A Plea for Civility

ObamaGrav.jpgFrom President Obama’s speech at the University of Michigan

Today’s 24/7 echo-chamber amplifies the most inflammatory soundbites louder and faster than ever before.  And it’s also, however, given us unprecedented choice.  Whereas most Americans used to get their news from the same three networks over dinner, or a few influential papers on Sunday morning, we now have the option to get our information from any number of blogs or websites or cable news shows. And this can have both a good and bad development for democracy.  For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways.  That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country. 
But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from. Now, this requires us to agree on a certain set of facts to debate from. That’s why we need a vibrant and thriving news business that is separate from opinion makers and talking heads. (Applause.)  That’s why we need an educated citizenry that values hard evidence and not just assertion. (Applause.)  As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously once said, “Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” (Laughter.)
 
Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website.  It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed.  But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.  (Applause.)  It is essential for our democracy. (Applause.)   
And so, too, is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people.  I look out at this class and I realize for four years at Michigan you have been exposed to diverse thinkers and scholars, professors and students.  Don’t narrow that broad intellectual exposure just because you’re leaving here.  Instead, seek to expand it.  If you grew up in a big city, spend some time with somebody who grew up in a rural town.  If you find yourself only hanging around with people of your own race or ethnicity or religion, include people in your circle who have different backgrounds and life experiences.  You’ll learn what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, and in the process, you will help to make this democracy work.  (Applause.)   

Here’s a really good example: The Anti-Me.

What do you think?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Robert

    I absolutely agree that to form a full understanding of a position we must engage in studying all sides. Education is, in many ways, the silver bullet for so much in our world.
    Though I do find it a bit disingenuous to attempt to say that opponents of a position are being “uncivil” because of their opposition. I can reasonably oppose many facets of the current administration’s agenda and do so while being intellectually honest because I have checked my sources and done my homework. Opposition is not incivility.

  • Danny

    I think we always should be careful of the knee-jerk reactions. Unfortunately many of us counter-punch before we do anything else. At the risk of getting flamed, the Administration should heed the adage “people who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones.” I do agree with Sullivan’s article.

  • RJS

    Robert,
    Read the whole speech – I don’t think he equates opposition with incivility.

  • Travis Greene

    Robert, “Though I do find it a bit disingenuous to attempt to say that opponents of a position are being “uncivil” because of their opposition.”
    Where does he say that they are?

  • Chris

    I think we all need ‘anti me’s” or we end up singing in a choir and really only hearing our own voice. Today was the National Day of Prayer and I prayed for our country, other nations, and our national leaders. A few people told me that God condemns our President as they do. I can’t help but think that if we are not careful, we do get what we pray for . . !

  • Rick

    “For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country.”
    But is the White House really living this out, at least the spirit of the idea? I don’t think so.
    It first was seen during the 2008 campaign:
    “The Dallas Morning News has been told it can no longer travel with Senator Barack Obama for the final days of his campaign for president. The decision comes a few weeks after the paper officially endorsed Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain.”
    It has has continued since the election:
    “It turns out last month’s decision by the White House to leave out Fox News Sunday when the president made the rounds of Sunday shows was part of a larger campaign launched against the cable news network….White House communications director Anita Dunn told TIME that FNC is “opinion journalism masquerading as news,” and went on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” earlier this week to talk more about the White House’s view of the cable news network.”
    Even the Huffington Post ran a story about the treatment of Fox by the administration, and how even some at MSNBC are uncomfortable with it.
    “http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/12/white-houses-fox-news-war_n_318025.html”
    If he wants people to be well versed in various views, then the White House needs to live it out.

  • Fish

    I don’t see where he equates opposition with uncivility at all. I think he says just the opposite.
    It is a symptom of our society that even a call for civility is perceived as an attack on opposition.
    I would even take uncivility if we could just stop the death threats. I know a guy who got one for voting the wrong way on health care. Father of 4, wife on disability. She’s a Methodist minister, a colleague of Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, who got spit on as he walked to the Capitol to vote — but like I say, I’d take spitting on people every day if the death threats would cease.
    That being said, Obama is wasting his breath.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    Rick, in the very same speech Obama said that “if you turn on the news today, or yesterday, or a week ago, or a month ago –- particularly one of the cable channels -– (laughter) — you can see why even a kindergartener would ask this question. (Laughter.) We’ve got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names.”
    I doubt he was referring to MSNBC. Morever, Jonathan Alter’s book about Obama’s first year in office reports that Obama used the word “teabaggers” to refer to the Tea Party protesters. So, I don’t see Obama practicing what he preaches.

  • RJS

    Ah, I see – Obama is wrong to call for civility because he has not practiced it perfectly. Therefore we need not consider the suggestion that civility is an appropriate approach seriously.
    Thanks – I now realize we must be perfect before we dare say anything.

  • Rick

    RJS-
    Nice try.

  • Jeremy

    I’m not entirely sure how refusing to sit down with a network that is openly hostile to you, uses its guests as props, and is hopelessly beyond reaching is hypocritical. Fox News does not occupy some special spot as the one and only conservative, Republican voice in America to which Mr. Obama must play nice with or be guilty of not listening to opposing voices.

  • RJS

    Rick,
    So whatever you think of Obama – and I really don’t care …
    Do you think that a call for civility is wrong?
    Do you think that it is wrong to suggest that we should interact respectfully, even in friendship, with those we disagree with?
    Do you think we should try to understand what the other is really saying before we react?

  • Sacred Frenzy

    RJS, the argument is not that Obama has not practiced it perfectly, but that he has not practiced it. His statements about Arizona’s law are a perfect example of Obama attributing the worst motives to those on the other side of an issue.

  • Scott

    Sacred Frenzy…
    It’s entirely possible, early on in the Tea Party movement days, that some people genuinely thought they called themselves “teabaggers” and really had no idea about the double meaning of the term (like me). I’m not especially sheltered, and I am of President Obama’s generation.
    Perhaps it was simply an entirely innocent slip?

  • Fish

    It strikes me that leading a country in which half the people hate you is probably a lot like leading a church in which half the people hate you. Simply because of who you are, any word that you preach will be misconstrued, and anything that you feel led to do will be opposed, with both sides feeling they have God’s support.

  • Jeremy

    SF (13): What exactly did he say that was uncivil? I’ve read a lot of his comments, and while they weren’t approving and even highly challenging, I don’t see any attribution of horrible motive.

  • Jeremy

    Ironically, a post about civility has the extremely high probability of being quite the opposite. Why do any attributions to major politicians, whether they are completely right in what they say, bring out the need to fight over it?

  • Peggy

    I am just about to totally give up trying to comment here. Sigh….
    The comment that just got lost was something like this:
    @RJS — the saying I first heard from Alan Hirsch jumped to my mind as I read this post and the comments: the medium is the message.
    Until Obama does more walking that is in line with his talking, his message will continue to be ignored. Personally, I am tired of him seemingly taking on the role of First Dad or First Teacher by the way it feels like he’s talking down to me. Please….
    Yes, we need to be civil — you know that I preach that one. But the only ones who heed my words are those who know me to try to be civil and those from whom I have enough relationship to have earned the right to be heard.
    Obama’s bully pulpit gives him an opportunity earned by being elected. But he has to step up to his talk about coming together if he is truly going to help.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    Scott (14), Obama’s use of “teabaggers” was November 30, 2009:
    http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2010/05/president-obama-gop-opposition-to-stimulus-helped-to-create-the-teabaggers.html
    Jeremy (16), Obama said the following about Arizona’s immigration law:
    “One of the things that the law says is local officials are allowed to ask somebody who they have a suspicion might be an illegal immigrant for their papers. But you can imagine, if you are a Hispanic American in Arizona — your great-grandparents may have been there before Arizona was even a state. But now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed.”
    The law stipulates that any inquiry into immigration status has to occur within a “lawful stop, detention or arrest,” so for Obama to say that “if you are a Hispanic American” and “you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed” is to misrepresent the statute and to imply that its proponents support Hispanic Americans merely going for ice cream being “harassed” with demands for their papers. At best, he is uninformed about the law. At worst, he is saying it is racist.

  • Jeremy

    SF (19): Was that comment before or after the amendment to require a stop for other reasons? The original passed bill had no such requirement.

  • RJS

    I sent this excerpt to Scot because it meshed with so many things I had been thinking about.
    How to interact with people on the science, faith discussion (i.e. learn their position and address it directly). The bomb first approach gets us nowhere.
    How to interact with people who take seriously different views in faith and doctrine – understand what they say and address the issues. The bomb first approach gets us nowhere. Reformed – liberal – McLaren – Piper – Wright – we can go around on these issues.
    But the gut reaction here seems to be – Obama said it, therefore it’s wrong. Give me a break. We will get nowhere at all this way. Even Obama gets somethings right. As did Reagan and both of the Bushes.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    Jeremy (19), the original bill had language stipulating “lawful contact,” which wasn’t as clear as the amended bill, but I think Obama’s statement still misrepresents the intent of original bill.
    Moreover, Obama’s Cinco de Mayo statement included the following:
    “But the answer isn’t to undermine fundamental principles that define us as a nation. We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like, or how they talk, or how they dress. We can’t turn law-abiding American citizens —- and law-abiding immigrants —- into subjects of suspicion and abuse.”
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-cinco-de-mayo-reception
    The law’s proponents do not support “singling out people because of who they look like, or how they talk, or how they dress” or turning “law-abiding American citizens —- and law-abiding immigrants —- into subjects of suspicion and abuse.” Obama makes it sound like they do.
    I am not here to debate this point. I am only providing this as an example from a conservative perspective of Obama not practicing what he preaches. You may not find this convincing, but many of us do.

  • Jjoe

    Of course the AZ bill is racist. Based on your appearance, specifically Hispanic in this case, you can be forced to present your papers.
    The lawful arrest/stop/detention occurs anytime a policeman wants, and they’re the ones who decide if it’s lawful. That’s pure smokescreen, an opening for harassment you could drive a truck through.
    I never ever thought that we’d hear the phrase “show me your papers” in America. Especially when the criteria is ethnic appearance. If that is not history repeating itself, I’m not sure what is. I wonder what ethnic groups are next. I can flatly guarantee you that white males will never have to show their papers.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    RJS (21), “But the gut reaction here seems to be – Obama said it, therefore its wrong.”
    I agree with Obama’s call to civility. I agree with what he says in this excerpt. His practice of it leaves many things to be desired.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    Jjoe (23), thank you for providing a perfect example of incivility.

  • Jeremy

    SF: I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree here. It’s off topic and I think you’re being terribly uncharitable. Being civil does not mean shutting up and sitting in the corner, and to point out that a bill could have racist and unacceptable consequences is entirely different from implying that the governor of AZ is a closet KKK member.
    Civility does not mean that I am not allowed to voice my disagreement or my reasoning. You seem to imply that the fact that he reaches the conclusions that he does is an insult and thus makes him in violation of the UM speech. This is exactly what he’s talking about int he speech.
    PS. When I say hi to a cop, we’ve just had “lawful contact.” The original bill was terrible.

  • Jjoe

    And by the way, I’m not sure how “show me your papers” is a true conservative position. Back when I used to be libertarian, I was horrified at the thought of government that big and intrusive.
    I would call this a Republican program but there’s nothing conservative (at least in regard to the power of government) about it. Buckley is rolling over in his grave and Reagan is trying to claw his way out.

  • Jeremy

    and on that note, I’m going to bow out of this one. There’s entirely too much irony here and I hate to think I’m contributing to it. RJS’ frustration at the point being entirely missed is completely understandable and I apologize if I contributed to that.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    There is a time and place for civility, and I agree that people should research the opposing side’s arguments. Obama’s speech is problematic nonetheless, for a few reasons:
    1) It is hypocritical.
    Calling Boston cops stupid at a health care presser is not civil. Going to a San Francisco lefty fundraiser and bemoaning the fact that blue collar troglodytes cling to their guns is not civil. Calling tea party protesters tea-baggers is not civil.
    Whatever it was that he meant when he said you can’t put lipstick on a pig could not have been civil. Calling those who disagree with your proposed healthcare reform bill “cynical” and “irresponsible” is not civil. Calling Sen. McConnell a liar is not civil.
    2) Obama has failed to stand against incivility within his own party.
    His patronizing teachable moment on race, when he proffered a defense of Jeremiah Wright before kicking him to the curb a few months later, was not a stand for civility. His failure to admonish Rep. Grayson generally is not a stand for civility.
    MSNBC, DailyKos, The New York Times. All have been emphatically uncivil w/r/t conservatives. Not a peep from Obama.
    3) He is only criticizing the incivility of his opponents, which represents a de facto accusation of unilateral incivility on their part. He is doing so for political reasons. He is not suddenly interested in the concept of civility. He wants to take (yet another) swipe at the Tea Parties and Fox News.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    What Obama said about facts is correct. If we can limit our focus on discussing how to deal with the realities of our corporate, national situation, we’ll be well served. The problems arise when we impute motives and begin criticizing others as people who have a different approach to addressing those factual realities. For instance, I worked in Wall Street at the inception of the very financial instruments which caused the recent economic catastrophe. It’s fascinating to me how people have to dismiss me because they cannot dispute the factual knowledge I have about the instruments, their lack of accountability & regulation, etc. Thus, in the comment stream above, I see the dismissal of Obama’s call to civility because of the voice calling. Balaam’s donkey comes to mind… We’d better hear the truth, whomever God is using to bring it!

  • DRT

    I have had the opportunity to build quite a few team in my day. There are times that people will benefit from a highly structured organization where people are “just like them”. One example of this is a surgury room.
    By far, the most usual example of managers building teams is in environments where it is more beneficial to have a diversity of opinions. To have people with whom you share less rather than more. Most managers follow the guiding principle that the want to hire people who are like them. People who they think “get it”.
    The problem with this is that you end up amplifying the problems you have, at the risk of capitalizing on the benefits.
    Most people, given the choice, will chose to frequent web sites and listen to shows that they think “get it”. They will become more and more isolated, cynical (which I think is at the root of the problem), and less civil. The act of listening is biblical and makes results.
    Dave
    Sphere scraping – ridding the world of those who don’t agree with you….I love Captcha!

  • http://thesometimespreacher.blogspot.com/ Andy Holt

    I think the President is absolutely right on this one. I don’t care how perfectly or imperfectly he or anyone else practices what is preached here, if we don’t truly listen to one another and think the best of each other than we’re doomed to deepen the cultural fissure we’ve created in the last decade. Let’s engage one another with humility, honesty and maturity. There’s no reason the internet has to be the schoolyard.

  • dan

    Kevin S.
    Precisely. It is a calculated campaign to hold the right to a standard the left is excused from. It is entirely about creating perceptions regardless of evidence or truth. One could cite hundreds of examples, but what’s the point?

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I am amazed at both the rhetoric and misinformation about Obama. He hasn’t always done the best in response to it, but couldn’t we hope this speech a step in the right direction? Frankly it is hard for me to listen at all to anyone who so derides him and puts everything in the worst light. Doesn’t ring true. There’s no comparison between Obama himself and the media (as well as a few Christians I know) in how they are acting. It is shameful. I’ll listen to anyone who is civil and treats the opponent with respect. They can strongly disagree with Obama across the board, but let’s think through issues. I find so much in politics that seems disingenuous. Don’t we all!? This is not concerning anyone here, who I don’t see fitting what I said above, even though I don’t see eye to eye with everyone.

  • hlvanburen

    Sacred Frenzy: “I agree with Obama’s call to civility. I agree with what he says in this excerpt. His practice of it leaves many things to be desired.”
    What about your practice of it, Sacred?

  • http://damascus9.blogspot.com Steve S

    “I never ever thought that we’d hear the phrase “show me your papers” in America”
    This liberal talking point really kinda makes me laugh.
    Have you really never been pulled over before?
    It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is, the first thing they ask you for is your papers…
    I am continually puzzled, frustrated, and amused by the continual discussion about ‘harassment.’ As though someone being talked to by the police is somehow ‘harassment.’ Have these people really never had a conversation with a police officer before?
    The liberals don’t get that this really isn’t about racism for most conservatives. Or they do, but it doesn’t make good press.
    Of course the flip side is true as well. Conservatives are largely ignorant to legitimate liberal concerns about current immigration policy…

  • Sacred Frenzy

    hlvanburen (35), I gave examples of Obama not practicing what he preaches. Can you provide an example of where I’m being uncivil?

  • Gary Bell

    Canadian Philosopher (and Catholic) Charles Taylor has suggested in his communitarian treatises that we enter political debate by grasping the possibility that we may be wrong. He believes that that concession can be a helpful opening for parties who might otherwise demonstrate intransigent opposition. Similar small concessions may help add civility to debates

  • Rick

    Peggy #18 and Gary #38 express my concern well.
    Had Obama accepted some responsibility in this area, then called for this worthy goal, his speech would have more meaning. Instead, it is somewhat hollow, and it is hard to hear the worthy message past that. One questions his sincerity and motive.
    (That should be a lesson for Christians as we proclaim and try to live out the gospel).
    The point RJS makes is a good one: the bomb 1st approach does not work. However, we should also approach any speech, idea, or concept, no matter how good it appears, with caution. It partially comes down to an issue of trust.
    Should we be looking to politicians for such a call? Should not the church be leading in this area (Os Guinness’ work in this area comes to mind).

  • http://lambpower.wordpress.com Steve D

    @ Steve S #36
    “Have you really never been pulled over before?
    It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is, the first thing they ask you for is your papers…”
    Whenever I’ve been pulled over I’ve been asked for my driver’s license and proof of registration. I’m not asked for my birth certificate or any other ID. There has been at least one story of a trucker being required by ICE to produce his birth certificate. His drivers license wasn’t enough. By the way, he was an American by birth.
    I think that’s what we “liberals” are talking about. In my over 35 years of driving, the only time I’ve been required to show my birth certificate was to get my driver’s license and to re-enter the country from Canada.

  • http://www.aaronniequist.com Aaron N

    I really like this call to civility – and LOVE the “anti-me” piece. It makes me want to be a more gracious, more balanced person. But I’m surprised and saddened to read all the ungracious comments.

  • Scot McKnight

    A sign of incivility is, when someone issues a call for civility, to call the caller uncivil.
    A sign of civility, is, when someone issues a call for civility, to say “Yes, I need that and so do we all.”

  • M Hempell

    If he’d be the first one to model civility by refraining from calling Tea Partyers tea baggers or exploiting the State of the Union address to assail the Supreme Court, some conservatives might listen to him

  • hlvanburen

    hlvanburen (35), I gave examples of Obama not practicing what he preaches. Can you provide an example of where I’m being uncivil?
    So the message is bad because the messenger is faulty?
    Are you not also faulty?

  • hlvanburen

    M Hempell (43): “If he’d be the first one to model civility by refraining from calling Tea Partyers tea baggers or exploiting the State of the Union address to assail the Supreme Court, some conservatives might listen to him.”
    I would be willing to accept that argument if you can cite any instance where conservatives in the 9/12 movement have ever agreed with any of Obama’s statements or initiatives.
    Can you cite one?

  • Sacred Frenzy

    hlvanburen (44), I never said the message was bad. I think it is good. But I think the particular messenger has not practiced his message very well. I have never said that I’m without fault, but again, I ask that you give an example of where I’ve been uncivil.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    The medium is the message.
    I heard newspaper reporter for a major paper (Washington Post I think) saying the press had high hopes for this administration compared to the Bush Administration because of the promise of transparency. Yet this has been, according to him, the least transparent administration in generations. Furthermore, he noted that when something negative is said about Obama, or the Administration, major media reporters all report that they immediately get critical emails from the White House. Actually write a critical story and you will get an expletive filled email, frequently with threats. He noted that the atmosphere is almost Nixonesque.
    A few weeks ago Sarah Palin made some inane comment about Obama’s qualifications. I couldn’t believe he actually commented about in an interview the next day. Each time you acknowledge petty snipes you simply give them greater life. Yet time and again Obama, his press secretary, and his surrogates can’t let this stuff go. They actually fuel incivility by calling attention to it. They don’t know how to stay above the fray. Most administrations move from an attack campaign mode to a governance mode once elected. To this day this administration is an attack campaign mode. Frankly it looks immature and anything but statesmanlike.
    There is no question that there is an excess of hyperbolic rhetoric coming at the administration but I really do think this is one of the most thin-skinned administrations in recent times. I sense that virtually any significant criticism of this president is perceived by him as uncivil. This is more than just not being perfect. For that reason, while I read his words about being civil I see between the lines “Don’t criticize me!” I don’t want to be cynical but it is sizable challenge from where I sit.

  • LR

    “We need to engage in dialog with our opponents, so please don’t call Nazis ‘racists’. We need to coexist, so please don’t call Stalin a ‘dictator’.”
    If the glove fits, you must convict.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    “A sign of incivility is, when someone issues a call for civility, to call the caller uncivil.”
    Perhaps. I practice civility by engaging people’s arguments as they present them, making a good-faith effort to understand what they are trying to say. If someone calls me uncivil for doing so (as Obama more or less has), I will address his hypocrisy. Obama never honestly addresses arguments.
    If pointing out hypocrisy is uncivil, then hypocrisy is civil, and so let’s re-assess the whole enterprise on the merits. Make your case authentically, and defend it on the merits. Obama’s sudden (and, I assure you, fleeting) infatuation with civility is opportunistic. It is ludicrous to suggest that it is wrong to point this out.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    Kevin is right. If it is uncivil to point out that a person who is making a public call to be civil has in private referred to critics of his policies as teabaggers, then let me be guilty of incivility.

  • Ann F-R

    Perhaps if the majority of responders to the “truth” in the call for more civility took a deep breath and said, “Yes, we can work together for that goal”, instead of pointing fingers at the person(s) we consider to be hypocritical in making that call, we would allow the Holy Spirit to heal the hypocrisy in ourselves and help the other person(s)?
    Pardon me for asking, but where are we honoring Christ and the image of God in Obama when we only point at the sin, instead of celebrating the Creator whose image he bears and we bear? Are we not saved by the love of God which persuades us to obey God’s commands? How may we love one another and our President here? How may the words and attitudes of those who follow Christ build him up and encourage him in Christ, too?
    If any of us consider it an honor to be called uncivil, should we not repent and consider whom we serve? Are we judges of one another or servants of Christ? Do we know the motives of another’s heart and the outcomes of another’s paths? If we speak truth, let us speak it in love and also with the humility of knowing that we, too, cannot cast the first stone. If our enemy speaks truth that reflects our Lord, let us have the courage and humble hearts to say, “Yes! Let’s work together!”

  • James

    I have the admit it is a little frightening to see how hard it even in a forum of the most thoughtful Evangelicals to be just a little gracious to a President of the US. Are we really such sore losers?

  • Peggy

    …not about being a sore loser, friends.
    …not about wanting to be uncivil, either. Not by a long shot.
    …not about a refusal of listening to the truth, regardless of the messenger, and owning my own “stuff” with humility and repentance — I’m all over that.
    It is, however, about how we phrase and frame these discussions.
    And I am looking for them to be framed with balance from the get-go so as to actually facilitate a civil discussion.
    Knee-jerk stuff at Jesus Creed just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I may have to finally come to grips with the fact that the old conversation spot is really gone … and it’s a new place. I am certain that I am too tired and broken down to read through comment threads like this anymore. Breaks my heart….
    I do know, however, that our God is always at work in each and every conversation and circumstance to bring about the best possible outcome, so I take some small comfort in that. And I will grieve what has been lost and remember it with gratitude.
    Shalom….

  • Peggy

    …and the Anti-Me scenario has at its foundation mutual respect and relationship. Which is what I’m missing here these days.
    I have a number of anti-me friends in my life. We don’t jerk each other’s chains or lob emotional, religious or political grenades at each other either.
    We are gentle with each other in those areas where we know we differ, because the relationship is precious and we treasure it as a way to understand the other better.
    …maybe I should have restrained myself and not entered the fray here today: our friends, whose 9 year old son has battled AML cancer for two years now, had to give him back to God today.
    Love. Grace. Mercy. Let’s talk about those and the whole issue of civility will resolve itself.

  • Amanda

    Why do we have such a need to label other people as Liberals/Conservatives/ Socialists/ Lefties/RIghties, etc.. in such a way that it is to be used as a term that is derogatory? This is not only a political issue (though the President has been called a whole host of names, as have those on both sides of the political spectrum). These snap judgements based on differences leaves no room for loving the other person and or group that one shares disagreements with. I’m going to give our president the benefit of the doubt on this one, because I am positive that I have thought and said similar things when addressing a group I don’t share agreement with. I know there are times that I have been uncivil. Obama’s advice, regardless of whether or not it is politically motivated, is good advice!

  • S Moreno

    Most utterances, especially public ones, are speech-acts. Obama’s plea for civility is no exception. His speech-act is not a mere plea for civility but must be determined from the implicatures of his utterance. A plea for civility implies two things: 1. That the speaker is civil; and 2. that the targets of his plea are not, for otherwise, his plea is pointless. The first one is intended to elevate himself from his adversaries. The second one is to put them down, for his plea to civility is made toward them (notice the lack of parallelism between the supposedly learned readers of the NY Times and the gullible listeners of Beck/Rush). In both cases, his illocutionary act is to gain political points. The actual perlocutionary act is that he’s seen as a hypocrite because of the first implication of his utternace, and he’s seen as uncivil because of the second. If anyone has the right to plead for civility, it is the one who’s either neutral of bipartisan. Obama is neither.

  • Amanda

    How can one infer that the NY times readers a “learned” from this excerpt? He recommended that they read the Wall Street Journal ( which is at the opposite of the political spectrum). I’m sorry, I don’t understand how you are drawing this conclusion.

  • DRT

    #55 Moreno
    That makes absolutely no sense at all. You are saying that he will never be able to call for civil discourse and is automatically ruled out. That is just plain irrational to eliminate the Prez from calling for civility.
    Dvae

  • RJS

    Obama gave a commencement speech in a public forum where he was speaking to a diverse crowd. He gave a speech suited to the occasion and by and large, although not perfectly, nonpartisan. (Unlike the Governor, who unsuited to the situation, gave a a partisan “pep rally” type speech.) I don’t go out of my way to listen to Obama – or his opponents either. I listened to this one for reasons that had little to do with Obama – more to do with commencement at Michigan, being situated here and, oh yeah, on the faculty. If Bush had spoken at commencement I’d have noted the interesting parts of his speech.
    Obama tried to make a point about civility – a point that we have long touted on this blog. Listening to this section of the speech,I thought the points about civility and standing in the others shoes were excellent points.
    It applies in politics, and it applies in religion, it applies in mission. We cannot and will not have any real impact if we do not listen and seek understanding. Civility doesn’t mean agreement, … criticism, debate, and argument can be civil. And – as Christians it makes absolutely no difference if those viewed as opponents fail in the goal, this is no excuse.
    The knee-jerk reaction, the inability to engage an issue, only highlights the root problem.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    I find the topic ironic here. On the article linking to D.B. Hart’s essay on the “New Atheists”, I several times tried – politely – to link to some responses to the piece. If you’re going to discuss atheists, might it not make sense to “understand where [they] are coming from”?
    My comments were deleted. That was very disheartening.

  • Rick

    Peggy #54-
    I am sorry about that news. Prayers for you and the family.
    Also, please do not give up on this blog. You bring valuable insights.
    RJS and Scot-
    Michael Kruse wrote “the medium is the message”, so here is a sincere question: Does the medium ever matter? Should we always look past him/her/it and simply listen to the words?

  • Chris

    Maybe this is a good showcase on why some Evangelicals can’t really talk to the “anti-Me?”

  • RJS

    Rick,
    If this situation is a place where “the medium is the message,” doesn’t it mean that partisanship is an insurmountable divide? Infinitely high and infinitely deep.
    Lets take someone I disagree with profoundly on many issues – John Piper – does this mean I should never see the good in anything he says? Or how about Stephen Meyer? I tried at least to actually listen to what he was actually saying and interact with that, not with the surrounding emotion and rhetoric.
    Obama is not the devil incarnate – and nor was Bush. I think we need to sift, use some discernment. But this is the point here – we need to really listen to those with whom we have serious disagreements, not dismiss them out of hand as “sub-human.”

  • MD

    If I find that I act or speak in an uncivil manner, I then have the responsibility to apologize, ask forgiveness, and attempt to rebuild what I have torn down.
    I also have that set of experiences to guide my future conduct.

  • http://sacramentalliving.blogspot.com Gina

    Unfortunately, the President touts civility when it is useful. I have said for a long time that he is the ultimate pragmatist. Read Kondracke’s article here. http://news.yahoo.com/s/cq/20100507/pl_cq_politics/politics3657517;_ylt=AiPnC720Mhca.uR3vD0gSzT4R9AF;_ylu=X3oDMTJscjBvdjhwBGFzc2V0A2NxLzIwMTAwNTA3L3BvbGl0aWNzMzY1NzUxNwRwb3MDNQRzZWMDeW5fcGFnaW5hdGVfc3VtbWFyeV9saXN0BHNsawN3aG9pc3RoZXJlYWw-

  • Bob Young

    Most of these responses prove the point, and remind me why I usually avoid such discussions. This could have been a great interaction, but instead it’s become the typical right-wing gamesmanship, which smells nothing like the kingdom of God. :(

  • Rick

    RJS #63-
    I hope no one here is thinking of Obama, or anyone they oppose, as “sub-human”.
    Although I agree that we should listen to various viewpoints, there is the issue of trust, confidence, and credibility in a person or insitution (the medium). Although I disagree with him on many issues, I take into consideration what Chris Matthews has to say much more than Olbermann. Likewise, I trust the reporting of the Washington Post much more than the NY Times. And, like you, I may disagree with a Piper, Wright, McGrath, McKnight, etc… on some issues, I have respect for their viewpoints on all issues (except Scot’s hope for the Cubs).
    There also needs to be consideration of the topic. There are many things that, while I may disagree with him, I would certainly consider what Obama has to say. This topic, listening to opposing viewpoints, is not one where he has earned credibility.

  • Jon Berbaum

    Wow, what a really discouraging thread. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted the move to BeliefNet more than today. I always loved the dialogue here, but now it seems anything remotely controversial evokes a steady stream of shallow, off-the-point contentions instead of the deeper, thoughful and gracious conversations I always respected Scot and the folks here for creating.
    I suppose it’s highlighted by the irony of the intended topic of the thread. The potential of this topic was immense. Instead we ended up with a parody of our general political discourse. And I even write this comment believing it will be interpreted as arising somehow from a political persuasion, as if that was the only lens in town. Ugh.

  • RJS

    Jon,
    I don’t think we can blame beliefnet for this one – there were acrimonious discussions well before the move, discussions where Scot turned off comments because he couldn’t trust people to behave and didn’t have time to moderate.

  • Chris

    Hey Jon (#68),
    As an Evangelical who listens to Evangelicals, is it really a surprise that this discussion is a paradoy of our general political discourse? It reminds me why I am buying a new book that comes out this month called RADICAL which is about disintangling our Christian faith from politics.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    @Chris (62)
    “Maybe this is a good showcase on why some Evangelicals can’t really talk to the “anti-Me?””
    I have friends on both sides of the aisle. My Facebook friends are literally divided 50/50 between liberals and conservatives. I fail to see how pointing out the politically motivated hypocrisy of our president constitutes an inability to understand and reason with those of differing ideological persuasions.
    @DRT
    “You are saying that he will never be able to call for civil discourse and is automatically ruled out. That is just plain irrational to eliminate the Prez from calling for civility.”
    Can a swindler give a speech on ethical investing? Wouldn’t you rule him out if he did? Perhaps you would simply take his words at face value, but I fail to see how that is the only rational choice.
    Obama has a plank in his eye, to my splinter.

  • Peggy

    Rick and RJS and Jon … and any others interested:
    My point about the change in the Jesus Creed that accompanied the change in venue is in approach. It’s Scot’s blog and he can do things any way he sees fit.
    That being said, I am sorry that there is not more proactive shaping of the conversation — with clear expectations for the parameters … that gentle reminder to live the Jesus Creed in our conversations.
    Take this case, for example. What if Scot had made it about the Anti-Me, with the link to the Obama speech tacked on at the end?
    Then, we could possibly have actually had a thoughtful, considerate conversation about the challenges we all face is listening well to those who think differently than we do.
    I think it makes a difference….

  • Rick

    Peggy #72-
    Good thoughts. I do think (hope) that would have made a difference.

  • Fish

    “Obama has a plank in his eye, to my splinter.”
    I should pay you for that comment. It’s going to be wonderfully useful both in firing up my liberal Christian friends and rebuking my conservative Christian friends. I’m going to forward it around to my preacher network and see if someone can get a sermon out of it.
    Captcha: shilled exponent. HA!

  • http://www.chezman86.blogspot.com kevin Chez

    Only someone in the media would write something like that cause they are surrounded by extremism: right/left, liberal/conservative, Rep./Dem., both sides of the story.
    In reality “we the people” are friends and live happily with all types of ideology.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    “It’s going to be wonderfully useful both in firing up my liberal Christian friends and rebuking my conservative Christian friends.”
    Whatever floats your boat.
    My CAPTCHA has an umlaut in it. How am I supposed to type that? I’m just going to type “spaghetti”.

  • hlvanburen

    Sacred Frenzy (46): hlvanburen (44), I never said the message was bad. I think it is good.”
    Excellent! This is a point where we can find agreement. Perhaps the next step is to begin the discussion of how we (you and I, if you wish) can work to improve the current situation. What tangible things can you and I do that might move towards a more civil public square where important issues are still discussed/debated fully, only within a respectful atmosphere?

  • DRT

    I would love to see an analysis of Meyers Briggs types and the politics of today. I can’t help but think that the Obama-phobic crowd (I could not resist that one) are SJ’s. They are 40.5% of all people and they:
    SJs are observant, stable and motivated by a need to maintain security. They are realistic, routinized administrators requiring tasks be completed correctly and that people behave appropriately. SJs make thorough examinations to ensure everything is done according to plan. They make sure no more and no less credit is given than due. When a need arises, they are quick to provide a solution, provided that the need is justified. SJs are not driven by impulse, but rather by concrete fact. By virtue of their reliable, diligent, industrious, persevering nature, they make excellent leaders.
    I recognize that it is not generally good to label people, and sorry if I am labeling anyone incorrectly, but it seems like there must be a big overlap there…..
    Dave

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    @DRT
    ENTP here, not that a single data point refutes your hypothesis.
    Not sure that the quest for a sense of security necessarily correlates to conservative values. An elaborate construction of domestic safety nets is another manifestation of an innate desire for security.

  • S Moreno

    #57 Amanda
    The left are those who read NY Times and need reading WSJ. The right are those who listen to Beck/Limbaugh and need reading Huffington Post. Regardless of the innuendo you perceive or don’t, his implications stand.
    #58 DRT
    The president is not automatically ruled out. Those who have shown themselves to be radically partisan and polarizing, however, cannot rightfully make a plea that crosses boundaries. The most Obama can do is to plea for civility explicitly within his own camp. If he genuinely desires civility in political discourse, he should start from there.
    A plea for civility, by itself, is a good thing and deserves to be heeded. But not everyone deserves a podium to make the plea. In concrete historical situations, you cannot divorce the message from the messenger because the latter is always part of the former. Although the gospel stands true regardless of the conduct of Christians, would you ever tell unbelievers that the conduct of Christians and the scandals they create don’t matter? For the left, Obama’s conduct might be impeccable. So only within that camp is he welcome to plead for anything.
    #63 RJS
    When you listen to John Piper or Stephen Meyer, you listen to their arguments, not to their sermons. I listen (but not necessarily agree all the time) to Obama’s case for health care reform, etc., but I don’t need to listen to his patronizing and supposedly nonpolitical speech to gain political points (as I argued in #56).
    If there’s anyone who can make a public plea for civility for everyone, he or she must be neutral or bipartisan. A good example is http://go.sojo.net/campaign/civilitypledge which includes signatories from both sides of the spectrum. Show me a joint Democratic-Republican (-Libertarian-Green-Tea Party, etc.) pledge and I’ll sign in. (Lest I be misunderstood, however, I should state that no person or campaign needs to make a plea for me to be intent on being civil.) Such a joint plea is not impossible. Although extremes in either side would definitely oppose it, it is much better than a plea coming from only one side.
    Although he’s the president and I respect his office, Obama is the last person for me to give lessons in civility. I’d rather read and recommend Richard Mouw’s “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World” (1992).

  • RJS

    Dave (DRT)
    Probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that I test as NT… in temperament type.
    Theory oriented. Seek to understand the principles on which the world and the things in it work. Focus on strategies and designs that achieve long range goals and lead to progress. Want competence and thorough knowledge. … among other things.

  • DRT

    Yes, I am Intp. But I am an accepting T, which cuts across the grain a bit.
    Dave

  • RJS

    S Moreno,
    This was a commencement speech. It is supposed to be some kind of inspiring forward looking speech. What do you expect from a commencement speech?
    I have not listened to Meyer’s “sermons” I don’t know if he gives any. But I have listened to Piper’s. He can be very right and very wrong, even in his sermonizing. We would be fools not to recognize it. I pick Piper as an example here not for his Calvinism but for his view of women and women in leadership, speaking as a woman.
    I don’t know the President – so I have no clue if he actually tries to follow his advice or not. I venture to guess that no one commenting here actually knows either. A few media hyped sound-bits have been mentioned, but those are not conclusive or convicting evidence. Every president we’ve had in the modern era (and probably before) has had slips that can be (and have been) amplified and vilified.

  • DRT

    Perhaps it is better if we all do not talk the same language (tower of Babel). Civil and inCivil?
    I contend the Greek inspired collapse of the Euro will be a modern day Babel if we were living in biblical times. Perhaps something like “All the nations made their value socialist and then God’s wrath was smitten upon the week and gluttonous, thereby showing that Yaweh is mighty of the Christian remnant in the US who do not support this idoltorous and satanistic union among the peoples of the world.”
    I should stop now.
    Dave

  • http://orant.blogspot.com Billy Kangas

    RJS,
    Did you manage to make it out to see this? Although I am at North Park now, I grew up in Ann Arbor. I wish I could have made it.
    -Billy Kangas

  • pam w

    RJS and Scot -Thanks for posting this. I do remember the conversation on Os Guinness’ book being more civil and mining more depth than this one. I am saddened by today’s thread, but not as sad as the ‘National Day of Prayer’ thread. I read through those comments early Sunday morning before spending a day at Google with people of many faiths talking about bringing wisdom to a world driven by technology. The dialogue was around the intersection of wisdom and tech and I was talking about sustainability.
    As I sat with Muslim friends, and listened to them talk about their faith, my mind couldnot shake an unchallenged comment on Jesus Creed: ‘Christ hates Islam, he may love Muslims ( that isn’t clear in scripture )’ – parenthesis is paraphrased.
    I don’t believe you can get to civility when you start withhate ratherthan love and respect for all human beings.
    On MBTI – having taught it for 23 yrs, and having taughtit throughout gov leadership ranks including political appointees under the Clinton and Bush White Houses, there iis NO link politically. Nor have I seen a link to civility. MBTI doesn’t test pathology, or poor, sinful use of our God designed personalities. It tests preferences and helps us see specific ways we may tend to be uncivil and not respect others because of our pre-conceivedmental models and worldview.
    My 2 cents

  • pam w

    I will add though that we probably have a much higher population of NT’s in these conversations because our preferences are drawn to these kinds of intellectual debates and it feeds our souls. I see a lot where someone with a preference for sensing comes in to argue when it is actually a completely different point. Then the thread splits to a couple of different groups discussing a big picture point and a detail point. Fun tonwatch!
    Happened a lot with McLaren’s book because it is almost completely an intuitive playground (or nightmare depending on your perspective)
    captcha: unsaddled now – I think they’re playing with us

  • RJS

    Billy,
    I listened/watched in the comfort of my office – I didn’t feel like braving the crowds, long lines, and security to sit in the stadium for hours. I know many who went though.
    I talked to some students at a reception afterward who were quite happy that the president was the commencement speaker despite the hassles.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I wonder what it says about the human condition we share that, no matter how many times God tries to point us to the beauty in one another, the image-bearing we share, the truth always being spoken in creation and through God’s fellow creatures, we always want to exclude or cut off certain people, people groups, etc., as a whole from offering anything of worth, or of God. We serve the One God, and Creator of all things who created them, too. If absence of hypocrisy is the test all of us must pass to be able to speak, then this forum should be completely silent, should it not?
    I do my best to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ: to speak only to build up and encourage, to dwell on what is pure, noble & righteous, while agreeing with those who call us to the higher level. All of us have failed, do fail, and will fail in our imitation of Christ. Does that render us any less God’s beloved whom God uses to bless one another and encourage one another along the way? Tell me, please, where that tipping point lies — because I’m a chaplain to dying people and I haven’t seen it yet! Just recently, I listened to a drunk, homeless, dying man express loving concern for his also drunk and homeless friends. Shall I not commend the glimmers of truth I see in his love, broken as he is, and incomplete/distorted as that “love” may be?
    When, exactly, does God cut off others from being used by the Holy Spirit to speak any truth (if only in part) or to express love (if only fragmented), anyway? I’ve certainly experienced the blessings of God and the wisdom of God through atheists, non-Christians, Muslims, Hindus, non-Americans.
    I think I’ll just stick to loving others, discerning truth & celebrating the goodness and blessing of God in the people whom God has placed in my life, and allow God to do the winnowing in me and in them.
    Thank you to RJS, Peggy & others who’ve put Jesus & the Jesus Creed first in your voices, here.

  • http://facebook.com/moonjp James Moon

    We’re all equally flawed, in need of grace. Once we realize that, it helps me to avoid throwing darts. Then we can first seek to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, so as to understand and love them.
    Good message. No one’s perfect as to fully live up to this ideal (we’re all flawed), but the message is good.

  • James Moon

    I think Obama’s words can apply to Christians:
    - Arminians listen to Calvinists and vice versa
    - Piper guys listen to N.T. Wright guys and vice versa (I’m a Piper guy, and I’ve tried, but N.T. Wright’s so hard to understand). haha Even Piper said he was confusing and wanted him to sorta summarize his beliefs. If N.T. Wright can make a briefing note (1 page max) on his topics like justification, it’ll be greatly appreciated.
    - Presbyterians listen to Pentecostals and vice versa
    Speaking of John Piper, if we really try to seek first to understand… I find many similarities between Piper and the Jesus Creed. I find McKnight emphasizes more the community aspect but the Jesus Creed is also about Loving God first, but even for Piper, the end goal of the gospel for him is to love, treasure, and worship God, and if you listen to Piper sermons on loving others, he’ll raise that up to, to a point where he’ll say, ‘don’t waste your life,’ but go and radically love others whether in the urban setting or in other countries.
    Just wanted to say that to sorta defend Piper, cuz some friends of mine don’t like him, I’m sure some of his teachings has helped to transform lives just as he did mine. I think we also have to consider that Piper’s in his mid 60′s and need to take his advice as how we take the advice of our parents or grandparents. We need to consider their upbringing and context while we still respect them for the wisdom they can share.

  • Rick

    Getting people to the table is very important, be it Calvinists and Arminians, Republicans or Democrats, etc…
    But the real test of the success of this speech will be to see if those Michigan grads will listen to Ohio State grads.
    :^)

  • Richard

    @ 92 Amen Rick. It’s important to listen to the ones you’re leading.
    Go Blue. ;-)

  • Jon

    Yes, the message is good.
    As a conservative, I do try to pick up on all sides–or at least a couple. I do, in fact, read The Wall Street Journal daily; and I listen to NPR every day as well.
    I agree that the internet can inflame the debate on both sides. I regularly reply to forwarded gossip, pointing to (for example) snopes.com as a neutral arbiter when possible.
    In response, I am trying to work harder at making sure that both my tone and substance are…well, Christian.
    I do, however, wish the President would heed his own advice. His *tone* is civil, but his rhetoric is not. He regularly uses strawman arguments in his speeches. He regularly uses the phrase “factually accurate” when discussing policy opinions or future possibilities. He regularly implies that those who disagree with his administration’s courses of action of being not merely wrong, but immoral and corrupt.
    I can’t change the president. All I can do is keep my own tone and substance in check–or perhaps, not say anything. And try to keep the discussion going between my own friends and colleagues.


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