By / Sep 25

The night Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Russell Moore gave word to what many of us felt, that her passing “signifies an age of transition, a time of uncertainty.” Moore made the comment in a video standing outside his office where, moments before the news would break and change the night’s programming, he was set to join CNN to talk about pastoring during the pandemic.

Reflecting on the moment, Moore tied the night’s loss of Justice Ginsburg with the 2016 loss of Justice Antonin Scalia. He referred to them as titans of the right and the left and reminded us of their endearing friendship, “Let us look to their example of friendship, even as they had deep policy disagreements, as a model for our country moving forward.”

Today, Justice Ginsburg became the first woman and the first Jewish American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, one week after her passing. It feels further away because news moves fast these days. Each day closer to Election Day feels like our country has been pulled that much further apart. It’s easy to think of the pace of news in this environment like the ocean’s current, an outside force that tosses us to and fro. But political news moves at the pace its shared. We drive the news faster with our tweets and posts. We churn our collective attention span by clicking from one headline to the next as we lean further in the direction of our priors. Overtime, we’ve created totally different information silos from which we see the world.

The state of our national divide

Much has been written in recent years of our growing national divides. Political scientist Dave Wasserman coined the juxtaposition of “Whole Foods counties vs. Cracker Barrel counties” as a prism to understand how the growing cultural divide affects elections. For what it’s worth, I love dining in both.

Others includes Bill Bishop’s book, “The Big Sort,” chronicling the geographic shuffling of Americans into like minded clusters, and Cass Sunstien’s book, “Going to Extremes,” exploring how people’s ideological beliefs can grow more extreme when they cluster together. Jonathan Haidt dives deep into understanding why good people are divided on politics and religion in his book “The Righteous Mind.” And from an evangelical Christian perspective, David French of “The Dispatch” writes frequently on our national splintering with a new book out this week, “Divided We Fall.” French is doing critical work spotlighting how this “super clustering of like-minded citizens” is a bipartisan phenomenon that’s causing us to lose the ability to even know how to talk to one another when we disagree politically.

These social clusters and information silos are the soil in which tribalism develops and eventually can devolve into negative partisanship.

Writing for our Faith and Healthy Democracy report, an ERLC and Lifeway research project on evangelicals and the state of public discourse, Paul D. Miller describes this predicament, “Political tribes turn us from democratic citizens into mindless culture warriors. Simply put, we are making ourselves stupider and meaner.”

A different way 

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way. Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were icons for ideologically opposed corners of the electorate but their lives proved that friendship is an antidote for the contempt that too often accompanies political polarization.

The two lawyers served together as judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the early 1980s and then for nearly 14 years together on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court. They were rarely on the same side of a ruling and would often dissent in fiery language to one another’s opinions. So how is it that she would say of him, “we were best buddies,” and he would say of her, “she was the best of colleagues, as she is the best of friends.”

Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were icons for ideologically opposed corners of the electorate but their lives proved that friendship is an antidote for the contempt that too often accompanies political polarization.

Christopher Scalia, one of the late justice’s sons, wrote of his father’s friendship this week in an opinion piece for Fox News. The younger Scalia recounted that their friendship seems so unlikely to some people that they ask him bluntly, “I hear they were friends – is that true?”

This wasn’t the kind of expedient friendship everyone knows is forced for appearances or agendas. They were family friends, vacationing friends, holiday-celebrating and hobby-sharing friends. Their spouses, Marty Ginsburg and Maureen Scalia, were close friends as well. They loved to cook and would do so every New Years Eve as the Ginsburg’s and Scalia’s made a tradition of dining together to celebrate. Christopher, in his piece, remembered those nights fondly, “This set of old-timers could stay up into the wee, small hours of the morning every year, out-partying their children.” 

It’s evident in the recollections of Scalia’s son and others who knew them that their personal friendship was secure enough to sharpen their professional work as well. Christopher notes how Justice Ginsburg helped correct his dad’s typos and strengthen his arguments. Richard Wolf, writing in USA Today this week on this storied friendship, recounted a story Justice Ginsburg shared in her eulogy at Justice Scalia’s funeral, “When she was writing the court’s majority opinion striking down the Virginia Military Institute’s ban on admitting women, Scalia showed her his unfinished dissent. ‘It was a zinger,’ filled with ‘disdainful footnotes,’ she said. But I was glad to have the extra days to adjust the court’s opinion. My final draft was much improved, thanks to Justice Scalia’s searing criticism.’”

“The point is,” Christopher writes, “they didn’t let differing and deeply held convictions undermine their dear friendship.”

Our nation clearly admires the Scalia and Ginsburg friendship, but do we aspire to such friendship in our own lives? Do we have it within us to try to love that one neighbor of ours whose politics we find dreadful? Can we find the time to invest in a relationship with a co-worker outside the office? Are we willing to reach out to find shared interests with the person whose worldview seems alien to our own? Building friendship with people whose politics you don’t share takes effort, but there is so much more to life than politics.

Too often during the heat of an election year we choose not to just disagree with the way people vote, but to assume the worst about why they might vote differently than us. That’s tragic, especially within the church. In following Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves, we may discover that we share more in common with our neighbor on the other side of the political aisle than our tribe would tempt us into thinking.

In his reflection Christopher Scalia shared a moving story to illustrate how he believed these two titans of the law mastered the balance of forceful political debate and a peaceful friendship. It’s a lesson we would all do well to consider in 2020.

“Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of my father’s former clerks, tells a story about visiting my father at the Supreme Court on what happened to be Justice Ginsburg’s birthday. My dad had bought his old friend two dozen roses for the occasion, and Judge Sutton started teasing him, joking that there was no point to a gift like that when Justice Ginsburg had never sided with him in an important 5-4 case.

My father replied, ‘Some things are more important than votes.’”

Photo attribution: Karin Cooper/Getty Images North America

By / Sep 11

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss west coast wildfires, Disney’s Mulan, the ongoing opioid crisis, the Tokyo Olympics, the return of the NFL, and SheSheds. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including a piece by Catherine Parks with “Are we teaching our children civility with our lives? Putting ourselves in another’s shoes,” Dan Darling with “5 things I learned about work from working remote,” and Jeff Pickering with “Why I’ve looked forward to church outside during COVID-19.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Meagan Smith to talk about the last six months since the start of quarantine.

ERLC Content


  1. California’s Bay Area wakes up to disorienting orange skies
  2. At least seven dead as swath of wildfires rage across California, Oregon, Washington, other western states
  3. Disney’s live-action Mulan released worldwide after months-long delays
  4. Disney’s ‘Mulan’ faces criticism for filming in China’s Xinjiang region
  5. The Opioid Crisis, Already Serious, Has Intensified During Coronavirus Pandemic
  6. New York City to resume indoor dining at restaurants
  7. West Virginia University becomes the latest school to backtrack on in-person classes after a spike in COVID-19 cases
  8. Tokyo Olympics will go ahead ‘with or without COVID-19′ says IOC vice president
  9. Special report: The NFL is back and weirder than ever
  10. Americans are buying, building, converting backyard sheds into home offices

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By / Sep 10

In the midst of 2020, listening to someone extol the virtues of civility brings to mind images of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. In the best of times, we’re still residents of a fallen world under the curse of sin. But in addition to the usual consequences of sin that encumber our lives, this year we are navigating life in the midst of a global pandemic, a national reckoning over racial justice, and the final sprint leading up to November’s presidential election. Suffice it to say, this is a tense and contentious time. But even amid all of the chaos and tumult, this is the right time for Christians to raise the banner of civility.

Christianity as counterculture

For a long time we’ve been told that Christianity is a “countercultural” faith. Indeed, what is more countercultural than a political ruler who claims authority not by force but through a message of peace and whose rule is ushered in not through triumph but through death? Jesus taught us a new way to conceive not only of politics, but of victory, power, and strength. He redefined for us what it looks like to win, and what it looks like to rule. Because, in his kingdom, the last shall be first and the poor become rich. 

What does this have to do with civility? Everything. In a world obsessed with victory, fame, and power, Jesus taught us that the way of the kingdom is different. He taught us that strength often looks like weakness, that winning sometimes looks like losing, and that power isn’t a weapon. Most importantly, he taught us how to fight. Because we are not actually at war with that which is flesh and blood, we are commanded to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Eph. 6:12; Mt. 5:44). We are called to demonstrate compassion and forbearance, to serve those we are tempted to despise, and to forgive those who sin against us.

In sum, the way of the kingdom represents a completely different way to live. Jesus taught us to see other people the way that God sees them, as sacred and precious beings made in his image and likeness (Gen 1:27). He taught us to treat other people in ways that recognize their inestimable value and dignity. And he taught us to live each day in light of the reality that our true citizenship is not here on earth but in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are but sojourners and strangers in this world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our lives on earth are only a vapor, but our life in the kingdom will last forever. This is the way that Christians are to live.

Politics and civility

Most of the time when we think about civility, we think about politics. That makes sense because “politics” is one of the main things we do to participate in public life as citizens. But as everyone knows, even the mere mention of the word tends to foster strife and division. People are often passionate about their political beliefs because they recognize the stakes. More than candidates or abstract policies, the decisions we make at the ballot box affect real people’s lives in significant and meaningful ways. Still, all of us have witnessed the kinds of intense and uncivil clashes that are produced through “passionate” political discourse.

For the people of God, passion is no excuse for intemperance. Instead, following the example of Jesus, we should be the first to listen, eager to gain understanding. We should seek to persuade instead of coerce. And we should have the humility to recognize that our own beliefs are not infallible.

The political commentator Fred Smith once said “underneath our politics are values.” There is a lot of truth reflected in that statement. Beneath our political views are the things we care about deeply and regard as essential for human flourishing. Justice is a fundamental component of a healthy society. For some people, justice is the driving concern in their approach to politics. The same thing is true for other fundamental principles like freedom and equality. Obviously, each of these things are massively important. In fact, each one is critical. So it is no wonder why our tempers tend to flare when we feel that something we value and deem essential is being neglected or threatened.

In many cases, this is what drives incivility. Rather than taking a step back and trying to understand the concerns of those we disagree with, we simply judge them. We accuse our opponents of being unconcerned about justice or liberty or equality, or whatever it is we care about, when in reality they are likely trying to balance multiple concerns at the same time. Political discussions often generate more heat than light because we make unfair assumptions about our political opponents. We assume people who reject our views are rejecting us. We assume our opponents are uninformed or uncaring. We are slow to listen and quick to speak, ready to judge and reluctant to understand. 

But for the people of God, passion is no excuse for intemperance. Instead, following the example of Jesus, we should be the first to listen, eager to gain understanding. We should seek to persuade instead of coerce. And we should have the humility to recognize that our own beliefs are not infallible.

The kingdom and civility

Jesus’ reign will last forever. As the creeds testify, his kingdom “shall know no end.” Seeking to live as citizens of his kingdom should make it easier for us to exercise civility as citizens of the United States. After all, we know that our lives right now are nothing compared to our lives in the kingdom. If we are promised eternal life and a perfect future, we should be able to exercise the kind of patience and forbearance it takes to treat others with decency and respect. There is no election or principle that is worth the price of your public witness. 

No matter how turbulent our current times may be (or how quixotic it may look to the world), Christians are called to march forward, confidently carrying the banner of our king, who taught us what it means to fight hate with love and how to meet chaos with calm. Jesus is the prince of peace. By living lives marked by civility and kindness, we can show the world what he is like.

How should Christians think through issues of our day? The new Courage and Civility Church Toolkit gives pastors and church leaders a helpful path to walk with their congregations about the things that truly matter and shows them how to process this chaotic and polarized moment. 

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