You Betcha – Thoughts on Sarah Palin and Civility

Yesterday, Sarah Palin's book, Going Rogue was released. I have a copy and will begin reading it tonight. It will be a #1 best-seller for weeks and I have little doubt that it will have some interesting stuff in it.

As the book's release date drew near, Sarah Palin once again became the subject of a media scourge. She, as much as anyone I can remember has experienced an undue amount of "below the belt" criticism from all corners of the media. I could list them all here…but I would soon run out of room.

Today's mainstream media portrait of Sarah Palin might be summarized as follows:

  • She is a moron who has nothing of substance to offer.
  • She is a quitter.
  • She is attractive and that's the only reason anyone would vote for her.
  • She is a bad mother because one of her children got pregnant out of wedlock, and works even though she has a Down Syndrome child.
  • She is redneck.
  • She is anti-woman because she is pro-life and against certain entitlement agendas.

In truth, it's doubtful that any of those things is true. Real morons and quitters don't become Governors and run for Vice President—and successful governors at that. Bad mom? Hardly. The Palins seems to be a harmonious and substantive family. Governor Palin is on her first husband and seems to have a good relationship with he and her children. Redneck and anti-woman? Come on.

I'm sure there will be people in the blogosphere that will disagree with my opinions on Governor Palin. That's fine. However, for the life of me, I can't recall a person who has received such a large flogging for so little. Disagreeing with a person's policies is one thing. Attacking they and their families so personally and constantly makes me say, "Enough," please.

Martin Marty once wrote that people who have strong convictions are often not very civil, and people who are civil often do not have strong convictions. What we need, he said, is "convicted civility." I couldn't agree more. If you don't like Sarah Palin, fine. If you don't like Barack Obama, fine. Don't like "W"? Fine. However, we must strive to be gracious and truthful in our criticism of others.

Obviously, it isn't adequate to simply ignore what a person stands for…especially when that person runs for office. At the same time, we can honor Jesus in speaking truthfully of a politician's positions and graciously of their personal lives…remembering Jesus' "Plankeye" teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. This doesn't mean we don't voice what we believe to be true. It's about how we voice it. I could have picked a number of different people or issues to make the point here…but Sarah Palin is today's lightning rod.

At a very practical level, America's rising inability to dialogue constructively is a major problem that is making it hard for us to get much of anything done. You see it in churches too. When attitudes make constructive dialogue impossible, it constipates the ministry system. Egos get in the way, powermongering begins to take over. Personality conflicts spark. And…Nothing happens. Nothing. And, if something manages to get done, it often happens with much blood left on the battlefield which just makes people more resentful and resolved to win the next battle.

In his wonderful book, Uncommon Decency, Richard Mouw writes of how in today's society, civility is thought of as being a pushover. He goes on to say,"…in the past civility was understood in much richer terms. To be civil was to genuinely care about the larger society. It required a heartfelt commitment to your fellow-citizens. It was a willingness to promote the well-being of people who were very different, including people who seriously disagreed with you on important matters. Civility wasn't merely an external show of politeness. It included an inner politeness as well."

Seeking the good for others…even those with whom we disagree…is the Jesus way. Sometimes that may mean calling a person out. When that time comes, how we do that matters.

It's a difficult thing to serve in a fishbowl profession like politics
or church life. It's par for the course in some ways…toughness is
required. However, when we make people our personal piñatas to hit
until what we want comes loose—we do a disservice to those people, ultimately ourselves, and to
Jesus. 

There are politicians that I don't like, I don't believe in, and that I think are downright crooked. That doesn't give me some sort of hall pass from the demands of the Gospel. Jesus says we will give an account for every careless word we utter. In times like these, that's a frightening thought.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." — Jesus in Matthew 5:9

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 ChurchLeaders.com, 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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3 thoughts on “You Betcha – Thoughts on Sarah Palin and Civility

  1. If you want to know how bad people dislike her, just notice what they have done with Levi Johnston. The guy who shacked up with his girlfriend and left her with the baby is now the darling of the media and entertainment industry. What has he done? He is a loser in the biggest sense of the word but he is being propped up because they believe he has dirt on Palin and because he confirms in their minds everything they want to believe about her.

  2. Our example is always Jesus, who wasn’t afraid to confront the bullies and yet “a bruised reed he will not break or a dimly-burning wick he will not extinguish” when dealing with those that were suffering or powerless (Matthew 12:20). My experience with the power brokers and bullies is that they cater to and cower before the rich & powerful and use the weak and powerless as their punching bags. It’s no wonder Jesus said that, in the kingdom of heaven, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Thy kingdom come!

  3. Tim, amen. amen. amen. I really appreciate what you wrote here, and it’s something I have been thinking about for a while (admittedly, my concern was how some Christians speak of Obama because being conservative is evidently more important than being civil to some, but I wholeheartedly share your concerns about the conversation concerning Palin as well). I feel that those of us espousing Christian faith could offer the public sphere a Christ-like contribution of respect, tolerance, civility, and truth balanced with grace. St. Paul never asked us to point out the failings of public leaders. The mark of Christian distinctiness is to live “quietly” and “pray for the ruler”. There is a way to state one’s disagreement without being disagreeable.
    I completely disagree with Palin on a number of issues, and I find some of her stances to be way too close to fundamentalism for my own tastes. I also wish that she had played by these same rules when she insinuated over and over again that Obama was a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer (and he never spoke ill of her). Though I am no fan, one thing that I do give to her because I feel it is my Christian duty to do so: the benefit of the doubt. Most people who run for public office are decently intelligent and almost always have good motives and intentions (yes, really!). I do not doubt her good motives either. I wish that we could learn to give this gift of non-judgment and acceptance to those with whom we disagree, regardless of party or platform.
    But your article and Mouw’s comment also goes beyond mere non-judgment. It asks us to help others thrive with whom we disagree. What if some conservative Christians went to Obama and said, “We don’t always agree, but we are here to help you have the best and most effective presidency on behalf of the common good that we can.” And then keep that promise. What if I dedicated myself to helping Sara Palin improve her capabilities and become an effective leader? Or the person in the pew with whom I disagree?
    That, it seems to me, but would a sign of Kingdom come.