Saturday, October 05, 2019

Some Guidelines for Civil Discourse

Flicker, in my back yard

(I don't read what people post on social media. I don't have time to do this. I am on Facebook, but I block everyone except my family and our church staff. 
I'm not on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbler, Snapchat, or Whatsapp. Or anything.  
I post this blog to Facebook. Some respond to my blog, and I often interact with them. Thank you.
I have always been a culture-watcher. I am interested in human behavior. I study moral behavior and its sources like a madman. I am  interested in how we Jesus-followers should live and act and have our being. 
I have personal experience with humans abusing each other verbally. Even among Christians. Even, sadly, at times, me.
This post is about how someone who claims to follow Jesus should conduct themselves, in any medium, in all human interaction.)


Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #1 - Love People


If you are a follower of Jesus, this is for us. 

Though the world fails in civility, we must engage in civil discourse.

Our foundation for civil discourse is love. We are to love others, in our behaviors. With the love of God, exemplified in Jesus. We must love like Jesus loves.

This includes those who disagree with us. It encompasses our enemies. They are among our "neighbors."

Love is the sign, the mark, that we are what we declare we are; viz., Christians. If we don't love, we have nothing. (See 1 Corinthians 13) If we don't love, we don't have our identity, at least in the eyes of others. People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care.

Jesus affirms the call to love in John 13:34-35:


“A new command I give you: 
Love one another. 
As I have loved you, 
so you must love one another. 
By this everyone will know 
that you are my disciples, 
if you love one another.”

People will know that you and I are with Jesus as we love one another. If we fail to do this, we will be far from Jesus. Others will think of Jesus through the lens of our rudeness and incivility.

When Christians hate one another on social media, they fail to display what is supposed to be their distinguishing mark; viz., love. When we get disgusted, show irritation, demean, mock, slander, ridicule, or bully, we dishonor people made in God's image. And bring shame upon our Lord.

Francis Schaeffer, in his classic The Mark of the Christian, writes:

"We are to love our fellowmen, to love all men, in fact, as neighbors. 
All men bear the image of God. They have value, not because they are redeemed, but because they are God’s creation in God’s image. Modern man, who has rejected this, has no clue as to who he is, and because of this he can find no real value for himself or for other men. Hence, he downgrades the value of other men and produces the horrible thing we face today—a sick culture in which men treat men as inhuman, as machines. As Christians, however, we know the value of men. 
All men are our neighbors, and we are to love them as ourselves. We are to do this on the basis of creation, even if they are not redeemed, for all men have value because they are made in the image of God. Therefore they are to be loved even at great cost." (Schaeffer, pp. 15-16)

It is clear, is it not, that in all our discourse with people we are to love them. This is the higher ground, where Jesus was suspended on a cross.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #2 - Never Mock People

Image result for john piippo evil
Chicago store window

Followers of Jesus are never to mock or ridicule other people.

Never. Ever. 

Mockery and ridicule are opponents of agape love. They reside in the camp of conditional love. ("If you agreed with my position, then I would not show my disgust towards you.")

Every person is made in the imago dei, the image of God. To mock and ridicule a person, no matter who they are or what they believe or disbelieve, is to mock that person's Maker. If you mock someone's children, you also mock them. This is how it is in tribal communities.

Slow-cook in the book of Proverbs and apply.


How long will you who are simple 
love your simple ways? 
How long will mockers delight in mockery 
and fools hate knowledge?
Proverbs 1:22

He mocks proud mockers 
but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
Proverbs 3:34

If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; 
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.
Proverbs 9:12

The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, 
but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.
Proverbs 14:6

Penalties are prepared for mockers, 
and beatings for the backs of fools.
Proverbs 19:29

The proud and arrogant person
—“Mocker” is his name— 
behaves with insolent fury.
Proverbs 21:24

Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; 
quarrels and insults are ended.
Proverbs 22:10

Mockers stir up a city, 
but the wise turn away anger.
Proverbs 29:8

How shall we live the command to love our neighbor? By mocking them?

How shall we give witness to the sign that we belong to Jesus? By mocking one another?

How shall we be blessed as peacemakers? By ridiculing those who disagree with us?

Is mockery among the fruit of the Spirit?

Shall we build up the body of Christ using the spiritual gift of ridicule?

Is not any fellowship with the company of mockers called wickedness? (Psalm 1:1)

To mock and ridicule others that do not think like you is non-redemptive, only causing existing divisions to separate further. 

(In logic, mockery and ridicule are types of informal fallacies, called ad hominem abusives. To verbally abuse someone not only adds nothing to an argument, it diminishes the argument.)

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #3: The Other Is Not Your Enemy

The apostle Paul writes:


For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 
but against the rulers, 
against the authorities, 
against the powers of this dark world 
and against the spiritual forces of evil 
in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

So, if it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy.

Our real enemies are "the powers of this dark world" and the "spiritual forces of evil." These are the spiritual forces Jesus came to defeat.

Jesus did not come to defeat people. He came to rescue them. In the rescue, the powers of darkness are defeated.

If you are a follower of Jesus you must not demonize others. Even if they anger you. To do that is to wrestle with the wrong adversaries. 

Discuss? Yes. Agree, or disagree? Of course. Wrestle with? That would be like leaving your true opponent on the wrestling mat and climbing into the bleachers and trying to pin the captive onlookers.

If we view and treat one another as enemies, we are engaged in vain warfare.

If an army starts to shoot its own, waging war within itself, this is not only a pseudo-battle, it's going to lead to defeat by the real enemy. If the actual enemy can get us to self-destroy,  it has won.

You and I are not enemies, because we are flesh and blood. If something has flesh and blood it cannot be our enemy.

Sadly, Christians can be tempted, deceived, and even used by the dark powers. (see Eph. 2:2; 4:14) As Ben Witherington writes: “It is all too easy to mistake the human vessel of evil for evil itself.” Pray that we never make that mistake, for if we do the days of hating and hurting and hiding from one another have arrived.

Our struggle is essentially a spiritual one. 


Wage war on that level.

Wage peace with one another.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #4: Never Insult a Brother or Sister

When Linda and I were campus pastors at Michigan State University, we were teaching Matthew 5:21-24 to our students. In the midst of the discussion, one of our students, Naomi, who was from Malawi, said: "If we followed the words of Jesus here very few of us would be worshiping today. We would all get up and leave, go to the brothers and sisters we were demeaning, and ask for forgiveness."



21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, 
and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry 
with a brother or sister 
will be subject to judgment. 
Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 
‘Raca,’ 
is answerable to the court. 
And anyone who says, ‘
You fool!’ 
will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, 
if you are offering your gift at the altar 
and there remember 
that your brother or sister 
has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. 
First go 
and be reconciled to them; 
then come and offer your gift.

"Raca" is an Aramaic term of abuse. It means "idiot." (See R.T. France,The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 120)

Anyone who calls a brother or sister in Christ an idiot is answerable to the Sanhedrin. (Greek synedrion.) France writes: "Jesus here threatens ultimate divine judgment on anger, even as expressed in everyday insults." (Ib.) 

If I call someone an idiot am I really relegated to the garbage heap where Israel's rubbish was burned? No. Jesus is using exaggeration, as he often does, to make a point. (This is called Semitic hyperbole.) But the point is important. This is "an injunction to submit our thoughts about other people, as well as the words they give rise to, to God's penetrating scrutiny... We cannot worship God with grudges unsettled."

Anger is no excuse for insulting people. It is non-redemptive and alienating.

If you are a Jesus-follower, and you ridicule a brother or sister, your worship is inauthentic, and unacceptable to God.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #5: Fear Speaking Badly of Others Made in God's Image

Frost on my car window


Have you ever met a Christian who never spoke badly of another person? I have met a few.

Apparently, Bill Johnson is one of those. Thank you, C.H., for posting this.

"In a recent meeting, someone said to Bill Johnson, "I notice that you never talk about people. You never talk badly about people. And I'm just wondering what's going on in your heart? How did you discipline yourself to NEVER speak negatively of other people, even people who are sometimes a pain?"
Bill, with tears running down his cheeks, said, "I fear Jesus in them. That I would speak badly about someone made in the image of God, that is so valued by God that Jesus died for them. And that I would portray them as something less valuable than that. I fear how God would deal with a person who would betray the people made in his image."


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Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (a book I co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I''m now giving attention to Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Followed by... Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.