Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Toward a More Civil Society

Here is a copy of the November column that I submitted for "River Region's Journey" magazine.

The tone is unmistakable. We see it in the gestures made by drivers who feel like their fellow road warriors have gotten just a bit too close. We observe it in the children who show disrespect for parents and other authorities in their lives. We sense it on the athletic field, as the spirit of competition morphs into a spirit of outright cruelty. And then, there are those politicians who engage in mean-spirited attacks and change their focus from issues to personal nuances.

These examples, I believe are symptomatic of the type of society in which we’re living, where anger and rage have replaced honor and respect. But, it gives us as Christians a unique opportunity to provide a strong contrast to the behavioral norms that have developed, practicing the words of our Lord, as He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I would like share a few principles on cultural civility, rooted in the Biblical ideals of the Golden Rule (which is not, “do unto others before they do it unto you”!) and the answer to the question, “who is my neighbor?”.

First, recognize that we have a unique opportunity. These are days in which the Scriptures can be tremendously relevant. In the midst of angry people and attitudes, we can reflect peace and longsuffering. People are upset these days over a wide range of circumstances, whether it be the economy, issues at home, or an overstressed schedule. To go against the grain and reflect the fruit of the Spirit can attract others to the presence of Christ within you.

A smile is an outward expression that cannot be underestimated. If I had to describe the general emotion of our culture today, I don’t think “happy” or “joyful” would be two of the adjectives I would use. A smile can be contagious, reflecting an attitude that stands in contrast to what many are experiencing these days.

Kind words diffuse emotional upheavals. I had the chance several months ago to talk with Dr. Gary Chapman, perhaps best known for his association with the 5 Love Languages. He lamented the lack of civility in our society, saying, “We’ve forgotten…how to dialogue and how to be civil to somebody, even if you disagree with what they’re saying.” Dr. Chapman essentially said we could recapture a sense of civility if we as Christians learn how to treat people kindly and courteously, and demonstrate all the other traits of love. In his book, Love as a Way of Life, he identifies 7 characteristics of authentic love: kindness, patience, forgiveness, humility, courtesy, generosity, and honesty. This conversation is posted on the Meeting House website at

Acts of kindness are living examples of Christ’s mercy. I believe that the faith walk is more than just talking the talk, but it involves walking in Christ’s steps. I think we practice His love and mercy by not only toning down our rhetoric and choosing our words carefully, but also engaging the culture by doing acts that back up our words.

Be intentional about people to whom you can lend a helping hand.
Last year, I interviewed Dr. Crawford Loritts, Senior Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in the Atlanta area. Several years ago, after concluding a series on giving, church members were given a total of $30,000 in small bills to use in a “Kingdom Assignment”. The people were told to invest the money in advancing the cause of the gospel. Dr. Loritts said that, “God did some remarkable things”. Examples included families giving out packets to the homeless in downtown Atlanta, providing an eye exam and glasses for a special needs child in a single-parent situation, drilling wells in Third World countries, and the purchase of an ad for a website for prayer – the word of that purchase spread through the newspaper office and landed the church on the front page of the newspaper!! I believe that we can identify special people and projects, in addition to being ready in and out of season to reflect His nature.

And, remember, you are an ambassador for Christ. Our family has learned this in special ways over the last few months. The four of us went on a missions trip to North Carolina to help in the building of a camp that will serve inner city youth. We participated in a service day with our church, and helped paint a house and do other chores at a special lady’s house. Plus, my wife and daughter ministered to the fair workers by assisting in serving them breakfast. It is in serving that we begin to lose ourselves and truly love our neighbors, and that brings joy to us personally and spreads the light of Christ to a world that needs to see the difference that is in us.

The interview with Crawford Loritts, to which I referred in the column, can also be found at