Living Peacefully With Your Neighbor: Discussion on Civil Discourse

Romans 12:18

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

In the past few years or so our society has had vigorous debates and arguments on everything from gay marriage to gun rights and everything in between. More often than not these debates have been vicious, vitriolic, fervent, and violent. It’s a rare occurrence when one sees a civil discourse and exchange of differing perspectives based on reliable information. In these discussions and debates no one talks past each other, everyone respects each other’s perspective, people listen, and are willing to be patient, receptive, and gain new insight. It’s truly a wonderful thing to see. A breath of fresh air in a toxic world of emotionally charged rage and rhetoric.

As the saying goes, ” Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

This saying is easier for some to digest than others. Think of a time your child may have told you that they hated you or someone gossiped about you. Now in these situations you may have said that your child didn’t really mean what they said they were just emotional. As concerns the gossiper you might’ve said, “I don’t care what they think or say about me I know who I am”. However, at some deep level these words must have hurt at least a little bit. They effected you in some form or fashion.

Now, words are powerful. In fact, they can change the course of history. The Apostle James tells us that the tongue is a dangerous thing.

James 3:5-12

Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.

See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

God commanded the earth to be and it was. Christ commanded the fig tree to wither and it obeyed. How much more so if we were made in the image of God should we be cautious with the words that we use when addressing each other.

For evidence of why this is the case look no further than last years Planned Parenthood attack. After former Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina and others accused the organization of selling aborted fetuses and described grisly details of an alleged video showing a dissection of a fetus a man attacked and killed three patrons at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. He was reported to have uttered, ” No more baby parts.”

This event occurred after undercover videos of the alleged selling of aborted fetuses was introduced to the public by the group Center for Medical Progress. After these videos were released charges of “murder” and “baby killer” could be seen and heard in almost every discussion on the topic which quickly led to calls for the defunding and shutting down of PP clinics across the nation. These actions led to the event in Colorado Springs.

What could have prevented bloodshed? If we sought to see one another as human beings and not as mere pawns or characters in a political or religious game this could have been prevented.

Paul recommended it. Christ commanded it. Live peaceably with all. Love your neighbor as yourself. The foundation upon which anything beneficial will arise from is love and mutual respect. Begin and end with this.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. We should be adults and behave in a mature fashion not demanding a stance that says it’s either my way or the highway.

As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 14 we should not “quarrel over opinions”, but allow each to be convinced in his own mind. Rather seek “peace and mutual upbuilding”.

There is also the population which some have taken to calling anti-intellectuals. They reject anything and everything that does not agree with their own biases and preconceived notion’s of reality. They are guilty of confirmation bias. Both sides can be and often are guilty of making these mistakes which ends with derailing the entire conversation.

This is just as important as love and mutual respect. There needs to be a consensusĀ of objective factual, informative, and reputable information. This must be maintained in any spirited debate or discussion.

I believe that what is driving this movement of anti-intellectualism is fear of the unknown. The fear of losing the very foundation of their upbringing. If you take away their foundation in their beliefs which were grafted into them from birth then what do they have, essentially? That is terrifying. It is paralyzing. They feel like the carpet has been pulled from up under them. Those who seek to engage in these spirited debates must understand this frame of mind and its implications for that individual or group of individuals. This is why they fight so hard against change or anything that goes against what they believe. Fear is at the root. A fear of a loss of identity. Try and soothe that fear so that productive debates and discussions can be had and sustained.

So, how can we live peaceably with our neighbors? Begin with love and mutual respect. Try to see the world through their eyes and not just your own. If a discussion devolves into anti-intellectualism then remember to be courteous and remember their base fear. They have much to lose, so it seems to them. Ease their fears, comfort, and reassure them. Do these things and there should be a more civil discourse. In the end we want to respect their opinions. It is important that we as a nation learn to have civil discourse and at the very least agree to disagree.

Paul gives an example of civil discourse that begins and ends with love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Romans 12:16

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.