In light of an unsuccessful campaign to become the president of my middle school as an eighth grader, I have no plans on entering politics and running for political office. Recently, however, I have been learning a lot about civic engagement, policy making, advocacy, and the larger realm of politics. Several days ago, I spent two days in Washington, D.C. continuing this education. And, while I wasn't able to play hoops with President Obama and throw him a couple elbows, I did have the opportunity to attend a briefing at the White House. While it wasn't as surreal as I expected, it was, nevertheless, a neat experience.
While I'm not able to disclose too much information about this gathering, we had a conversation on an issue that I feel like I'm hearing and reading about quite often: the topic of civility — particularly around the discourse of politics.
Ahhh, the conversation of politics.
As I shared with my church recently, I'm not looking forward to the next election season in two years. If folks thought that the most recent presidential election was intense, heated, and vicious … wait until 2012.
As an independent voter with an interest in politics not because I love politics, but because politics impact policies which ultimately, impact people, I don't see a way around it: Christians need to be engaged with our civic responsibilities.
The unfortunate thing is that I've seen people feel isolated, offended, and upset because they think I'm espousing a certain view. I even had couple people leave the church simply because my face appeared on this cover of the "ultra liberal left-wing" Sojourners Magazine.
When people ask if I am a Democrat or Republican, I often respond: On what issue?
But going back to the question and conversation of civility, I wholehearted agree that we — as a larger society (and as a Christian community) need to learn how to be civil:
- We need to learn how to listen.
- We need to speak without shouting and screaming.
- We need to not accuse and attack.
- We need to stop demonizing one another or prominent leaders.
- We need to be better informed.
- We need to agree to give space to disagree. It's okay.
- We need to learn where we agree and see how we can work together.
I have my own thoughts and views, and I've shared some of them on Glenn Beck and on Arizona, Immigration, and Xenophobia. While I've received my share of disagreements and criticism, I've appreciated the freedom to be able to both convey and communicate — and — listen and learn.
But as Christians, we need to agree that the most significant aspects of our relationships are not our politics, our political views, or our political affiliations, but that we are connected together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Politics has its role. But Christ is the most significant aspect of our community.
It does seem true that the our larger society seems to be fueled and propelled by disagreement, tension, and vitriolic banter rather than by harmony, cooperation, and unity.
But as I hear so many folks speak up, write, blog, teach, and preach about the necessity of civility in public and political discourse — all while citing numerous examples and stories of the lack 0f civility and mean-spiritedness against President Obama — I honestly have a hard time being fully engaged with their voices.
It's not that I dislike Obama, it's just that I wonder: Why weren't the same folks speaking up for President Bush? And, when I say "folks," I'm also referring to some Christians who, in my opinion, were absolutely cruel, vicious, and mean-spirited.
I agree. Let's discuss and engage the commitment to civility, but let's make sure we apply that — even to those on "the other side."
Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. You can stalk him at his blog or follow him on Twitter. He and his wife are also launching a grassroots movement, One Day's Wages, to fight extreme global poverty.