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Pastor Greg Moore Reviews Christian Civility

16 Jul

from Pastor Greg Moore, Director of Christian Education St. Peter Lutheran Church

 An Encouraging Read.

Every once in a while my reading includes a book that touches me, moves me, so that I want to share it with you.  Such a book is “Christian Civility In An Uncivil World”.

One way to think about Christian education is that it is about two primary goals.  One goal is to teach or share the Word of God, especially the Good News of Jesus Christ, in order to create a faith in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  The other goal is to nurture and grow / mature the Christian faith in a believer by the Holy Spirit.

This second goal of Christian education, is what Jesus was speaking about when he said as recorded in John 14:26, “ (the Holy Spirit) will teach you all things … “.   Another way to express this second goal would be to say Christian education leads us, teaches us, what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ in the setting we live in, how to live our Christian faith in our culture.

This second goal of Christian education is addressed in the book “Christian Civility In An Uncivil World”.  I picked up this book edited by Mitch Carnell, with articles by numerous Christians, from our Lutheran Seminary library in Columbia.  I believe that you can ask for a library card and take the books out also.  Originally I saw this book highlighted in the library and picked it up due to what I was hearing and seeing on the television news, in terms of politics.  There was much name calling, I thought some telling of untruths, distortions, by politicians of other politicians, of politicians by news commentators.  This did not seem like civil behavior, like honoring behavior.  I believed that the Word of God teaches us as much as possible to honor all people.  I wanted to learn if these articles would shed any light on, any direction by the Spirit, about how to live our faith in our culture of political competition by honoring all people.   It did do this but it did much more.

The articles highlight the importance of being civil to, honoring, fellow Christians, especially when we are different, disagree, even strongly.  This is not an easy read, but it is an important read, and an encouraging read.  I was again encouraged to believe and hope for Christian civility toward, honoring of, all people during political campaigns, and fellow Christians at all times, even in times of disagreement, even conflict.

One of the most memorable statements in the book is about a quote from Dr. Martin Marty, a Lutheran Pastor and professor at University of Chicago.  It dealt with civility and convictions about issues.  He noted that in the Christian church, we often have people who have a strong conviction about something but aren’t very civil to others who disagree or don’t understand.  On the other hand we also have people who are very civil toward others but who don’t have strong convictions about anything.  What we need Dr. Marty said, and can have, are people with convictions who are also civil.

I liked this book of articles partly because it gives practical suggestions that can be learned and put into action.  I liked it because it does not suggest that we be marshmallows and allow ourselves to be walked on by others with a different opinion, nor that we do it to others.  Without giving too much information about the book, let me say that it shows where civility is strongly encouraged in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  With regards to our responsibility to fellow Christians, it shows that our primary task is to love them, to practice Christian friendship, no matter the situation or disagreement.  Obviously this is a very challenging task at times.

This is a relatively short book for a summer read or at any time of the year, and I encourage it because it is an encouraging read.

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Q&A: A reminder to be civil as Christians

Consultant, author and speaker Mitch Carnell says dialogue between Christians of different denominations can often look more like the Tower of Babel than Pentecost.

That’s why he edited a new book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Smyth & Helwys Publishing), a collection of essays from Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, evangelical and United Methodist contributors that shows how Christians can “explore ways for people of faith to talk to and about each other in a way that glorifies God and advances God’s kingdom.”

“It is possible,” writes Mr. Carnell, a Baptist layman, “for Christians to retain their differences and yet unite in respect for each other.” He spoke recently with managing editor Robin Russell.

Christians have always had differing opinions on theology and practice. Why is it so difficult today for us to be civil with one another?
I think it’s probably because our entire society in this country is divided about so many issues, and religion gets to be a part of that. And I think we have in many ways taken the foul rhetoric from the marketplace into religion. On the other hand, I think various churches in denominations have failed to lead in showing the ways that we can cooperate with one another.

What would civility look like among Christians?
I think we would recognize that basically we all believe some of the same things, and that we need to learn to respect each other and have dialogue with each other without becoming hostile. For instance, my own church, First Baptist Church of Charleston (S.C.), is actually the oldest Southern Baptist church in the South, formed in 1682. Our early ministers started inviting speakers with whom they did not necessarily agree. They felt the congregation needed to hear the various viewpoints. In 1751, the church passed a covenant that said, “We will live in harmony with all people and with Christians of whatever stripe in particular.” As you know, there has been lots of controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention as well as in other churches, but we have continued our tradition of inviting speakers from various groups.
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