Our nation’s political discourse has become increasingly toxic in the past two decades. Consider the uncivil and even caustic demeanor of many radio show hosts, cable TV pundits, and opinion writers. Think about the degrading and demeaning language used in the comment strings of media sites, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages.
Consider the bipartisan nature of the incivility. Many on both right and left perceive the politically “other” as morally reprehensible, persons in whom no good can be found. Then they leverage that assessment to justify degrading, demeaning, and misrepresenting those persons. Finally, consider that we— Christians—often engage in political discourse in ways that reflect the broader culture rather than the gospel.
In a pluralistic nation, are we asking for room in the public square to argue for the beauty of the gospel, or are we demanding that all implications of the gospel be legislated for us so that our nation will conform to the standards of the New Jerusalem? Some biblically revealed truths are also naturally revealed and applicable to all of society, while other such truths are not. While the pro-life cause, for example, certainly applies to all of society (rather than merely to Christians), the command to honor the Lord’s Day shouldn’t be legislated for everyone.
Indeed, God intends for the gospel to transform us so that we’re not merely concerned with our own well-being, but also with the well-being of others. By standing with non-Christians in support of religious freedom for all, we show the others-focused attitude that should correspond with our proclamation of gospel grace. Though these are political discussions, they can easily turn into evangelistically fruitful relationships as we seek the good of our neighbors and have opportunity to give a word of defense for the hope that is within.
Truth without grace makes us political bullies and jerks. Grace without truth makes us political non-entities and wimps.
In light of the degraded nature of our nation’s public discourse, therefore, evangelical Christians must model the “more excellent way” to which Paul refers (1 Cor. 12:31). This more excellent way goes beyond the mere intellectual evaluation of political ideologies and policies. It also includes the practice of convictional civility.
Instead of degrading the people on the other side of the political aisle by demonizing them, questioning their motives, and caricaturing their arguments, the Bible instructs us to speak the truth in a way that communicates Christian concern and respect. We should represent our debate partners accurately, not misrepresent them. We should recognize the good in their lives and their arguments, not glorify ourselves and demonize them. In other words, we must cultivate a public demeanor that is worthy of the Lord whose name we carry (2 Cor. 4:10).
If the gospel message is true and it is—and if it truly transforms and it does—then gospel-minded Christians should expect to be radically different in every arena. As those convinced of the gospel’s truth, it is right and proper for us to defend it in public. However, the manner in which we defend it can either defraud or reflect its truth. Truth without grace makes us political bullies and jerks. Grace without truth makes us political non-entities and wimps.
But Jesus’s powerful combination of truth and grace exemplifies for us the more excellent way of convictional civility. With confidence, then, we must stand firm in our convictions—but do so winsomely in ways that honor the Christ whose gospel we cherish.