This week, I’m starting a new series of blogs posts entitled, The Civility Project. I will continue to write on other issues, but my intention is to speak intentionally to this important matter at this important cultural moment.
Ever since the 2012 election, I’ve been concerned with the increasing levels of incivility and the impact it’s having on the quality of our discourse and relationships. As a pastor, I’ve also been concerned with how incivility has served to deteriorate both the internal unity of people who claim a common faith and the external witness of a faith community whose identity is to be rooted in compassion and grace.
Since I began paying attention in 2012, civility has continued to deteriorate, yet its demise is met with a paradoxical mix of emotions. On one hand, our culture rewards incivility. Our entertainment consists of the vocal and physical aggression between self-absorbed personalities, raging radio talk show hosts, debating presidential candidates, and a media that lives by the rule, “if it bleeds, it leads.” All this and more, provides a consistent intake of incivility, making it a normalized and expected form of expression.
What gets rewarded gets repeated, re-tweeted, renewed for another season on TV, goes viral, trends in social media and otherwise is reinforced by a culture that just can’t seem to get enough. Yet it seems we have had enough. Indeed, from one’s living room at home to one’s break room at work, civility is something more and more people expect from others but is a quality we have trouble expressing toward others, especially if we disagree with them.
The church is not immune to this phenomenon. In fact, the research for this project has only confirmed what I and other church leaders have experienced; levels of incivility within the church are no different than those in “the world” of politics, business, industry, technology, and popular culture.
Civility is desired and demanded by a culture that enjoys being entertained by the very incivility it wants to see diminished.
So what do we do?
I don’t have all the answers, but I hope this series of blogs can be of some help. My intention is simply to provide perspectives from research and personal experience in hopes that how we think about, speak to, and live with each other can improve through a better understanding of just how valuable and necessary civility has become.
This project is for the benefit of anyone and everyone concerned about the rising incivility in our world. I realize my readers are a mix of friends with varying beliefs. Many of you identify as Christians, but many others do not. While the principles I share are beneficial regardless of your faith perspective, please know that I will at times apply these principles directly to those readers involved in church. This is not intended to exclude my non-religious readers, but rather to provide an irenic and at times a polemic challenge to a group of people who claim belief in the way of Jesus, but whose incivility toward one another, church leaders, and the world they are called to reach, defy that belief.
The title, Civility Project, is not original. P.M. Forni has used the title for his efforts since 1997 at John Hopkins University. It was also used in an attempt by Congressman Greg DeMoss back in 2009 to elevate the quality of dialogue among lawmakers. The project was ditched in 2011 after only three members of Congress were willing to participate. So, there’s reason to wonder if my Civility Project will get traction at all. That’s okay, I’m still going to put it out there if for no other reason than doing so may just help keep me from a natural tendency to be a big jerk!
So welcome to the Civility Project! Please spread the word. Next blog drops later this week