An Invitation to Civility by Rebecca Hall Politicians are killers. This statement is in some ways true, since policies enacted by politicians lead to people being killed— war, capital punishment, abortion, elimination of health care. But this kind of inflammatory language is not the way to engage in public policy debates, for it is a sign of an entirely different, insidious problem in our political system—one which ultimately undermines the value of human life—a lack of civility. Can you make the connection between killing and name-calling? Jesus does. In Matthew 5, he sets up a clear relationship between the two. Anyone who gets angry with his brother or sister is “subject to judgment,” the same punishment given to those who commit murder. We could debate whether or not this is hyperbole, a literal judgment for the very act of anger, or, more likely, Jesus using strong language to advocate a “third way” of nonviolent reconciliation, but in this election season, let’s focus for a moment on a different kind of compelling truth in this well-known passage: In many cases, killing or violence is made possible because of the devaluing of life. By throwing insults at someone, I demean them in my mind until they are no longer worthy of my respect, no longer an individual made in the image of God. He becomes simply a projection of my own frustration. What does this have to do with politics? Instead of attacking differing ideas, our politicians and pundits attack each other, and sometimes the rest of us. Just to give a few recent examples: • Newt Gingrich insinuated that the US poor are lazy (especially the children). • Rush Limbaugh labeled Georgetown student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for advocating for contraceptives. • Chuck Winder, Idaho state senator, suggested that women used rape as an excuse to get abortions. How can our lawmakers, many of whom claim to worship at the foot of the same cross, commit the very acts of metaphorical murder that Jesus warned against? How can we get any good work done while both sides spend themselves on dehumanizing efforts instead of effective compromise? This week, ESA is urging our readers to send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper urging civility in public discourse, both in national and local policy debates.
We’ve already written a sample for you to send or edit as you please, and with just a couple of clicks, we’ll send it on to your local paper. Now, let’s insist that our public figures rise above mud-slinging, name-calling, and hate-mongering and engage issues thoughtfully, with respect and reason. Rebecca Hall is an MDiv student and a Sider Scholar at the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy, Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University.