BreakPoint: Embracing Courtesy

Recognizing the Imago Dei

John Stonestreet: Why should we be civil with our political or religious opponents, especially if they’re not civil with us? Chuck Colson reminds us.

Just a couple of weeks ago on BreakPoint, we talked about why civility and civil discourse are necessary for the future of our democracy. When comediennes hold up fake presidential heads, when college students shout down and threaten those who see the world differently than they do, our republic is in trouble. In fact, I ended that commentary by saying that “if we continue losing our minds like this, eventually someone’s going to lose their head—but this time, maybe for real.”

Only two days after that BreakPoint, a gunmen tragically opened fire on Republican congressmen at a baseball practice in Virginia.

So today, let’s hear from Chuck Colson, who on this program gave us yet another reason why civil discourse is so very important—and that is, the image of God.

Here’s Chuck.

Chuck Colson: Have you ever heard someone say something like “I’m sick of political correctness.” And then, as if to prove the point, that same person uses hurtful epithets to describe other people? Or maybe you’ve noticed that those who often decry hate speech are the first to label someone else a bigot?

Whatever happened to courtesy—or I would say civility—in public discourse?

Well, that’s the question my colleague Gina Dalfonzo explores in her article “The Lost Virtue of Courtesy” at Christianity Today Online. She notes that in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described courtesy as the idea “that no one give any kind of preference to himself.” Courtesy, he wrote, is one of the hallmarks of a “fully Christian society.”

But as Gina explains, in a post-Christian society like ours, “me first” means “everybody else second.” When people become their own gods, they naturally end up giving all the preference to themselves and none to others. They place a higher value on self-expression than on kindness to others, because they believe their own opinions and feelings matter more.

And today’s political correctness has become a sort of secular alternative to the old Christian virtue of courtesy. But this political correctness is being promoted and practiced for the most part by the same people who desire to expel Christian values from the public square.

So we end up with a strange dichotomy: a society full of folks who condemn hatred in one breath, and spew hatred with the next.

Take for instance, as Gina notes, columnist Dan Savage, who first proposed a project to help bullied teenagers. But in that very same column, he made crude sexual remarks about a conservative female politician.

Or take the “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the National Mall—a rally that was supposed to be all about moderation and reason. But one of the featured performers, Cat Stevens, a convert to Islam, once supported Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie.

People behave this way with straight faces, never even recognizing their own hypocrisy. That’s because they’ve forgotten what true courtesy is and what it requires of us—and that’s because they have forgotten, or rejected, a Christian worldview.

You see, the virtue of courtesy is rooted in the idea of the imago Dei, the concept that each of us was created in the image of a loving God. That is what gives each person—every person—dignity and makes each of us worthy of respect.

That’s why in the epistle of James we read, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness . . .  My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

Sadly, in the toxic culture we live in, we Christians too often forget that and end up behaving just like the rest of the world. By God’s grace, we must do better.

To recover the lost virtue of courtesy, we who understand that every human being is made in the image of God need to set the example—and pray that others might follow our lead.


Embracing Courtesy: Recognizing the Imago Dei

As Chuck reminds us, every human being is made in the image of God and is worthy of value and respect. As believers, our behavior should exemplify the virtue of courtesy to those around us, in our words and in our deeds.


The Lost Virtue of Courtesy
  • Gina Dalfonzo | Christianity Today | December 16, 2010
I do not think it means what you think it means
  • Gina Dalfonzo | | November 1, 2010
Renewing Virtue, flash drive
  • T. M. Moore, Chuck Colson | Colson Center
The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories
  • William Bennett | Simon & Schuster | September 1996

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  • Nancy

    I agree. I am new to reading and posting comments on articles, and forums. I have been shocked by the way people ‘converse’ or ‘debate’. Some are civil, but most, are not. I found that I was beginning to want to respond in like manner; you know, your hackles are raised, who do they think they are!?, sarcasm, etc. When I realized this, I had to stop and pray. I even decided if I couldn’t be civil, no more comments for me. No, I’m not all ‘flowery’, a point can be made without a shotgun, without calling others names…..( I guess if there’s danger, a shotgun DOES make a good point!) Anyway, it takes work and prayer. “Follow peace with all men and holiness. Without which no man shall see Yahweh.” “Be angry and sin not!” ✨

    • Scott

      Please don’t take this as though I am claiming to be an expert on this subject… I am not.

      One trick I have found helpful is the voice I apply when reading the opposing person’s view. If I read their post in a welcoming calm non-threatening tone, then it is easier to respond the same way… no matter how I feel. Anger is toxic (speaking from my own personal struggle with it) and I have spent the last 20 years trying to eliminate it. Love is far superior… Jesus has taught me allot about it! : – )

      • Nancy

        Thank you for that idea. I try to remember that any negativity coming my way isn’t really about me. The one who gets riled or upset could be going through a struggle in their life. I try to remember it’s a person. And I try to remember that my goal is not to ‘best’ them, but to be able to share what’s in my heart and have a conversation. Yep, I do need prayer to remember!
        Stay well ✨