You’re Shouting So Loud I Can’t Hear You

If only Stephen Carter could write faster. The Yale law professor is writing a book on the topic of civility, yet we desperately need its message right now. As America careens into an election season, the political rhetoric grows coarser, the attacks uglier. Politics is degenerating to the level of mud wrestling. Yet in a democracy, civility is not an option, it's a precondition that makes our system possible. As Carter says, civility is a "pre-political virtue," one of the "elements of good character . . . without which political views and values are useless." Without civility, political discourse becomes hostile and polarized. In the resulting chaos we become vulnerable to tyranny. But if civility is pre-political, where is it nurtured? Clearly, in the pre-political institutions such as family and church. Francis Schaeffer described the love between brothers and sisters in the faith as "the mark of the Christian." By this mark, Jesus said, "all men will know you are My disciples." Genuine love attracts the most jaded skeptic. During a recent PBS interview I faced an aggressive interviewer who asked: "How can you be so sure about your faith?" I answered by telling her of an experience I had behind bars. A member of my prayer group, Al Quie, told me, "Chuck, because of your family problems I'm going to ask President Ford if you can go home and let me serve the rest of your prison term." At the time, Al was the sixth-ranking Republican in the House. Yet he was willing to jeopardize his career out of love for me. As I was retelling the story, the interviewer waved at the cameras, saying, "Stop, stop." Tears mixed with mascara were streaming down her cheeks. Later she confessed that Al's willingness to sacrifice had touched her deeply. She vowed to return to the church she had left years earlier. Christian communities united in love present an alternative model to a society torn by ugly rhetoric and mean-spirited attacks. But how well are we Christians ourselves doing? Too often, I fear, we simply mirror the hostilities of the world around us. After I received the Templeton Prize, I heard myself described as a "New Age wolf in sheep's clothing." Following the tragic Oklahoma City bombing, one Christian magazine loudly denounced Billy Graham's message at the memorial service. And my own Southern Baptist denomination has been rent by squabbles that have driven people away from our churches in droves. Differences are inevitable, of course, but it's crucial to our witness that we handle them lovingly. As Schaeffer wrote, orthodoxy--right teaching--attracts people only if they also see orthopraxy--right living. In the third century Tertullian reported that as Christians were led off to be devoured by lions, a Roman emperor remarked "look how they love one another." Our job as Christians is to show our society the truth of Jesus' commands in how we live with one another. In so doing we will function as salt and light, providing an example of civility for the benefit of all of society. The power of Christian love turned around the Roman empire, and I'm convinced--even in the face of today's culture war--it could turn around our own culture today as well.


Chuck Colson


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