well over the 20th century. In this square all religion is banned and the faithful are persecuted.

America has had a third type of public square that he called the Civil Public Square. This is based upon the first amendment which ensures the freedom for all people to assemble, to speak, to choose and the added freedom of conscience. All views are welcome and respected with civility. One is free to meet with whomever they choose, say whatever they desire , choose to do or not do based on preference and free to do or not do because of deeply held conscientious convictions.

The nature of the civil public square is illustrated with a boxing metaphor. In ancient boxing the boxers had no boundaries and fought until their opponent was dead. They literally boxed all over the courtyard or town. Later an Englishman “civilized” boxing with a ring, rounds of certain length and the respect of one boxer to another that began the match with them touching gloves. An official watched over the match, a winner was declared and everyone went home… alive! Our democracy has been much like that. We have vigorous debate, play by the rules, respect our opponent and then respect the outcome. That is what makes us civil and different from most of the world.

Sadly, civility is disappearing! Just look on your social media feed. This election cycle has brought out the worst in all of us and our respect and tolerance of other opinions can no longer be discussed without vitriol and sometimes hatred itself.  We are systematically removing the boundaries around the “ring” again and “boxing” without rules with the aim of killing our opponents.

Today not all views are respected.   Religious freedom is being pushed out of the public square. We are moving more and more to the “Naked” public square where religion is demonized and labeled as discrimination. Freedom of conscience is no longer regarded and other freedoms will soon be gone as well.

My friend Dr. John Neihoff recently wrote; A free and democratic republic is based upon a freedom of speech which allows a healthy, lively, and civil conversation about a nation, its values, its direction, and its beliefs. When discourse dies, the chains of enslavement clank in the shadows. For when discourse dies, dissent dies with her.

Ideas die with her. Integrity dies with her. Honest quest for truth dies with her. Freedom dies with her!

 So as we enter the final weeks of this election cycle here are three things to remember.

  • In America we win by persuasion not coercion.

If we cannot win out of sound arguments, good logic and rigorous debate we cannot win. Coercion is for the despot not the free.

  • Guard what you say on social media.

Virtual communication is detached from emotional accountability and often is misunderstood. In other words we often will say something on social media that we would never say to someone’s face. This kills civility!

  • Finally as Christians remember we are followers Jesus.

As disciples our behavior should reflect his. Our treatment of others should be modeled after his treatment of others. Our goal is the glory of God not the promotion of a political agenda and our hope is not found in a donkey or an elephant but is found in the Lamb of God!


About Pastor Troy Keaton

Founding pastor at EastLake Community Church at Smith Mountain Lake Virginia. View all posts by Pastor Troy Keaton

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