Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Disagreement and Civility

How do you argue?

I have been asking myself that a lot this week.  I don't like to argue and infrequently find myself in circumstances in which I feel argument is warranted.  But I recently found myself confronted by another person in a way I felt was unfair, leaving me feeling defensive and wanting to justify my perspective.  In considering how to respond to the confrontation, I have struggled with how to combine my desire to defend my perspective with my desire to respond with Christian charity toward another person. 

To the rescue, T found a great essay perspective from one of our favorite Christian authors on the idea of Christian Civility.  The following is an excerpt from the essay, which was written by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in New York City.  It helped me re-think my approach to disagreement and encouraged me to prioritize respectfulness, humility, and unselfishness if I choose to offer my opposing perspective to another person. 

"Os Guinness has said that civility is too easily dismissed as simply “niceness” or even squeamishness. Worse, it is seen as unwillingness to contend for what is right and true.  Civility, however, has to do with how you contend, and it is an expression of caritas—charity or Christian love. It is not a refusal to criticize. Indeed, uncharitable discourse makes no attempt to really persuade the opposition. Uncivil discourse merely castigates and caricatures the other side. It doesn’t try to win over the opposition with the truth, but only to marginalize and disempower them.
         Uncivil speech is designed to intimidate, silence, and stir up opposition. It does not aim to persuade more people to believe it. Ironically, when Christians speak this way, it shows no confidence in the Truth at all, but only in power, and that is a very secular view of the world....
         By contrast, what does Christian civility look like? First, it shows respect for persons in the image of God even as it argues that their views and positions are not worthy of respect. James 3:9 says we should not “curse men made in God’s likeness”—a remarkable warning against wishing ill on people.
         Second, it shows humility as you argue. That means a lack of eye-rolling, sighing, sneering, and pejorative vocabulary..........

        Third, it would be good to follow the ancient rules of debate. One is not to attribute an opinion to opponents that they will not personally own, even if you think it is the logical outcome of their views. Another ancient rule is: before arguing with your opponents you must state their position positively and so well that they say, “Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then and only then may we proceed to argue. "  ~Tim Keller, January 7th 2011

Food for thought.  


Kat said...

Queen B, I have been thinking a lot about this lately as well. In my interactions with others, I try to remember to come from the perspective of charity and respect. I think to myself, "If I saw this same person tomorrow in church or in a restaurant, would I be embarrassed because of our conversation, or would I feel comfortable interacting with them again?" If we are authentically charitable and respectful towards them, we can disagree and still be comfortable in each others' presence.
I also think that sometimes, it's just not worth it to have a conversation. Have you ever heard the expression, "Don't wrestle with a pig. You'll only get dirty yourself, and the pig will enjoy it." This is so true, especially with people who are so self-righteous that they aren't willing to acknowledge that they may be wrong, or that you might have some good points to make.
Hope this helps!

Chrisy said...

Our sermon series this Sunday started with the question, "What spills out?" Our pastor went on to explain that when, as Christian's, we get churned up over something we need to examine what spills out. Does God's love spill out or does the world's anger, hostility, etc. He was speaking right to me....and this essay is too. Thanks for writing down your thoughts.

Queen B said...

Thanks, friends, for such great thoughts.