Civility, Hypocrisy, Politicians, and Christians

00016925 Whatever happened to civility? Perhaps it's never been present in Washington, but it seems to me that for the last 6-8 years it's been virtually extinct.

Representative Joe Wilson's outburst, "You Lie!" during Obama's speech was ridiculous, rude, and he should be ashamed of himself. Despite his quick and (I believe) sincere apology, it will likely cost him his seat when the next election comes around. 

I applaud the president for handling the outburst in a civil way. He could have made things worse by responding in a "low road" fashion. At the same time, when a sitting President tells those in Congress opposed to his policies that they are "spreading lies" and threatens to "call them out," in full view of the nation and other members of Congress, he shouldn't get too offended if the favor is returned. It didn't have to go there. Some will say it did. But, it didn't. When it goes there, rest assured we are going nowhere.

Lack of kindness, respect and civility is, unfortunately, a bipartisan character flaw. Even as I felt shame and even anger at the Rep. Joe Wilson, I remembered this morning the booing of President George Bush I witnessed at the Obama inauguration and the booing of President Bush during the last 3 of his state of the Union speeches by members of Congress. He was called a war criminal, etc. by members of Congress. So, sadly, what happened last night is far from unique. It's more par for the course. That's sad. Really sad.

We Christians can learn something from Representative Joe Wilson and those who have gone before him on both sides of the aisle. We can learn how to discuss things in a more godly way. We can use the hypocrisy we see (I'll trash you = concerned, truthful citizen but don't trash me = lunatic, fringe, liar) to help us avoid the biblical disease Plank-eye. 

For instance, before we get outraged at how people speak of Christians, we can ask whether we speak respectfully of them. We should do a plank-eye test to see whether we have much right to speak. We can learn how ridiculous, disrespectful and flat-out mean we can appear sometimes to those who expect better from those claiming the name of Christ. We can take greater care to honor Jesus as we deal with difficult issues in the church and in the world. We can love our neighbor better. We can respect authority better.

I believe Christians have made great strides recently in these areas. However, righteous speech is something we need to always pay attention to, remembering these sobering words of Jesus:

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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8 thoughts on “Civility, Hypocrisy, Politicians, and Christians

  1. Tim,
    It’s not very often I find myself on the other side of the fence with you. While I respect your words of wisdom and insight, and agree that civility and respect are lacking in modern day discourse, I find it troublesome that we would allow deception to triumph over truth for the sake of civility. Had Mr. Wilson remained “respectful” during the recitation of the Health Care speech and went status quo with a written response; it would have simply fallen on the deaf ears that reside in “spin alley.” As a consequence of Mr. Wilson’s inappropriate actions, the provision/loophole that would allow for illegal aliens to participate in the “reform” is now under nationwide scrutiny and will most certainly be revised/closed before a potential passage. Mr. Obama was fully aware that no verification process existed to keep those not entitled to the “reform” from signing up. Two bills were introduced prior to the speech that would have made Mr. Obama’s statement true about illegal’s not receiving benefits. Those bills were defeated along party line votes. Mr. Obama was fully aware of this issue and decided to move forward with the half truth written in his speech. Mr. Wilson, like you mentioned, has risked his career and reputation for the sake of truth. I applaud his resolve and only wish more of our political leaders (on both sides of the aisle) would risk career and livelihood to point out blatant fallacy. Now, the easy counter argument would be to simply ask how then, would you maintain order? Well, what’s the point of order amidst lies and deceit?
    Let me ask this hypothetical. What if the President made the statement “God doesn’t exist” in one of his prompter-speeches? Would we be so quick to jump on the civility band wagon against those who vocally expressed opposition at that very moment? Let’s be honest with ourselves. I believe many of us would stand up in support of those who became unruly and disrespectful. I realize this is an extreme that is not going to happen. But to what degree do we justify disrespect? Would we really subscribe to the ideology espoused in this blog entry? Or would we allow it because a statement of that magnitude is much more severe than a little lie.
    I was fortunate enough to be half raised (mom had the other half) by a father who instilled in me the values that make me who I am today. Out of the many cliché sayings he repeated time and time again, 2 of my favorites are “Always tell the truth, it’s easier to remember” and “Stand for something or fall for anything.” Maybe it’s an inherent flaw of mine that I desire to defend the truth. I am asserting here that the President knowingly told a lie. Mr. Wilson’s outburst was in defense of truth. I simply can’t condemn the man for setting civility aside and “calling the President out.”
    I do not believe that one’s primary duty is to be civil. Rather, it is to stand with and speak the truth. I find Mr. Wilson’s apology to be interesting. He said, “This evening I let my emotions get the best of me…While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He is not apologizing because his he believes his accusation is wrong, he’s apologizing for lack of civility.
    I find it ironic that the sin here is not a matter of the President telling a lie; it is telling the President that he lied. I realize that my arguments here will be in vain without citing a biblical reference. Galatians 2:11 reads “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was to be blamed;” Here the Apostle Paul when he sees the Apostle Peter being dishonest via hypocrisy confronts him to his face in front of those present at the time. Where is the civility? Does Paul care that Peter is a fellow apostle? His concern here is not to be civil. His concern is for the truth and he does not apologize for it. Was Christ being civil when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple? Do we condemn Dr. King for civil disobedience to right the wrongs of inequality?
    I don’t think I need to go into God’s opinion of liars. My fellow Christians, let me ask you this. How important is truth to you? Are you willing to stand for God’s truth even though you may be demonized? And more importantly, are you willing to be confronted when you tell a lie?

  2. Really good stuff, Tim. Except the Christians I hear seem to be getting worse at civl discourse. Maybe it’s different in California.

  3. Good post! It seems like too much speech only polarizes but that is what happens when our communication is shot from the hip (and in a world of blogs, facebook, twitter, etc…, that is easy to do). We need to be asking ourselves if what we are saying will help contribute to the good or will it only inflame, villanize, demonize, etc… To use theological language, will our speech help redeem to God’s purposes or will it only further discord?
    We need to restore the value of “redemptive” to our words adn actions. It is a value I have tried to employ in sermon development (against the desire to just “sound off” at times over some frustration) but it is a value that would work well is every aspect of life.
    Grace and peace,

  4. Well said, Tim. It’s very easy for us to put national/worldy values ahead of Kingdom values, especially when emotions are at a high and when politics, sports, money, and power are involved. When it comes to politics, I wish Christians would be more honest, humble, and non-hypocritical when it comes to holding our own parties accountable, no matter where we fall on the ideological spectrum. “Plank-eye”, just as you said.
    To your point about speaking respectfully about others, I wish we could listen to ourselves and hear the disparaging things we say (probably unawares and without malicious intent) about poor people (“trash”, “those people”, “animals”), Muslims, and conservative churches.

  5. Tim,
    You are so on the mark here. Thanks for calling the attention of your readers to it.
    I’ve contended that we in the church have followed and adopted the uncivil approach of our congressmen and congresswomen in our dealings with each other, as well as non-Christians, for far too long. It’s disturbing and there’s no wonder why Churches of Christ tend to struggle in the area personal relations.