Christians Must Return to Civility in U.S. Politics


This culture of disrespect and even hostility has filtered into our churches and among Christians and we need to call each other out about it, Olson writes.

Never in my lifetime have I experienced the kind of harsh rhetoric being thrown around between and among equally devout Christians over political differences of opinion.

Much of it happens on Facebook. Christians there (and elsewhere) are using ridicule, for example, not only to promote their own political preferences but also to demean and insult those who disagree with them.

This is happening increasingly from both "sides" of the political spectrum.

Seemingly it isn't enough to express and defend one's political beliefs; now many educated, normally civil and respectful Christians are going out of their way to offend even friends who disagree with them.

I have no objection to anyone, including Christians, having strong political opinions. But traditionally there has been a line we respect and do not cross.

We hold, express and defend our opinions but stop short of ridiculing those who disagree with us.

And we stop short of declaring their Christian faith as defective or even at stake if they disagree with us.

There can come a time when a Christian must say something like, "In my considered opinion, based on my understanding of the way of Jesus Christ, that candidate is not Christian."

But that does not say everyone who happens to support him or her is not a Christian. That is a line we should not cross.

I have seen Christians whom I respect and like use Facebook not only to express support for or opposition to a candidate and public policies but also to ridicule and demean everyone who disagrees with them. Christian friendships are being broken and crushed in this way.

The overall lack of civility in politics is seeping into Christian communities and friendships.

I hear some of my students saying, "I can't even talk with my family or some friends about politics because it leads directly to rants and even insults."

I tried to watch a political "debate" between leading candidates for a political party's nomination for candidacy for the office of president of the United States.

These should be men (they all happened to be men) who embody civility and reasonable disagreement.

Instead, as I watched and listened, they fell into loud arguing and accusing, shouting over each other and totally ignoring the format of the debate and the moderators.

Then I attempted to watch a national news network program in which two anchors queried representatives of the candidates' campaigns.

Both the anchors and the guests fell into interrupting each other so often that it was impossible to follow the conversation.

It devolved from a conversation into a shouting match with the news anchors participating and interrupting each other.

What really disturbs me is that people of genuine, heartfelt faith in Jesus Christ are joining the fray.

I remember the 1960 campaign between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Many conservative Protestants were more than worried about the "specter" of a Catholic president: Would he be subservient to the pope?

One family member said many times, "If Kennedy is elected president, we'll never have any but Catholic presidents after him."

But she stopped short of accusing fellow Christians, friends and fellow church members who supported Kennedy of being ignorant, stupid, duped, unspiritual or secretly Catholic. So did the vast majority of Christian Nixon supporters.

There was strong Protestant opposition to Kennedy, but not the kind of venom Christians are now displaying toward fellow Christians just because of their differences of opinion about the candidates and parties.

About a year ago, I visited a large, thriving, evangelical church for its Sunday morning worship service. I had visited before but not since the new pastor arrived.

The pastor was preaching from the story of Deborah and Barak but said that he would not pronounce the name of the warrior because it is the same name as a "controversial politician."

A ripple of laughter ran through the large congregation. I walked out because I do not believe a sermon is the place to ridicule a president or anyone, for that matter.

Growing up in the heartland of America among evangelical Christians, we believed that we should respect whoever was president of the United States even if we strongly disagreed with his policies.

My family opposed many of Kennedy's policies and voted for Nixon in that 1960s election.

I can even remember going door to door when I was only 8 or 9 years old handing out leaflets supporting Nixon.

But when Kennedy was assassinated, we mourned just like (almost) everyone else.

He was our president even if we vehemently disagreed with some of his political views and policies.

Something has changed in America's social climate - especially with regard to politics and government.

The atmosphere is one that encourages disrespect and even hostility - not only toward candidates and politicians but also toward friends who support the "wrong ones."

This culture of disrespect and even hostility has filtered into our churches and among Christians and we need to call each other out about it.

Christians should hold our political opinions more lightly than we do our fellowship with friends and fellow Christians.

We should not cross the line from expressing our opinions to ridiculing or demeaning people who happen to disagree.

It seems self-evident. Yet, I suspect many will disagree and go right on using Facebook and other outlets to express not only their views but also their hostility and low opinion of those who disagree.

Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including "Against Calvinism" and "The Story of Christian Theology." This article is edited from a longer version that first appeared on his blog. It is used with permission.

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Tags: Civility, Presidential Election, Roger Olson, Social Media, Speech


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