"As Christians, we never have the option to speak about or treat others in a way that diminishes their worth as human beings. As Americans, we should know better."
This quote is lifted from an open letter published by the Tuscon Citizen on 2-27-08, authored by Dr. Tim Kimmel of Family Matters; Pastor Sandy Mason, senior pastor of Desert View Bible Church; and Pastor Billy M. Thrall, senior pastor of Neighborhood Ministries. All are from Phoenix. They wrote to plead for civility in the debate about immigration. They did not take a particular point of view regarding the issue itself, only sought to remind the community that some of the rhetoric being used was indeed toxic, and some of that rhetoric was coming from people of faith.
I, too, would like to address the issue of civility in public debate. Not that I haven't been guilty of letting my tongue flap in an unpleasant way myself! But folks, lets call ourselves on it. And I think we should refuse to listen to it as well.
Often my husband and I will stay up a few extra minutes to listen to the opening monologue of one of the late night talk-show hosts. It was a way to end the day with a few chuckles. But lately, we've just given up that habit, because the humor around the political candidates has become so nasty and belittling. All three candidates currently in the race for president are United States Senators who have devoted themselves to a life of public service. Do we really need to give them derogatory nicknames? Mock their personal lives? Play "gotcha" with every slip of the tongue they make on the campaign trail? Does the president of our country- any president, of any party- really deserve to be discussed as though he is some kind of drooling cretin? Do we need to have open season on Hispanics, Muslims, pastors of black churches, members of the party we disagree with, environmentalists, oil corporation CEOs, or whoever the scapegoat du jour?
I realize that comedians have always gotten laughs at the expense of others, and I actually do have a sense of humor. I realize bloggers and those who comment on blogs have the right of free speech in this country. I am exercising that right myself at this very moment. But I also, in writing a blog about about leading a God-honoring life, would like to challenge anybody who reads this to think about who they listen to, and who they might emulate when they speak. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "Let us consider how to stir up others to love and good deeds..." That's what the above quoted pastors were attempting to do. That's what I'm attempting to do.
Recently a group of high schoolers challenged their town to attempt a week without swearing. They thought about just having it be the high schoolers themselves, but they realized they needed the people they live with to help them in this effort, too. Surprisingly, the townspeople came on board with the idea. In the end, many reported that they think it was a good exercise, and that our collective manner of speech had taken a serious turn for the worse, which they realized needed to be corrected. Now, a lot of the people I know don't do much swearing (I do work in a church!), but there are other things that can be said, or even tacitly agreed with, that are just as unpleasant.
I hope that some of you will think hard about that talk-radio host you listen to, or check that nasty, belittling comment you might make in your workplace break-room about the candidate you don''t like, or perhaps remind a friend who is talking that way that this isn't constructive discourse, and we can do better. I hope we can be inspired by those high school students, who finally got fed up with the bad example the adults around them were setting, and challenged their whole town to do better.