The people's voice of reason

Respect and Civility: Where Have They Gone? Part Two

Civility is formal politeness in behavior and speech! Civility comes from the Latin word “civis” which means “citizen”. So, civility is civilized conduct.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about civility.

“Treat others the way you want to be treated.” - Jesus, Luke 6:31

“Let your conversations be always full of grace and seasoned with salt.” - Paul, Colossians 4:6

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” - James, James 1:19

Well, I think it is safe to say that there is a serious and dangerous lack of civility in public discourse right now. Left vs right. Extremes vs moderates. So, treacherous are the positions and the language that some have predicted a coming civil war- not between states but between dogmas. This war won’t be about race or economics. It will be about ideology and power. And who gets the last word.

The problem in America right now isn’t that we disagree. In fact, healthy disagreement can be very constructive. We need to challenge each other to look at other points of view, other beliefs, other feelings, and other traditions.

No. The problem in our country right now isn’t that we disagree. The problem is that we disagree most disagreeably! In our cancel culture, some people want to cancel us out if we disagree with them. Strip us of any opinion or belief that doesn’t line up with theirs. Destroy any idea that doesn’t line up with their opinion.

How do we recover civility? That is the right question!

My friend Shane Bishop, Senior Pastor, Christ Church, Fairview Heights, IL, gives us some wise advice and keen insights on how to recover civility. Let me share them with you:

1. Build relationships

We talk differently to people for whom we care (regardless of their positions). Perhaps we should discuss the names of our kids before we talk politics or religion. Differing opinions on important topics require withdrawals from emotional bank accounts. Relationships make deposits. When we are overdrawn, nothing good is going to happen.

2. Vow to do no harm

There is no reason to hurt people and things said in hurtful ways eradicate all possibility of honest and helpful conversation. I come across so many inciting posts these days and wonder, “What possible good can come out of that?”

3. Show some respect

People who think differently than we often have very different life experiences. Knowing that if you came from a different race or a different place, you may think differently than you do, is a good foundation upon which respect can be built.

4. Converse to hear

So often we enter discourse strictly to be heard. We can’t wait for the person talking to shut up so we can set them straight. This unhelpful dynamic is what the television news shows serve up piping hot about twenty-five hours a day. Make your goal empathy and reject antipathy.

5. Control your impulses

Every stressed person in the world wants to say dumb crap. Our hearts beat fast, adrenaline surges and we want to deliver a single knock-out punch to our opponent to end our discomfort. Simmer. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Learn to associate high inner stress with silence.

6. Obtain information more widely

An understanding that people of good character, faith and intelligence can posit somewhere differently than you have on an issue is essential to civil discourse. By getting information widely, I find an intellectual baseline for a conversation and gain some credibility with people who stand on the other side of an issue. Change your news channel every now and then.

7. Be honest

PC culture is a disaster. We all walk on eggshells. We lie with our silence. Telling people what we really think and how we really feel is essential but we must learn to do it with love on one hand and the chip off our shoulders on the other.

8. Stay at the table

The most powerful affirmation you can offer someone during the “heat of the moment” is to “stay in it” when they know most everyone else holding your position would have walked away. Presence can be powerful: A non-anxious presence is more powerful yet. Stay at the table. Just remember your manners.

9. Keep smiling

I often tell people, “I am an orthodox United Methodist Pastor but I’m not in a bad mood about it and I’m not going to argue about it.”

10. Remember the Golden Rule

Don’t treat people like they treat you. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. You don’t “deserve” to be disrespected and others don’t either.

Civility – can we get it back? Yes! But we will have to do our part.

Here is the deal: We do not all think alike. We do not all look alike. We do not all worship alike. We do not all vote alike. But we are very much alike. We all need faith, hope and love. We all need community, purpose and an ethic by which to live. And we all need to figure out how to get along with each other. Fast.

Civility is not the end game, the end game is a free, united and prospering nation. But civility is a choice that each of us can make…


Lester Spencer, Lead Pastor, Saint James Church

P.S. If this article was helpful to you, check out last months Part One of this series on Respect. Go to


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