Submitted by Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom, Conference Minister
My article on civility was written prior to the tragic murders that have happened in the last few days. There are thoughts I would like to add.
Violence germinates and then comes to fruition when and where we are unable to effectively communicate with one another. For some time now, in our country, we have been labeling one another in lieu of listening to one another.
Back in the late 1960’s Harry Chapin wrote a song entitled “Sniper” based on the sniper who killed 14 innocent people from the main tower on the UT Campus. In Chapin’s song the killer asks, “Are you listening to me?” With his typically penetrating insight, Chapin recognized that human beings have an overwhelming need to be heard. In our country today we are failing to hear one another and it brings out the worst that is in us.
Please understand that I am not portraying these latest killers as victims. They were and are sick, deranged and exceedingly worthy of punishment. What I am saying is that our choice not to listen to one another poisons our common life together. My prayer is that, among other things, that God will give us new ears and new hearts to hear one another.
Let me urge once again that we act legislatively against these weapons designed for war. If nothing else, we at least need to outlaw high capacity magazines. No sportsman needs more than 5 shots before the need to re-load. In terms of longer-term solutions please read the article that follows.
Let us all pray for the victims of these crimes in El Paso and Dayton. May our good and loving God soften our hearts and show us all a better way.
In Support of Civility
What on earth is going on in our country lately? Once upon a time, we possessed the ability to have reasoned discourse and even disagreement with one another. Now it’s as though we only know how to shout and denigrate one another. Speaking only for myself, I am sick and tired of hearing multiple individuals shouting over one another thus making it impossible to follow their argumentation. Having lost the ability to communicate with one another, we inevitably lose the ability to learn from one another. For democracy to find itself at this kind of an impasse is deeply disturbing.
So how has this come to pass? While I can offer no exhaustive explanation, there are a few insights that I believe are relevant. First and perhaps foremost is that we have ceased to respect one another. We seem unable to imagine that someone who disagrees with us and acts in a way contrary to our point of view might actually have an intellectually defensible point of view. We also fail to attach any level of integrity to their viewpoint.
Many on the political right believe those on the left are naïve and devoid of common sense. Additionally, they frequently suggest that anyone of a progressive perspective is simply looking for a “free ride.” Alternatively, I once arrived at a new pastoral setting to find a visitor’s pamphlet that stated the following: “We are not people who leave our minds in the foyer.” The implication was clear. People who hold a more conservative political agenda are mindless.
The reality is that persons on the right are not simply unintelligent and those from the left are likewise not necessarily naïve. In most of the cases, each person has thought about the relevant issues and is trying both to understand and to act with integrity. We all grow up with certain points of view impressed upon us by friends, relatives and even the culture of our neighborhood. Most of us spend most of our lives trying to figure out and then grow into the person God has created us to be. Growth and change are very difficult and it seems to me that we should extend to one another as much grace as we can muster.
When Jesus encountered the tax collector and the Centurion, I am quite sure neither was all that God had created them to be. One was a killer and the other was a collaborationist. Both held positions in service to those who would later conspire to execute Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus embraced them both! Apparently Jesus believed that finding common ground was a possibility, and in fact, he staked his life on it.
The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus comes to tear down the walls of hostility, Eph. 2:14. The Gospels portray a Jesus willing to scandalize his fellow Jews by reaching out to the “other,” the “unacceptable,” and embracing them as sisters and brothers. As followers of the Christ; Can we do less?
Please understand that I do not mean that we “go soft” on justice issues. Quite the contrary, while there is breath in my body I will stand up for and beside my sisters and brothers of color, alternative sexual orientation, or any other designation that makes of them “the other.” But here is exactly what I do mean. Jesus found a way to stand with and die for “the other” without hating. Yes, Jesus was hated but he did not hate in return.
Why would I write in support of civility? I support civility in all aspects of this earthly life simply because I am a Christian. Simply put, I am here to follow after the Christ. My purpose, affirmed by my baptism, is to live my life modeled on the life of Jesus.
What is your purpose?