On January 10, 2011

Civility

This weekend, for the first time since an assasination attempt occurred on Ronald Reagan, an elected official was fired at. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was out at a local Safeway doing a kind of meet and greet with her constituents, when a man armed with a Semi-automatic approached her shooting point-blanke at her head…and then fired off 19 extra shots for good measure.

He even killed a nine year old kid.

Chances are, unless you live under a rock somewhere you’ve already heard about this…a lot. And unless you were actually there you have gotten a lot of interpretation along with the facts. Sarah Palin was to blame, or the Democrats were somehow at fault. But the truth is, I think we are all a little bit complicit. And here’s what I mean by that.

I’ve written hundreds of blogs over the past several years, some of them I no longer even agree with. I tried to ask a lot of questions and listen to the feedback I receive with an open mind. But as I looked over some of my past post, by far the post’s that were the most viewed and discussed were on politics. Something that I am obviously not an expert on. But the most disturbing part to me was the kinds of comments that those posts got. I have questioned things like the Trinity on here. I’ve wrestled with doubt here. I’ve talked about different world religions on here. But the only time I’ve ever got truly negative feedback was when I talk about political things. As a pastor that got me thinking, because where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Why are politics such a volitile subject for Christians to discuss. I doubt most of us would say our political opinions are the most important thing in our lives. Most Jesus followers would agree that who the sitting President is doesn’t deter the Kingdom of God. So why do we get so worked up during these kinds of conversations?

There are plenty of answers out there, like nationalism (making your nation an idol more important that God), or the 24 hour news networks that use fear and sensationalism to compete for ratings. Or maybe it’s the billions of dollars spent in election ads for candidates to demonize one another. But more important than the cause is the effect. From Joe Adams yelling at the President, “You lie!” to the assassination attempt this last weekend we are losing the ability to disagree with manners.

The root word of Civilization is civility. It is the ability to be around people that are different than yourself without resorting to violence or extreme animosity. It’s one of the greatest things about this country, and it is quickly becoming one of the hardest things to find here as well.

Once upon a time, God entered into the world, into the politically charged environment of that day. Jesus’ was a day when thousands of different ideas were floating around about what God was doing in the world, how God’s people should engage with the Empire of the day. And into that world Jesus introduced a new idea. It was just this: “Love God and Love people.” In fact, you can tell how well you are loving God, by how you are treating people. ¬†Now, If you’re not a Christian, than this post is irrelevant, it’s a good idea, but probably not going to be your priority. If you are a Christian this is mandatory. Our primary job isn’t to get the right person on the throne, or that bill passed , or that bill repealed. Those desires may be good servants but they are horrible masters.

The truth is that civility is lost whenever our ideas become more important than people.

Here’s some homework for you loyal blog reader/s…What if this week we just listened to our normal news stations, NPR, Fox News, CNN, whatever. What if we just listened to them with this one question in our mind. Does this idea that they are peddling make me love people more…or less?

And if it doesn’t…stop watching it.

You know, we are coming up on Martin Luther King Jr. day. He lived in an electric time of ¬†hostility. The Black Panthers wanted violent retribution on one side, and the powerful ruling white leaders wanted Jim Crow laws to stay in tact. But for all his passion and drive, Dr. King didn’t lose his civility.In fact, it was his strength. He fought with kindness and made his enemies see in him their shared humanity. He made them see him as a person. And he did it all by treating them like one.

Because no idea is more important than the people around you.

And that, of course, is the best idea of all.

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  • Brandon Scott Thomas

    One of the many reasons I LOVE YOU, JS! Awesome post, bro!

  • Matthew Pinson

    well said.

  • Candy

    This makes me think of the saying “Do I want to be right or have a relationship?” We use that one a lot around our house. It helps you stop and think. Not that I’m always right. That is most assuredly not true. But sometimes the relationship needs to come before everything else.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Brandon, I really appreciate you too brother!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks buddy, I thought of some of our conversations when I wrote this.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    I love that question Mrs. Candy. The desire to be right can be so tempting, I love reframing our conversations with that question. Thanks for weighing in!

  • http://twitter.com/pcunningham3 Philip Cunningham

    Fine thoughts, Jonathan. I’ve had some reflections on James 3 — wondering about the power of our tongue. I thought Bill Clinton’s comments in a clip on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” — about the words we use, and how they fall on the stable & unstable alike — were especially on point.

    Still not ready to reduce the importance of politics in our lives. Because it still holds great influence. And the kinds of topics it touches upon are the same kinds of issues that Scripture wrestles with.

  • Tonya Gambill

    I totally agree Jonathan. This breaks my heart and seems so senseless. Love thy neighbor as thyself comes to mind in all of our dealings. Very difficult to do sometimes but the payoffs are tremendous. Media helps to shape our ideas and morals in so many ways and I wish it was more accountable.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Philip, I really like Bill Clinton’s take on that. I don’t think that politics are unimportant, like I said I think they are a great servant and a horrible master. The problem is that we are unable to name the power these opinions and issues have over us.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks sis. Yeah, words create, and I think that our pundits would be well served to realize that what they say matters. And God’s people would be well served to be careful to what words they listen to.

  • Joelg121

    Thank you Jonathan – this last year I committed to Sojourners’ Covenant of Civility in regard to our political discussions. It’s extremely difficult sometimes to disagree without being disagreeable. The only surprising thing about events in Arizona is that it doesn’t happen more often in thjis culture of fear, insecurity, and anger which makes it even moere important that we, as Jesus followers,, practice the love we preach

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Joel, that sounds interesting. I know about Sojourners, but I haven’t heard about that covenant. Do you have a link? Thanks for sharing Joel.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Joel, that sounds interesting. I know about Sojourners, but I haven’t heard about that covenant. Do you have a link? Thanks for sharing Joel.

  • Tutt84

    I would also like to say if you know an unstable person do what you can to get them help. I have come across a person like the guy who shot these people. He ended being committed to a state institution. I hated that was the end result but if it saved peoples lives it was the right thing to do. Please keep in mind this was an extreme case and both friends and family were concerned about this person.

    The more I read about this person he was very mentally unstable and there were people around him who knew it. Again if you are in a position to help or assist someone in getting help do what you can. I can’t promise it won’t be messy but caring about people can be messy at times.

  • Robyn

    Jonathan, Thank you for reminding people about civility. It is so lacking in our world. It was so sad to read about the tragedy in Tucson. I would like to share some thoughts from my own personal experiences in government.

    As a staffer for an elected official I think many people confuse governing and politics. Governing is what my boss does day to day. She meets with people, tries to understand their point of view, attempts to make laws that help–not harm. Our office truly wants to have your voice heard. In the Texas Legislature, life is way more about representing the best interest of your district, than it is about your political affiliation. Politics centers around elections and ideology. Governing centers around public service.

    In my four years as a staffer, I have experienced good people from every party. I respect liberals and conservatives and each has taught me a lot. When you call my office, no matter who you are or how you voted or didn’t vote, I am there to help you interact with state systems. I have been called horrible names, cursed at, hung up on and even approached at church about how wrong my boss is on a topic. Just because your voice is the loudest, does not mean you or your group has the correct answer.

    The vast majority of elected officials I know are not getting rich by being elected–matter of fact–they are probably losing money by serving you. Most are not on a power trip, they feel called to run by a certain circumstance or need.

    Politics, like religion, can be a very divisive topic. But as Christians, by participating in government our motives should be in bringing light to the world–not winning at all costs or advancing agendas that God would be ashamed of. We may not all agree on how to do this, but I would hope that by listening to each other and praying for God’s help in discerning what is right, we can solve some of the really big problems.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Good point Tutt84, I’ve interacted with a lot of unstable people. (My sister might say those our family reunions) and it is always messy and complicated. It’s sad to think about how this could have been avoided if someone would have taken the time to diagnose what was going on with him. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Robyn, I’m really glad you wrote this. It’s good have a different perspective, and you obviously have a different (closer) one. I appreciate your parsing Politics from governance. You’re right, most public servants get into office to serve, not for public recognition or power. And one of the questions I’ve had through the years is how should Jesus followers balance this?

    I don’t think that we are called to fully withdraw from any public venue. It just seems like Christians (at least the very public ones) are just as easily tempted with power as anyone else.

    I’m sorry that people have dumped so much garbage on you through the years, especially those who have done it at church. Thanks for being in that office trying to live out a countercultural Jesus ethic. Blessings on your ministry there Robyn!

  • Kathy

    Bravo, Jonathan!! Bravo!!
    Nothing I’ve seen said or written about this horrendous event and the immediate onslaught of accusations and finger pointing, nothing has been written or said that I’ve seen that would outshine your comments. They are so spot on and Christ-like. A favor. Might I copy this to a small ‘faith’ board where a friend and I are mentoring a group of younger women from all over the country, better said, the Americas, even one gal from Poland. They are struggling with mixed emotions in the aftermath of this unbelievable slaughter.

    I’d ask the same favor of Robyn. Her response mirrors yours in mature thought, pure heart and asking that we all mirror Jesus, not the media, not pundits …. no human being, only Jesus.

    Bless you for your tender but firm words coming from an equally tender but firm heart and love from Jesus. I’m so thankful that you accepted to be our new pastor/teacher at Highland!! May your days be blessed!!!

  • Maynard

    Jonathan, I appreciate your thoughts and I join you in being disgusted with the blame game that has ensued as a result of this tragedy. You know my political leanings, but I no more blame this man’s actions on Sarah Palin than I do on Minnie Pearl. I am with you in that there is plenty of blame to go around and none of us is entirely exempt.

    You know that political discussions can get my blood to boiling. Yes, I have realized that the political topics you have blogged about get more comments than some of the more spiritually-oriented ones. I think as Christians we are growing much more comfortable with other Christian’s theologies and denomination’s teachings (i.e. the lack of comments on some posts), but as evangelicals we are all too often taught and led by word and example to not be so generous of those of other political ideologies. No longer are we taught to hate and question the morality of the Catholics on one end of the spectrum or the old-school Pentecostals on the other, but it is still accepted in so many evangelical circles to demonize any liberal person or position no matter how sincere and biblically-faithful the person holding it might be.

    My issue is not with Christians being involved in politics. No, my problem is with so many of the leaders of contemporary evangelicalism sharing a political bed with secular leaders in order to legislate morality while joining with said leaders in demonizing those who hold to biblical notions regarding the least among us and expecting the rest of the evangelicals to follow suit. There are certain things that I believe that the kingdom is called to do that many of our leaders have decided would best be done legislatively and politically.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Mrs. Kathy, I can’ speak for Robyn, but I am fine with your reposting my stuff on your board. Thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate you too!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    I don’t know, Minnie Pearl has been kind of asking for it lately.

    You’re last paragraph was well said. (The first two weren’t bad). I think that’s probably my biggest beef as well. If I lived in another area of the country I’m sure I would have the same issues just with the other side of the political spectrum though. I just have knee jerk reactions to equating implicitly the Kingdom of God with specific legislation or policies. Thanks for weighing in Maynard.

  • Kathy

    Robyn, We don’t know one another but your wonderful comment here gave me a wonderful insight to your service to and for our LORD!!
    I’d asked Jonathan for permission to post his comments on the small ‘Faith’ board a friend and I use to mentor a bunch of younger women in the Faith. Jonathan’s and your response would be of such encouragement and help them sort out mixed emotions and thoughts about Saturdays horrific event. May I have you permission to copy your response along with Jonathan’s blog entry for them?
    Thanks for considering my request.
    In His eternal love, grace and mercy

  • Robyn

    Thanks Kathy! You may repost if you wish.

  • Peter Mosley

    Jonathan, I have occasionally struggled with Christianity — some of the attitudes I have seen close Christian friends of mine take regarding politics has, honestly, severely tested my own faith.

    There are things that I am strongly against. Abortion is one of those that come to mind. I would like to think that, had I been living in Nazi Germany, I would not be a Christian that shut up about politics; I’ve got respect for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But the attitude too often seems to be one of snobbery, hate, pride and less of sincere love (for the world, not just America). It That’s honesty that hits close to home for me.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Peter, thanks for weighing in. Yeah, there are things that I am strongly against as well. And I don’t think abdicating social resposnsibility is the answer for God’s people. But really what I just said in this post was the greatest commandment. My call was for that to become the priority in our lives, and our approach to social engagement.

    Again thanks for weighing in brother, hope all is well with you Peter!

  • http://pedroemose.blogspot.com/ Peter Mosley

    I was trying to agree with you — the attitude of nobbery, hate, and pride instead of sincere love (for the world, not just America) that I often see in American Christianity is something that often gets me really, really upset, and I’m glad you discussed that here.

  • qb

    Jonathan, I hope you’ll forgive me for interjecting with my obtuseness, but can you draw for me the causal linkage between rhetorical incivility and THIS PARTICULAR gunman’s actions? The pervasiveness of the narrative wherein the temperature and imagery of political rhetoric are implicated in the Tucson shooting seems to be way out of proportion to the amount of evidence that has been marshaled to support it – which proportion appears to be virtually nil – and seems also to be way out of phase with the piles and piles of historical data in which white-hot, military-derived imagery – a rhetorical norm in American politics if there ever were one – stimulated precisely zero actual violence.

    Your conclusions are right on, of course; I just don’t see how you get there by starting in southern Arizona. At least not without tacitly adopting a simplistic narrative that is too politically convenient by half and that was foisted on a naive public by cynical, left-leaning opportunists among the ruling elite. There is nothing apolitical about the emergence of that would-be, explanatory narrative.

    Carry on,

    qb