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Why Christians Must Seek Civility in Communication

A group of 25 religious leaders met in Washington, D.C., recently to promote civil discourse. They wanted to turn down the harshness of the rhetoric in our nation’s capital.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, told the media, “Faith leaders have a remarkable opportunity to shift the conversation, but it’s very challenging, particularly in a larger society that wants to understand everything as a battle, as engaging the enemy, rather than with someone who might have something to teach us.”

This group wants to establish a National Day of Civil Discourse.

Christian communication differs from ordinary communication in its attitude toward the other.

As a practitioner in the areas of interpersonal and organizational communication, I adopted as my definition of communication one that I found many years ago.

“Communication is the transmission and reception of thoughts, feeling and ideas either verbally or nonverbally in order to secure a response.” It is the best definition of communication I have found.

To cast it more for Christian purposes, I insert the word “respectful” before transmission. Communication is the respectful transmission and reception of thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Christian communication strives for the best results for those it affects. We must be careful not to distort the message. Christian communication must be honest; however, honesty alone is not enough. Attitudes of love and faith must be bound into the interaction.

Although I may be communicating a message that is painful or even one that includes unpleasant consequences, it must recognize the ability of people to change. Our communication should reveal the unity within the Christian community.

Christian communication is not a weak, watered-down version of the message. It must be a bold statement of the truth, as we know it, but delivered with a deep respect for the other and the message.

The message should contain no barbs, no hidden agendas, no gossip and no “got-yous.” It should map the territory as accurately as possible. It must be uplifting, encouraging and full of grace.

According to the psalmist, our words and the meditations of our heart from where those words spring must be acceptable unto God. There cannot be a hint of evil or guile.

“Let your communication be yea, yea and nay, nay” (Matthew 5:37). If we are to be ready to give an answer as to the hope that we feel, we must have thought our faith through so that our response is properly seasoned (see 1 Peter 3:15).

Few people have someone who really listens to them. When we truly listen, we give the other person the most valuable thing we have – our time.

Active listening is a true gift of caring. As listeners, we must work hard to hear the message with as little distortion as possible.

We must hear what the speaker is saying and not what we wish he were saying or should be saying. We must not allow our like of the speaker or our dislike of him or her or our favor or disfavor of the subject to cloud our hearing.

We must withhold our judgment of the message until we have fully heard it. Christian communication places a high calling on both our expression and our reception of the message.

Reading also demands that we approach the text with the same respectful attitude. There should be no barriers as to what a Christian is permitted to read, but much that he or she chooses not to read.

We must be careful not to misinterpret the writer’s message or attribute meanings that he or she did not intend. What we read or do not read reveals a great deal about us, as does what we watch or do not watch.

Our nonverbal communication requires our attention as well. Body language is everything about us except the actual words we use.

Our actions, manners, dress, posture, hygiene, facial expressions, vocal tone and loudness either confirm or negate our message.

As our mothers told us, the company we keep sends a message. Our reputation often precedes us and contributes to a positive or negative reception of our message and us.

What is Christian communication? Christian communication is anything we say or do that advances the message of Christ.

Mitch Carnell is the founder of Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday. He and his wife, Carol, are members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. He blogs at MitchCarnell.com.