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Being Civil in an Age of Contempt

I’ve been blogging a lot lately on civility. Why? Because I meet regularly with young Christians who are shocked that some older Christians both those they know personally and view on social media, are angry and behaving so unchrist-like. They readily confess that younger people can also be crude and judgmental, but they don’t expect that of older people and certainly not of Christians.

There's a word that I began thinking about lately. Contempt, Webster’s define it as “the feeling that a person, or thing is beneath consideration, worthless and deserving scorn.”

One reason we are fascinated by contempt is that we can show contempt without feeling guilty if we believe someone is that flawed. Hillary Clinton's mishandling of emails and her liberal ideas made her contemptuous to some, so by virtue of her being a Democrat, and allDemocrats who supported her easily also became “contemptible,” even if many of them also think she handled her emails poorly. Ironically, Hillary called Trump followers, “the deplorables,” just slight variation on contempt. And so it goes.

May Christians have contempt for some ideas? Yes. Abortion, murder, torture, child molestation may all be reasons for contempt. These are generally clear violations of biblical commands, many of which God himself labeled, “detestable.” Unfortunately, there is growing contempt for a whole lot of ideas that have nothing to do with heinous biblical sins. I’ve sat with people whose eyes flash and lips purse as they angrily dismiss people who advocate for vaccines, masks, for more justice for minorities and fairer treatment of LGBTQ people.

Worse yet I’ve been told of angry, disrespectful emails to church leaders who are trying to take a thoughtful approach to all of these ideas. This isn’t contempt for their immoral behavior but simply for their ideas, or decisions church leadership have made. Should Christians voice their concerns to church leaders? Of course. Passionately and respectfully and not ever use the threat of withholding offerings if their ideas are accepted. The church isn’t a business you can boycott if you disagree with their ethics.

Every night on Fox News and CNN you will hear contempt for politicians, judges, and for ideas and policies they don't agree with. The level of angry monologues and interviews I’m describing is well beyond healthy, passion disagreement with ideas they reject. It’s contempt for them. And it’s the rare person who can watch that kind of non-stop contempt and not grow contemptuous and jaded themselves. So what can you and I do about it?

I’ve begun looking for news sources that have these qualities:

  1. Intellectual Honesty - they try to present actual news rather than an editorial opinion on the news.

  2. Hope - If they are offering opinions, they also offer thoughtful solutions that are fair, affordable and attempt to take into account the rights of those who disagree with them.

  3. Dignity - While they disagree with some ideas they do not hold in contempt those who hold them. They do not call those who oppose them enemies and do not encourage anger or violence.

Susan and I try to watch one of the 30 minute “nightly news” programs on the three major networks. While all have a clear liberal bias, most if it is fairly straightforward real news and not editorial rants.

Years ago both of us started listening to a podcast, “The World and Everything in it”. It’s a daily podcast on the news that all Christians should know to be an informed citizen. Every Friday John Stonestreet, president of The Colson Center does an excellent editorial review of the news that most affects Christians. We also subscribe to World magazine. Both are clearly Christian but fit all of my three criteria above.

I also subscribe to daily news outlet, 1440 Daily Digest. It’s secular, but straight news with no discernible bias.

Consider not listening, or unsubscribing from any news source that is shrill, overly biased or attempts to sow fear and anger. Personally, I won’t watch CNN, Fox News, or News Max after 7:00pm. It’s rarely news. It is almost entirely angry editorials over ideas and people they disagree with.

Weekly watch, or read a news source you know you don’t agree with. Confirmation bias, the natural tendency to look for information or news that supports a position that you already believe will keep you from being a truly informed citizen. I listen to NPR regularly so that I know what non-Christians and liberals are thinking so I can have ready a thoughtful, biblical response when talking to people who I’m likely to disagree with. Just being able to quote an NPR, or New York Times article gives me credibility with certain people.

This very week I’m hosting a dozen young men at our cottage for a discussion on the topic of Civility in an Age of Contempt, over barbecue ribs and a beer. I will have no credibility unless I prepare with prayer, Bible study and understanding “the other side.” They will want to know if Christians should be civil in ways others are not and how.

But getting more personal. Is there anyone, any group of people, political party, or politician in your life who you’ve branded as contemptible, or your family believes you have contempt for? As I wrote this blog, the Holy Spirit reminded me of one so I’m working on that. We all would be wise to back off on our criticism of others and reflect more on our own attitude we’ve justified because we disagree so violently.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”Proverbs 15:1

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered.” Proverbs 22:24

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Claire, I’m always excited and eager to receive your timely and often provocative blogs. This topic of civility is our Tower of Babel , sort of. How can constructive dialogue develop if everyone is at DEFCON one ? Recently traveled to Canada on a fly-in fishing trip with 6 senior people with differing political and religious views in a 24x 24 cabin for a week, Ground rules were discussed on the way up about not talking about politics and religion and we all agreed to have more empathy for each other and pursue our mutual love of fishing. The point is it can be done if you have an open mind. I learn something from all view points even those…

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