A few weeks ago I was in Washington D.C. taking part in a three-day civility conference. I was part of a group of faith leaders who were there at the invitation of The National Institute for Civil Discourse. The conference was held just a few blocks from the White House, so every day I had the privilege of walking past this center of power. You can imagine the diversity of those who were visiting this bigger-than-life “people’s house,” and their purposes for being there were just as diverse. You could clearly tell the ones who were there as tourists as well as those whose mission was to “make a statement,” which for many meant delivering an uncivil message. Each day as I observed this aggravation of discontent I was reminded why the call to civility is so critical at this time in our nation’s history.
I was intrigued by a document that was made available to the participants at the civility conference. The document reflects the national mood at this present moment in time. I discovered that despite the daily barrage of partisan political conflict, both political parties are generally united in the belief that uncivil behavior is rampant and is having profound, negative effects on our democracy.
A recent poll of 1,481 American adults who were surveyed in January of 2018 reflects the following:
- An average of 69% who were surveyed agreed that our nation has a civility problem, with 73% of Republicans considering it a major problem, and 69% of those who identified as Democrats agreeing.
- 92% of Republicans and 96% of Democrats polled cite that civility is important to our democracy.
- When asked if they believe that incivility leads to less political engagement, 78% of the Democrats polled said yes, and 85% of Republicans agreed.
- Here’s one to ponder. 84% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats believe incivility leads to intolerance of free speech.
- 35% of Democrats believe that the opposing party is a very serious threat to the United States and its people, and 39% felt it was somewhat of a serious threat. When the same question was asked of Republicans, 32% said the opposing party was a very serious threat, and 30% felt it was somewhat of a serious threat.
One of the presenters at the conference, while giving their presentation, referred to President Trump as a racist and another term that ended in “ist.” Since the subject was civility, albeit somewhat awkward, I called them out as an example on the very purpose for our gathering, which was combating incivility. The person was gracious and said, “Guilty as charged.” Sadly, a few blocks away in the White House, President Trump, our Commander in Chief, continues to feed the flame of uncivil discourse. Also, further down the street too many legislators are following his lead while “doing the people’s business,” in the Capitol.
So, where does this lead us? That’s a great question, since many of the conversations I participate in of this nature begin by attempting to define civility. For me civility is simply speaking respectfully about my view of a particular topic without speaking or behaving disrespectfully to those who would view the matter differently. I left the conference with a fresh resolve to use what time I have left on this earth to be an ambassador for civil conversations in our culture. I agree with Bishop Joey Johnson, Lead Pastor of The House of the Lord, who has said a culture can be defined by the way we speak to and treat each other.
From the White House to our own house, may we treat each other with civility and dignity, remembering each one is created by our good God. Let the people say AMEN!