Posts Tagged ethics

Christian Civility Is Applied Christian Ethics

Guest Post by Rev. John Romig Johnson. Episcopal priest, Jungian analyst and former seminary professor.

Recently I said to a fellow Jungian analyst, “Bless your heart.” My colleague took exception.  She is a Southern lady who had become sophisticated in civility and felt “Bless your heart” was patronizing and even a bit of a put down. For me “Bless your heart” was a feelingful phrase equivalent to giving someone a big hug. Saying “Bless your heart” means I know how you feel and I’m with you.

It was my mother’s favorite expression.  For my mother Christian civility was a kind of polite way of being respectful and well-mannered.  She and I grew up in the deep south where saying “mean” things was clearly uncivil. I also noticed that when my mother criticized anyone, she added the sweet phrase “bless your heart” to make it civil, polite. Looking at someone’s badly drawn art, she could say, that’s the worst drawing I ever saw, bless your heart.  So bless your heart isn’t always empathetic.  Hence surface politeness is not Christian civility.  Civility is much more than politeness. It is the act of showing active regard for others—it is applied Christian ethics.

One only needs to listen one day to talk radio or watch TV talk shows, or listen to campaign speeches to come to appreciate that civility is a de mode idea. The debates we have just witnessed in Congress seemed to epitomize incivility with political posturing and narrow self-interest winning over the concern for effective leadership of our country’s economy and future.  In addition, the wide scale fear of cultural, religious and sexual diversity seems to underlie much of the incivility which is present in our country today.

Today’s incivility seems to be a product of the increased Narcissism in today’s world.  All over, on a daily basis we see the horrible results of Narcissistic behavior. Individuals and groups; religions and nations act out their Narcissistic rage at various insults–real and imagined– and people suffer and die for the purpose of the grandiosity of the tyrant, or the glory of the religion. It was said that the 20th century was the “century of the Narcissist”, but the 21st is well on its way to outdoing the horrors of the past as a seeming epidemic of Narcissism .

Christian civility certainly is not just going along with whatever we’re told, that’s stupid not civil. Civility is also not conformity. We need balance, proportion and perspective.  But an important part of Christian civility is withdrawing projections and unconscious responses. Thus self awareness, self knowledge, self understanding are a big part of Christian civility. That is to say knowing ourselves helps us relate to God. 

I think the center of Christian civility comes not only from self knowledge but from an attitude of humility.  Humility is not some shame-based thinking of yourself as unworthy, inferior or flawed.  Humility calls us to have an accurate view of ourselves, seeing ourselves the way God sees us and recognizing we have gifts given by God’s grace to practice and develop.  Christian civility is about seeing you are not the center of the universe and that others matter too.  It means living as a Christian, yet thinking critically, and letting our faith tradition shape who we are and how we see life and its meaning.

I would submit that the most important law for Christian civility is the Golden Rule which states, “So in everything, do to others that you would have them do to you, for this.  sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  Clearly loving your neighbor as yourself means considering other persons point of view and not thinking of yourself as better as or worse than anyone else.

For me, Christian civility is applied Christian ethics both individually and as a community.

Rev. John Romig Johnson, M.Div., Ph.D., N.C.PsyA., is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Charleston , South Carolina , and a member of the New York Association for Analytical Psychology. He has lectured widely on Jungian subjects: particularly marriage and sexuality and issues raised by modern Fundamentalists. For many years he was Professor of Pastoral Theology at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City .  He is  Senior Priest Associate at St. Stephen’s Church in Charleston, he currently serves on the Professional Development Board for Clinical Pastoral Education for Charleston area hospitals.


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Listen Up: Why Your Pastor’s Sermons Don’t Help

Mitch Carnell
Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 6:37 am

Listen Up: Why Your Pastor's Sermons Don't Help | Mitch Carnell, Listening, Expectation

If I went to my own church with the same attitude of expectation, that something wonderful would happen there, with notepad open and pen poised, would I experience the same joy, Carnell asks.

I was surprised and perplexed as I examined my curious, contradictory behavior.

My wife and I go each summer for a week to the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state, where we hear outstanding ministers from a variety of pulpits.

I always take a notepad to the worship services and sit with pen ready to take notes.

Why do I not take a notepad to the worship service when I am in my home church?

At Chautauqua, it’s obvious that I expect to hear something remarkable. I want to be prepared to discuss the sermon with others later.

I go with heightened expectation because the visiting minister is renowned. I go ready to hear and be inspired.

Why do I not go with heightened expectations at home?

At Chautauqua, am I not engaging in a type of hero worship? Do I feel that someone who preaches in a tall-steeple church has more to say than someone who toils day after day in an unknown place?

If I went to my own church with the same attitude of expectation, that something wonderful would happen there, with notepad open and pen poised, would I experience the same joy?

Jesus said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:9). It is my job to hear.

The preacher, no matter how brilliant or inept, cannot do the hearing for me. I am the one charged with the hard work of hearing.

Even at the Chautauqua worship services, with a renowned speaker pouring out wisdom, I see attendees reading newspapers, texting, moving around and talking to a neighbor. Some seeds are falling on hard ground.

In my graduate classes, I talk to students about being prepared to learn. “Come to class with expectations,” I say.

One of my professors would routinely recite an old adage: “A student who comes to class without a pencil is like a soldier going to war without a weapon.” In other words, be prepared to learn.

Most people do not realize that listening is hard work. Many people feel they can read or text and still listen. They are dead wrong. They can hear the words; however, hearing the words is not listening.

I like that feeling of expectation, of being prepared to learn or be inspired. I like the excitement that propels me to find a seat where I can both see and hear the speaker.

I must admit that I never grow tired of those Scriptural nuances that make the stories come alive and help me remember, but I must remember to stay focused.

Jesus nailed it. Some seeds do fall among the weeds, some do fall on hard ground, but a few fall on good ground.

As any farmer or gardener knows, good ground is prepared ground. One doesn’t just go out and toss seeds anywhere. The ground must be turned, enriched and often moistened.

If I am to be excited by the prospects of worship in any venue, I must prepare the ground – my heart, mind and soul – to receive the seeds that will be sown. Jesus certainly shifted the burden of responsibility.

So I’ve changed my behavior. When Sunday morning comes, I will be in my home congregation with notepad and pen in hand. I will be there filled with expectation.

Mitch Carnell is a consultant in organizational and interpersonal communication. He is the editor of “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World” and an active lay member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. He blogs at 

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What’s “Your Word” Worth?

This is the first in a series of quest posts. Dr. Knight is a pastoral counselor. He was the director of the Mental Health Center in Summerville, a faculty member at Webster University, former pastor of The First Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, and the author of, Balanced Living: Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weaknesses. Dr. Knight blogs at

What’s “Your Word” Worth? by Dr. Monty Knight 

In 2009, my friend and colleague, Mitch Carnell, edited a worthy book entitled Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Smyth and Helwys). Dr. Carnell not only wrote the Preface and the last chapter of the book (“The Power of Words”), he envisioned the project, enlisting various accomplished persons, primarily clergy-types from an array of Christian traditions, to write other chapters, such as “Civility and the Common Good,” “Christian Civility on the Internet” and “Good Manners for Public Christians.” Mitch–the emeritus director of the Charleston (SC) Speech and Hearing Clinic, a veteran college and graduate school professor and management consultant, specializing in improved communication in the world of business and public affairs–is a Baptist layman, a faithful servant-leader in his own church. And the book grew out of his concern over such strident and polarizing attitudes, rhetoric and behavior which have come to characterize our common life these days–unfortunately, too often, even “at church.” However, along the way of his “shepherding” the not-so-easy development of Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (as someone has said, “You can drive cattle, but you have to lead sheep”; or is such an endeavor even more like “herding cats”?), Dr. Carnell found himself dismayed at an apparent moral lapse he hardly expected.

One prominent minister, a nationally known figure, had confirmed with Mitch that s/he would write one of the book’s chapters. But as the months unfolded, along with publication deadlines, and various other chapter-writers submitted what they had agreed to, nothing from this particular minister appeared. Not even an “I’m running behind” notice, much less a simple confession: “I’m sorry, but I made a mistake. I over-committed. I said another ‘Yes’ to something, when I already had too much on my plate.” 

“That would have been sufficient,” said Dr. Carnell. “I would have understood, accepted the apology and merely proceeded to ask someone else to write the chapter–which I finally, in desperation, had to do anyway–when I found myself running out of time with the publisher, yet hadn’t heard anything” from the particular minister-in-default. 

This, of course, was a low-budget venture; the various contributors signed no legal contract; there would be no lawsuits. This was a gentleman’s/gentlewoman’s agreement; a deal done with a handshake; indeed, the “worth” of “one’s word.” After all, everyone involved (including the publisher) would have claimed to be “civilized Christians”–most of whom were, in fact, clergy. So why didn’t Mitch confront this particular minister? As I commiserated with my friend, I shared my own similar experience, including three different examples. At least a couple of times it has been job offers, assurances that turned out otherwise, when I never heard back from those who “gave me their word.” Another was my doctoral dissertation project–again, involving ministers– less than half of whom returned the evaluations they “promised” in exchange for some training I had provided. While yet another involved my own book. The publisher even sent complimentary copies to certain minister-colleagues who told me they would review the book–but didn’t. 

As I shared with Dr. Carnell, I haven’t confronted everyone who promised me something they didn’t fulfill. But in the instances when I have, the response has been same: “I just didn’t want to do it.” This, indeed–not from strangers–but from persons I considered to be friends. Can one not feel “de-personalized,” even in a so-called “personal relationship”? When we feel discounted; when, as we say, someone just “blew us off.”

Observing my friend’s experience, from the perspective of my own, I find myself wondering if, perhaps, certainly “Christian civility” doesn’t have at least something to do with what anyone’s “word” is “worth.”

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Why It Is Important To Say Something Nice To Others This is a link to the article on Ethics Daily. You can read my other contributions to that web site by entering my name in the “search block” at the top of the page.

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