A timely Resolution approved by Delegates at the annual business session of
The Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, July 27, 2017
Written by Donald P. Shoemaker
Chair, Social Concerns Committee
Genuine civility moves past simple politeness or pragmatic concerns and sees those with whom we disagree as full equals before God. It does not allow the end to justify the means. Civility enables us to hold the respectful dialogues without which democratic decision-making is impossible. Civil people approach their government institutions with awe and gratitude. Civility is the negative duty not to do harm and the affirmative duty to do good.
Civility cares for one’s own identity, needs and beliefs without degrading others in the process. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and asking others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of stopping to listen even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements.
We call on our political leaders at all levels, from the White House to Congress to elected and appointed officials at all federal, state and local levels, to commit themselves to the practice of civility in what they say to others and how they treat others. We look with alarm at the deterioration of communication, especially good face-to-face communication, in today’s political climate.
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person…” With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:4-5b, 6a, 9-10 New International Version)
We call on political leaders, all of whom live under the capabilities of God’s Common Grace, to be honest and respectful in their political rhetoric, and to duly honor other political leaders in spite of political differences and flaws. We urge communication that truthfully focuses on issues and avoids harmful ad hominem characterizations of people.
We condemn all acts of incivility, including outright violence and destruction, and denying others their constitutional right to free speech and freedom of association and assembly.
We call on our Fellowship to manifest the peace and love that has historically marked our German Baptist heritage, so we may be a witness to our world as we let our light shine. This heritage is honored in the National Park Service’s description of the Dunker Church at the site of the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam: “The Battle of Antietam, fought September 17, 1862, was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of this nation. Yet, one of the most noted landmarks on this great field of combat is a house of worship associated with peace and love. Indeed, the Dunker Church ranks as perhaps one of the most famous churches in American military history.”
Sources: Civility by Stephen L. Carter (Harper Perennial, 1998); Institute for Civility in Government
© 2017 Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches