BreakPoint: Civility Now

Our Democracy Depends on It

Democracy requires that citizens actually talk with each other. When we’re no longer capable of that, things fall apart.

If there’s an emblem of the hysteria gripping American politics these days, it might just be comedienne Kathy Griffin holding what looks like President Donald Trump’s bloody, severed head. Griffin apparently thought her joke to be some kind of brave political message, but nobody laughed, least of all CNN, who fired her.

Now Griffin says she’s receiving abuse and death threats. To which some political commentators have responded, “if you can’t take it, Kathy, don’t dish it out.” But there’s an even more urgent point to this story—Our political discourse has gone off the rails. And if we don’t rein it in, our democracy cannot last.

Whether it was violent protests at U.C. Berkley and Middlebury College over conservative speakers, or the Montana Republican congressional candidate who allegedly punched a reporter, both sides of the political spectrum seem to have lost civility and decency.

No incident better illustrates this than the chaos at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Protests and counter-protests were punctuated by a campus-wide lockdown last Thursday after someone called 911 saying he was headed there with a gun to “execute as many people” as possible.

The Washington Post reports that students and others were walking around with baseball bats destroying campus property—so far over $10,000 worth.

What started all of this? Well apparently, biology professor Bret Weinstein dared to question Evergreen’s so-called “Day of Absence,” which this year involved white students being asked to leave campus during lectures on racism and privilege.

Now get this—Weinstein is a progressive, but thought that this reverse-segregation wasn’t a great idea. Students not only disagreed, but dozens of them stormed his class, “screaming about racism, white privilege, and even white supremacy.” When the college’s president, George Bridges, came to Weinstein’s defense, students screamed obscenities at him, too, and chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist teachers have got to go.”

Frank Bruni—another progressive—observes in the New York Times that these students aren’t really protesting at all; they’re “staging an inquisition.”

Yale professor Nicholas Christakis knows all about student rage. Back in 2015, he and his wife were shouted down for daring to question that school’s warning to students not to wear culturally insensitive Halloween costumes. Commiserating with Weinstein on Twitter, he wrote, “[My wife] spent her whole career” working with “marginalized populations,” “but they still came for her.”

It seems there’s no room left on modern college campuses for the cherished academic value of civility. “Increasingly,” writes Erika Christakis, colleges “have become places of censure and prohibition.”

Her suggestion for students? “Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

It’s good advice, but at the root of this problem is a society trying to maintain fragile concepts like human dignity and decency while long having abandoned anything to ground those concepts in the first place. Ad so it falls on Christians to be models of civility—in how we treat each other within the body of Christ (remember that the next time you’re on Facebook), and how we show respect and love to non-believers, even those trying to shout us down.

This doesn’t mean we’re to be weak or even silenced—not at all. Even if they keep shouting, as Chuck Colson said on this very program years ago, “Out of honor for the God we worship, and for the sake of our country, we should—we must—refuse to be silenced.”

Because in the end, the blessing of democracy depends in part on our willingness to debate those things that matter the most. And history shows us that if we continue losing our minds like this, someone’s eventually going to lose a head—but this time, maybe for real.


Further Reading and Information

Civility Now: Our Democracy Depends on It

People should be able to discuss topics from many perspectives while being respectful of others involved in the discussion. Christians, let’s show the world how it’s done. For more on this topic, check out the resources below.


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These Campus Inquisitions Must Stop
  • Frank Bruni | New York Times | June 3, 2017
'This Should Not Happen in America': Punished for Free Speech
  • Chuck Colson | | May 19, 2009
You're Shouting So Loud I Can't Hear You: The Church and Civil Discourse
  • Chuck Colson | | July 15, 1996

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • RobertArvanitis

    (Since I mention you, please see above.)

  • gladys1071

    I am grieved by the loss of civility too. It really is very disturbing that we cannot just agree to disagree about ideas and view points and realize that their is more than one point of view on issues and that everyone is different, with different opinions and point of views. I see this getting worse not better.

    • AtTheCrossroads

      Gladys . . . you can’t have your cake and eat it too. :o) It’s clear by that fact that you’re here commenting that you’re not simply content to “agree to disagree”. You care about what others think, which is really smart since “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” We have to be willing to honestly debate and discuss opposing viewpoints on important matters like life, freedom, etc. . . . or eventually it becomes too late.

      • gladys1071

        Oh so you are attacking me , who is not being civil then? did i say something that disturbs you? or are offended by? you are a good example of this article.

        • AtTheCrossroads

          Gladys, I’m truly sorry if you see this as an attack. I respect you for being here and sharing your opinions openly and honestly. I’m just trying to point out that when we enter the “fray” of dialogue on controversial matters, it’s not fair to retreat to relativism when we get uncomfortable. The reason we’re debating the various points of view presented is because we all believe that (at a minimum) some are more right than others. I think we can humbly admit that none of us is completely right about everything, while still believing that there are some things worth debating (even vigorously) because of the consequences of being wrong. Ideas always have consequences. Wrong ideas always end up causing some degree of harm. One of many distinctions between humans and all other living things is that our conscience compels us to evaluate right vs. wrong . . . both in our own thinking & behavior and that of other human beings. We can thank God for this even though it makes us uncomfortable at time. Blessings to you today!

          • gladys1071

            don’t worry about it i am over it, by the way i am not uncomfortable . I am aware that i am not completely right or wrong about everything, we are human beings and we don’t know everything only God does, all we can do is the best we can with the information we have, i think God’s grace is big enough for everyone.

    • Phoenix1977

      The LGBT community tried that so many times but Christians throughout history simply would allow us to live our lives as we saw fit. So we adopted a new strategy: “The best defense is a good offense”. And so far, it’s working fine for us.

      • fred2

        Tell that to the White transgender Antifa thug who sucker punched a Black guy simply for being a conservative. The Black conservative beat down the Antifa thug so badly he looked like one of Muhammad Ali’s opponents.

        I can’t say this incident surprises me. For years, many White liberals like the Antifa thug think they are free to use insults and even violence to control what we think. They act like slavery never ended.

        • Phoenix1977

          We only give back what we received for decades. Don’t blame us. Blame those who started all the injustice in the first place.

  • Joseph

    I appreciate the call for civility.

    However, nothing embodies the hysteria gripping American politics than the willingness of so many white Christians to declare their support for a lying, bigoted, enthusiastic sexual assaulter and con artist whose knowledge of Christianity begins and ends at “Two Corinthians,” and whose shamelessness and disgusting behavior knows no bounds.

    If there’s a cultural emblem of this hysteria, it’s certainly not Kathy Griffin. It’s people like Donald Trump, who got elevated to the most powerful position in the world despite his perverse character, with an assist from Christians now calling for “civility.”

    You want a pop culture/comedian reference? How about Trump’s buddy Ted Nugent, a right-wing folk hero who makes violent threats against Democrats and lusts after underage girls? The difference between Griffin and Nugent is that Griffin got fired and ostracized across the political spectrum. Nugent got an invitation to the Oval Office.

    I don’t expect you to write that story, though. However until I see a more even-handed piece, it looks like this call for civility is just a high-minded excuse to attack liberals again.

    • AtTheCrossroads

      Hey Joseph . . . let me see if I can explain for some of us Christians who voted for Trump in the presidential election even though we didn’t in the primary and certainly don’t consider him “our man” in respect to his personal conduct & character. First of all, I hope most Christians agree that conduct and character matters for anyone serving in a public office. I think that’s why the Republican primary was so close/divided in many respects.

      But to keep this short, once it was down to two candidates with any chance to win, I think many of us knew that the best hope to slow the decline of morality in general, and essential freedoms/rights of religion, conscience, life, property, etc was clearly to vote for Trump. For us, 4-8 more years of the self-destructive march towards socialism, globalism, and totalitarianism cross-dressed as “tolerance” just might unravel everything this country ever was. I personally knew/know it was a gamble to put a person in power like Donald Trump whose ego/self-interest seems to be the most important driver. But at least based on what he was saying and those with whom he was aligning, there was a chance at some return to what made America great in the first place. Funny thing to me was though I was pretty sure Mr. Trump had no solid understanding of what made America great in the first place, he just might succeed in restoring at least some measure of greatness in spite of himself.

      So far I’m encouraged and remain cautiously optimistic . . . but believe we must also be willing to hold his feet to the fire to continue to see progress.

      In respect to the call for civility, we all have to hold ourselves accountable to see any progress in this. I appreciate the moderators of this site working towards this goal on this forum, and wish they were given more respect in their attempts to do so.

      • gladys1071

        Do you have a problem with me commenting here? Or do you have a problem that i have a different view on abortion than you? I am responding to your previous comment to me where you said ” i can’t have my cake and eat it to” what did you mean by that?

      • Joseph

        I appreciate your attempt to explain support for Trump, although I question the sensibility of elevating the most immoral man imaginable in an attempt to restore morality.

        I agree that we all need to hold ourselves accountable, which is why it’s so disappointing to see articles like this that put the blame almost entirely on liberals.

        Where was this piece when Tea Partiers were marching with pictures of Obama with a bone through his nose? When Ted Nugent called Obama a “subhuman mongrel”? When conservatives played cutesy with the racist birther movement? Nothing but silence.
        That’s why I question the sincerity.

        If conservatives are serious in their calls for “civility,” I expect them to do more to call it out wherever it occurs. Starting at the White House.

        • Dr. T

          Joseph. I have looked all over the internet, but cannot find any pics of Tea Partiers “marching with pictures of Obama with a bone through his nose” – found such a pic on Google Images, but not from Tea Partiers. Do you have a link to such a Tea Party pic or was your statement based upon only hearsay?

          And exactly what was “racist” about the “birther movement?” I miss the connection between “racism” and some group’s wanting to verify a presidential candidate’s place of birth? I do not recall Trump or any public conservatives who opposed Obama ever questioning or denigrating his ethnicity – just mainly addressing his openly proclaimed aims and policies.

          BTW, I’m an Independent, and am often shocked – but not surprised – by the vehemence I see in today’s political arena!

          • Joseph

            Dr. T,

            Racism among Tea Party supporters is extensive and widely documented. I could spend all day sending you links of Republican operatives, local politicians, and grassroots organizers trafficking in disgusting racism.

            Since you asked specifically about Obama “witch doctor” signs, here’s one from a Tea Party protest:


            Here’s a small business owner in New Jersey:


            Here’s a T-shirt at a Tea Party convention in Myrtle Beach:


            Believe me, there’s plenty more where that comes from.

            Birtherism was a conspiracy theory designed to attack the legitimacy of America’s first black president. There was no evidence to support it (and nothing would placate people determined to make this an issue), but by repeating these lies about his birthplace, ethnicity, religion, etc., it was a way to tarnish him as being foreign, un-American, not like us. When it wasn’t the birth certificate they were after, it was his college grades. Unfortunately, many whites couldn’t grasp the fact that a black man could make it so far, and surpass them in education and accomplishment, so they lied to themselves that there must have been some excuse.

            To this day, minorities have always had to somehow prove their loyalty to the satisfaction of whites. If you’re a black protestor, you’re a thug. If you’re undocumented, you’re probably a rapist drug dealer, according to the President. If you’re Muslim, you’re a terrorist-sympathizer unless proven otherwise.

            Birtherism took off among Tea Party supporters because a large contingent were racist. This isn’t news-worthy. Republican politicians have been trafficking in racist appeals for decades — not because all Republicans are racist, but because there’s enough racial resentment among Republican primary voters to be politically beneficial.

            And here’s the thing — I don’t care about the extremists on the fringe (although concerned they’re seizing control of the Republican Party). They’re too far to reason with. I care about good Christians who should step up and call out this bigotry, but who remain silent and willfully blind.

            My larger point in all this is just that I think it’s obscene that after such a shameless display among the Republican Presidential nominee, and the extent that conservative Evangelicals have fallen in line behind him (no matter how they justify it to themselves), it apparently takes a D-list liberal celebrity for someone on this website to make a plea for “civility.”

            That’s rich.

        • AtTheCrossroads

          Hey Joseph, sounds like we both agree that the restoration of civility is a personal duty and that both “sides” need to hold themselves accountable. What I don’t understand, then, is your opposition to this article or unwillingness to take its invitation to civility seriously. You appear to have overlooked the fact that the author is calling out his own “side” on this: “. . . both sides of the political spectrum seem to have lost civility and decency.” -and- “. . . so it falls on Christians to be models of civility—in how we treat each other within the body of Christ (remember that the next time you’re on Facebook), and how we show respect and love to non-believers, even those trying to shout us down.”

          Can you give me an example of this kind of “mea culpa” from someone on the left writing to his own about being more civil to their opposition? Seems like you want to oppose just for the sake of opposing anything you find here . . . which makes it hard to take you seriously.

          • Joseph

            It is simply false equivalency to argue that both sides are equally to blame for our lack of civility.

            Trump just ran arguably the MOST uncivil presidential campaign in our nation’s history, attacking everyone, threatening to jail his political opponent, and inciting violence at his rallies, putting aside any so-called “locker room talk.” Now that he’s president, there is hardly a day that goes by when he doesn’t lower the bar for civility in our country. And he still has the support of almost the entire Republican Party who has consolidated control in Washington.

            Yet with all that power on the right, this writer wants to instead go after a D-list celebrity and a bunch of college students, which I think is ridiculous. So I question conservative calls for “civility now,” as they seem more like silencing protestors who are expected to shut up and take what this administration gives them.

            While I don’t consider this piece to be a “mea culpa” in any form, in answer to your question, yes! Liberals have been calling out their own ever since the election. The biggest political debate on the left has been around how “civil” to be toward the Trump administration, given the very real threats faced by so many people across the country.

            There have been tons of calls, from the NY Times on down, for liberals to be more compassionate and understanding of Trump voters and the “working class” (which in the media’s mind means the WHITE working class, but that’s a whole other debate).

            I certainly never saw any pieces by conservatives calling for a better understanding of Obama voters or urban minority populations. I just see false accusations of voter fraud (led by the President, again, and his allies).

            So yes, this is happening (often to the chagrin of liberals, I might add).

            I reject your insinuation (without evidence) that I want to oppose for the sake of opposing. In fact, I often enjoy Roberto Rivera’s writing on this site. But when I see people making faulty arguments to support their agenda, I will call them out, no question about it.

          • AtTheCrossroads

            Hatfields vs. McCoys . . . your guy is/was meaner than my guy, so you deserve whatever you get and I’m happy to give it to you. It’s a vicious cycle deep in the fallen DNA of the entire human race . . . you and me included my friend. The only way out is through the One who carried the weight of every evil and injustice ever committed on His innocent shoulders on the cross. None of us are innocent, but all of us can be made clean on the level ground at the foot of that cross. Repentance and forgiveness through Christ is the only lasting way of escape from the vicious cycle.

          • Joseph

            Haha, that’s a funny comment. It’s cool, I’ll look forward to our next debate! 🙂

  • Jim

    Right or left leaning, as professing Christians our focus must be on Christ and Christ alone. There are plenty of examples where professing Christians have acted poorly and not at all in a Christ-like manner. Let’s call it for what it is – sin. I cannot control what anyone else does or change what has happened. However, I can choose act in a Christ-like manner that allows for conversation without changing my position on matters. For those of you who have been hurt or offended by the actions of professing Christians, please keep in mind that Christianity is all about Jesus – not the actions of individuals here on earth.

  • Phoenix1977

    “the nastiest ideology wins”
    And who do you think taught us that lesson? I’ll give you a hint: it starts with a capital C.

    Perhaps you should log on to the “It gets better” website and watch some of fhe videos of gay teens for whom that was too late. And pay some extra attention to the ones deciding suicide was the best answer because of bullying by conservatives, religious or otherwise.

    And why do you think you are not welcome in gay-friendly areas? Ever thought of that?

    So I’ll keep my dare out there. Try live a few weeks as an atheist in a Christian neighborhood. I promise you you will eat those words you just wrote after you perform my dare.

  • fred2

    Good point. A recent example was in Washington DC when the annual gay pride parade was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters. The BLM protesters accused the gay community of supporting “racist” gay cops and thus weren’t really tolerant.

    The grievance industry pushed by secular liberals for decades is backfiring. It’s now as much a threat to its creators as conservativesl.