The Sin of Incivility

“This is the  most difficult time in my life.”

That’s how Tempe AZ Mayor Hugh Hallman ( introduced himself to a small group of pastors and church leaders last week.

His face was drawn.  Sad.  In the hour or so we were together, it was difficult for him to smile.

Having called a meeting for prayer and support from the Christian community, he shared right from his heart:  “This is the most difficult time of my life,” he began. “The pressure.  The heat.  The level of hate over relatively insignificant issues has made has made civic leadership an almost impossible task.  There is virtually no helpful discussion of issues.  Instead, people feel obligated to undermine one another’s character.”

He referred to the current climate of political polarization as “corrosive vilification.”

It’s everywhere.  In the church, too, where people are more often bound by an angry spirit of entitlement than by a Christ-like attitude.

My fine successor at Word of Grace (now City of Grace) Terry Crist shared with me a series of emails he received from a long-time member of the Scottsdale campus.  The first began:  “My mother and I walked out [of church] today and most likely won’t return, unless we here [sic] of an abrupt and complete policy change.”  What follows in the email is so angry, so arrogant, so judgmental.  When Pastor Terry responded wisely, graciously, his antagonist was even more rude.

It’s not just that we disagree.  No, we have to demonize one another.

Mayor Hallman grieved, “There’s no helpful public discussion and debate.  Instead, people threaten me.  Intimidate and threaten one another.  Sometimes the pressure is obscene.  What we need is civility.  Charity and mercy, to help solve our difficult problems.”

“Our opponents are not our enemies,” he said.

Ben Feller of the Associated Press wrote last week, “Trying to bury a year of polarization, President Barack Obama on Thursday escalated his appeal for politicians and voters alike to settle differences without tearing each other apart. His plea: ‘Let’s start thinking of each other as Americans first.’ ”

Careful now!  I put an Obama quote in here just to trouble some of you.  So how does it make you feel?  Angry?  Or prayerful and gracious, like Jesus?  “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

I believe that, now more than ever, the world needs the church to be the people of God, like Jesus, full of truth and grace.  People who know what they believe and where they stand, but who have the depth of character to speak the truth in love.

I believe, too, that Christian leaders must renounce the spirit of the world and be role models of truth and grace.  We have to teach people how to be biblical in their believe systems and Christ-like in their responses to the world around them.  As I heard someone say years ago, we have to come against the things that come against us with an opposite spirit.

Talk about these scriptures with your friends:

James 1:19-20  My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Colossians 4:6  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5   For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

James 1:19-20 in The Message is incredible:

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

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