I came across this Covenant for Civility on the Sojourners site. It is intended as a pledge for civility within the church, and has been signed by representatives from many and various Christian groups and traditions. I think the content of the covenant is laudable, though I do have two quick nitpicks.
First, I would consider using another term than “civility.” I’m not sure that the civis or city is the best metaphor for church internal relations. Perhaps “congregationality” or “ecclesiality”? They don’t have the same ring, and are perhaps tautological. But I think another term would work better, especially when this matter is placed alongside the matter of national civility in discussions on the Sojourners blog.
Second, I’m not sure that this deals adequately with Jesus’ “whitewashed tombs” language in the gospels. Perhaps Jesus is the exception to the rule of civility, because he certainly was not civil on certain matters. And I think there are times when Christians ought to be “uncivil” for the sake of conscience (though perhaps there is a distinction between incivility and civil disobedience). But I do think that civility is a Christian value in general (e.g. “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile”, “render unto Caesar”).
Overall I think this is an important effort for Sojo, especially if it is calling for greater civility in our national life. We as the church need to do a bit of work to get our own shop in order on that matter before we present it to the nation.
It seems that our national political discourse is not civil. That is according to a bunch of former lawmakers who released an open letter to all candidates for the House of Representatives. I am inclined to agree, though I am not sure that “civility” is the core virtue which, if restored, would fix the political process.
We cannot expect much better – partisanship is the logical conclusion of representative democracy. And with the current media enterprise, politics has become the biggest spectator sport in this country. We all love the big rivalries – Yankees v. Redsox; Celtics v. Lakers; Colts v. Patriots. Nobody likes watching the Pitsburgh Pirates play the Washington Nationals. It’s just not partisan enough. So you can’t really blame the athletes politicians for taunting when they score or talking trash about their opponents after the game. Incivility is fun to watch. Unfortunately for us, the scoring of political points has an impact very much more real than season standings printed on the sports page.
A return to civility in politics would probably reduce its marketability, and that may in turn fix what is stupid about our political system. But I just don’t see that happening. There’s no positive reinforcement for civility that I can see, at least not as long as for-profit media are the cipher through which we experience politics. The best fix I can imagine to that problem is to atomize politics at the local level. That would make it harder for national media to exploit. Perhaps I’ll post some thoughts on that later. Until then, this call to “be nice” has a nice ring to it, but I don’t see it having any palpable effect.
Posted in politics