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.

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