Wanted: A Strong Dose of Bipartisan Civility

By Sheldon C. Good 06-25-2010

"How good and pleasant it is when the people of God live together in unity" (Psalm 133:1). Yes, and how ugly it is when we don't. I wonder, do God's Politics readers think we're lacking civility in our country today? If so, read on.

A poll released on Tuesday shows that two-thirds of Americans consider a general lack of civility to be a major problem in our country, while 72 percent agree that poor behavior has worsened in recent years. According to the poll, the most uncivil parts of society include politics, roadways, talk radio, Hollywood, and pro sports. Among the most civil are advertising, Twitter, friends, and places of worship.

Sure, most of this is unsurprising. What's really interesting is that half of Americans are "tuning out government and politics." Why? Almost two-thirds cite our lack of civility. Furthermore, folks are also tuning out reading opinion pieces and editorials (sorry, newspapers), paying attention to news, and general Democrat vs. Republican election hoopla.

Honestly, I sort of expect this lack of civility heading into election season. All the repetitious ads, red and blue (and green) signs, fear-mongering -- it all makes me nauseous. I love the idea of (somewhat) democratically electing our politicians. But I can't stand the election-time "it's all about me" attitude.

I'm waiting for a congressional candidate to run on a civility platform, not just because I think a civil candidate should win, but because they likely could win. In an era where sports, Twitter, and houses of worship are more civil than civil society, our politicians could use a strong dose of bipartisan civility.

But I don't expect it any time soon. Rather than finding common ground, our politicians are busy defining their differences. And as citizens, like communication practitioner Neil Postman once said, we're too busy "amusing ourselves to death." We've sacrificed deep, interpersonal dialogue for the instant gratification of e-mail, text messaging, and Twitter. This is no way to have a conversation.

So how do we invite more civil rhetoric, relationships, and community? Perhaps with the notion that we're all in this together. Let's all take some time this summer to put down our gadgets and sit down with our fellow Americans. Yes, too often we use the wrong media to communicate. But we can't blame our gadgets. In the end, we have to look at our own willingness to dialogue. As the civility poll says, more than 75 percent of respondents say the American public, political leaders, news media, businesses, and places of worship are all responsible for putting civility back in civil society.

This past spring, Sojourners recognized our need for civility, and released a "Covenant for Civility." In the heat of summer pre-election season, I invite you be a part of this covenant:

We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God's will for our nation and our world.

+Click here to sign on to the Civility Covenant

Sheldon C. Good is the media assistant for Sojourners.

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