Civility in Conflict

Can Christians learn how to disagree without being disagreeable? As we enter the political arena, can we learn to differ without trashing those who disagree with us? The answers to these questions may determine whether or not evangelical Christianity has a future.

Negative campaigning works for politicians. They don't have to get people to like them or to believe in their causes (if they have any) to get elected. All they have to do is get people to despise their opponents.

But what works for politicians won't work for Christians. We had better learn that as we engage in political dialogue. If we lose our civility and imitate the negative campaign tactics of politicians, we will end up turning off people to the church and to the gospel.

In spite of how obvious this is, more and more evangelical leaders are willing to take that risk. In their zeal to promote their concerns, especially on "family issues," many are increasingly ready to take the low road. Instead of addressing the issues they deem crucial, they try to win political battles by destroying the credibility of their opponents. They are ready to use slander, innuendo, and distortion if that serves their purpose.

Perhaps the most blatant example of trashing a person, rather than dealing with issues, was evidenced in the ways in which the evangelical community dealt with the then-president of the United States in the mid-1990s. Bill Clinton raised an array of issues that warranted serious responses from the Christian community. It was important for us to express ourselves in response to his policies on abortion, homosexuality, welfare reform, foreign policy, gun control, capital punishment, and prison reform.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1995
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