As Republicans readily acknowledge the dangerous culture of Maryland’s “Charm City,” Democrats harp that the city is just fine. Meanwhile, the likes of Bernie Sanders admittedly refer to it as a “third world country” (though no one would label Sanders a racist for his brutal honesty). It is all just another display of civility dying within our nation.
While government, culture and media would say civility should just be thrown out the window, or politeness is what you make it, scripture would say differently. They are the simple lessons we learned as children -- in kindergarten, in Sunday school or in a healthy home -- as to how we approach conflict.
When the President vocalized an unfiltered disappointment (as Trump often does) with Baltimore’s leadership, it was hastily met with critique from politicians and commentators, labeling his statement as racism. What started over a concern for the rate of homicides and violence in the city of Baltimore, which has increased drastically this year, has evolved into another frivolous fight. The hateful words thrown at each other, heartless spirits and endless bickering over recent days, is continuous proof of the lack of civility within our leadership and our dire need for it as a nation.
Not only in recent months, but in past decades, we have seen a great decline in how we handle controversy and discord as a nation. We have turned to the quick firearm of social media. We have utilized ruthless commentary to tear down those within the same “house,” and we continue to rally up against one another, rather than living as civilians who are learning how to occupy the same space.
Sometimes I wonder, have we forgotten what it took to grow our nation to this age? Are we so consumed with our own wants, feelings and emotions that we begin putting words in each other's mouths? Are we assuming the worst of each other’s intent before we even consider communicating with one another?
Like many other things in our nation, we like to put our own definition to everything so that it can suit us. So while the word civility can be twisted and turned to mean a variety of things, the definition is “the act of showing regard for others by being polite.” The word civil is actually rooted in this concept of being a part of a city, a unit.
For those of us who are believers and Christ-followers in this current culture, we must recall the basic biblical approach to disagreements. In Isaiah 1:18 scripture says, “Come now, let us reason together…” (KJV). Another version (NIV) says, “... let us settle the matter.” Further, in Romans 14:19, we’re reminded, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” - not just some efforts, or the ones we feel like putting forward, but every effort. As the human race, never mind a nation or city, we have been called to “come... and settle the matter.”
It was in his farewell speech, President Ronald Reagan then noted our need for civility and referenced “a city on a hill”: I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.
Critique and clarity are essential to working and living together. Honesty is always essential to growth in any relationship. Yet, until we are able to live the Bible’s direction and act in a civil manner, we will never be able to see the beauty, peace and promises God originally intended for our city and our nation.