Civil Discourse: In Religion & Politics

We all do honour to what we believe when we give witness to those beliefs in civil discourse. I could be right or wrong. You could be right or wrong. But the correctness or incorrectness of ideas and beliefs does not change how we should treat one another — ever.

It is a trap that any and all of us fall into with painful regularity: acting as though a point of disagreement (or many) authorizes us to speak unkindly towards those with whom we disagree. We are carried away by emotion. We feel justified in raising our voice in order to be heard over top of the errors of the other. We want to win the argument. We want them to change. We want their erroneous ideas and beliefs to go away. So, we scream, we use harsh language, we insult them, we show disrespect.

This is not the way of Jesus, however. Not at all.

Jesus confronted everyone. He did not simply go around collecting people with whom he agreed. He did not gather the good and leave everyone else to their own. Instead, he gave witness to the truth. He debated with some. He gave insight. And, most of all, he showed people what he meant by the way he lived.

Jesus treated everyone as a child of God — even when he found them to be more interested in the ways of evil. He taught through his example that respect for the other person is essential to a relationship with them. And everyone deserves respect; even when they are persecuting you (or even killing you).

The debates inside the church and in the broader society have been, far too often, shaped by emotion untempered by reason. In our zeal to stand up for what we believe to be right, we have reduced ourselves to the behaviour of small children fighting with each other on a playground. Since we believe we are right and the other is wrong, we have seldom even winced at the cruelties we’ve lobbed at others. And we have taken each wound inflicted upon us as justification to loosen up on restraint and counter-attack with more fury.

I disagree with many people. I fight for what I believe is right; by witnessing to it in word and deed. In all of this, however, I try to remember that one of the things Jesus teaches is right and truthful is that we need to love our enemies. We need to pray for those with whom we struggle. We need to pray for their welfare, for their good, for their happiness, and their peace. As much as we would seek to change their opinions, this is of secondary importance to the fact that we need to love them as we wish to be loved. Indeed, we need to love them as God loves them.

Love one another as Christ Jesus loves us first. This is a basic command and teaching that is a foundation stone of the Christian life. It is not optional. Advocating for any cause amidst a life framed by anything less than this love is an abomination — no matter the cause or the issue.

Let us love God and one another first.

Then let us struggle with one another so that, together, we can discern what the Spirit of God is saying to us today.