By / Sep 8

“Oh my word! I cannot believe these people. What a joke.” 

I was watching our local school board meeting online this summer, struggling to understand the things being said and decisions being made. Had I taken a minute to think it through from other perspectives, I probably could have seen why they were saying the things they were. There’s much room for disagreement with school decisions, and these leaders were under enormous pressure to get things right.

What are we modeling for our children?

I didn’t think I was insulting anyone; rather, I just spoke quickly and, seemingly, to no one. But it wasn’t to no one. My kids were in the room. And what may have seemed to me like a harmless comment sounded to them like: “Mom thinks these people are a joke. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re idiots.”

As my kids get older, I’m learning more and more how important my language is. What might be nuanced for me translates to an absolute for them. Because they’re still developing in so many critical ways, it’s vital that they learn empathy and critical thinking while they’re in my care. But when I’m sending them mixed messages through my words or actions, it’s hard for them to develop those important skills.

Recently, a woman named Melissa Blake wrote a piece requesting that parents stop using her image for a viral TikTok challenge. In this challenge, parents use Blake’s image or those of other people with disabilities to get a reaction out of the children for the camera by telling them the picture is of their new teacher. Meant to generate laughs, the challenge not only exploits and victimizes the person whose image is used, but it also exploits the child whose reaction is captured. 

Civility isn’t setting aside truth for the sake of unity; it’s showing respect for others made in God’s image.

Blake, who was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder, called parents out for their actions: 

Adults who actually think this is okay, and worse . . . even funny, should know better. There’s absolutely no excuse. They should be the ones teaching their children how harmful and hurtful these pranks are, not laughing in the background as their child recoils at the sight of a disabled person. We live in a society where people who look “different” are seen as ugly and grotesque; those messages start being taught at a young age. Think about how many Disney villains have some sort of deformity.

She’s right, and yet a quick scroll through our social media accounts reveals that, if we do know better, we’re not putting that knowledge into action. We call strangers names, we cancel people, and we settle for half-truths and ad hominem attacks instead of doing the hard work of trying to understand other people. How can we expect our children to do any better when this is what we’re modeling for them?

Is there a more civil way to disagree? 

The issue, of course, isn’t just our words. When we make flippant statements about other people, we reveal what we truly think of them. Right now, there’s so much disagreement in our families, churches, and communities about COVID-19, masks, racial injustice, politics, education—you name it. And disagreement is normal. But there has to be a more civil way to disagree with one another and to teach our kids to disagree. After all, our children are growing up in a society that will frequently disagree with their beliefs. How can we equip them to be winsome and humble while also being firm and steadfast?

In the book Are My Kids on Track?, counselor and author David Thomas compares disagreeing respectfully to riding a bike, saying, “None of us know how to do it until we’re taught.” This is why seeing it done and practicing it is so important. But do our kids get to see it in practice? Thomas goes on to say:

Civility is a lost art. Watch athletes and coaches yelling at referees on ESPN, watch presidential debates, read Twitter feuds, watch the news. Our kids have so few opportunities to see what it looks like to disagree with respect.

We will always disagree with other people about things. In this season, it seems we have more than enough occasions to practice civility, which seems to come at the crossroads of empathy and critical thinking. We can look at an issue logically while also attempting to understand the feelings and beliefs of another person leading them to their position. Civility isn’t setting aside truth for the sake of unity; it’s showing respect for others made in God’s image. 

So, how do we know if we’re being civil in our disagreements? 

  • We may disagree with others’ political views, but do we dehumanize them behind their backs? (Or to their screens?)
  • We may disagree with the views of others on social issues, but do we misrepresent them or resort to half truths in our disagreement, or do we attempt to understand why they believe what they believe?
  • We may disagree with our church’s response to COVID-19, but do we seek the unity of the body in how we handle it, or do we start looking for a new church?

We need to learn these things just as much as our kids do. And perhaps we can learn them together—in our families, churches, and communities. This is how we live out the words of Romans 12:15-16: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight”

This year is giving us ample opportunities to help kids develop empathy and civility. When we’re discussing or encounter one of the various things going on in our country and throughout the world, we have the chance to shepherd them with love and truth and to display civility to a world that desperately needs to see it. Let’s pray to that end.

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. 

Download Now
By / Mar 4

On Jan. 9, 2019, Christianity Today published my review of Peter Williams’ excellent new book, Can we trust the Gospels? Williams makes a compelling case for the trustworthiness of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life, and I was eager to commend the book. But when CT posted the review on Twitter, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science took aim, and fired: 

“You cannot trust the gospels about anything factual. Just like how we don’t use Harry Potter books to teach physics we don’t need the Bible for morality (or anything else). It’s a quaint, ancient book displaying the (understandable) ignorance of our ancestors.”

The comment was a charged grenade, thrown over the Christian/atheist fence. In such a situation, our instincts shout, “Fight back!” We feel the illegitimacy of the comparison and the insult to our sacred text. We want to honor Christ and defend his name. And, if we’re honest, we feel the insult to ourselves: we are not dumb, clinging to quaint fictions. But following Jesus means curbing our instincts. 

What does the Bible say about how we should engage with our opponents?

Love 

First, we must listen to Jesus’ unsettling words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43). Before we open our mouths to defend our faith, we must ask ourselves, “Am I loving my enemy here? Or am I just seeking to slap them down?” If we think our aggression is justified because it’s in Jesus’ defense, let’s remember how Jesus responded when Peter drew a sword to protect him. 

The King of the universe wondrously calls us to speak for him. If we keep silent, the stones will cry out. But he does not need us to protect him from opponents any more than a lion needs protection from the claws of a mouse.

Gentleness and Respect

Second, we see in Scripture that honoring Jesus in apologetics is tied to two qualities for which apologists are sadly seldom known. “In your hearts,” writes Peter (having learned much since the sword-drawing incident), “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).  

Honoring Jesus before those who disbelieve in him is a vital task to which we are all called. We must give reasons for the hope we have, and not wallow in intellectual laziness. But those reasons must be given with gentleness and respect.

What does that look like when someone is comparing the Bible to Harry Potter? Truth be told, I felt the temptation to go in guns blazing. I can often feel frustrated in conversations with people who hold beliefs that I know to be indefensible—especially if they are claiming an intellectual high-ground. There’s a piece of me that wants to take them down, to feel the satisfaction of conquest. Too many times, I’ve let that instinct lead. But I know how little anyone is persuaded by attack, and that love is both the scriptural response to our enemies and the best way to win them for Christ. 

A loving attempt at online civility

My best attempt at love on Jan. 9 was to affirm what I could of my opponent’s jibe, sidestep the name-calling, and return to the main point of the book: 

“The Gospels are certainly ancient! But @DrPJWilliams point is that if you subject them to the same kind of analysis as you would other historical documents from the ancient world, they actually stand up remarkably well—better, indeed, than many texts we take to be authoritative.”

Of course, the Dawkins-fan responder disagreed, and we went back and forth. At every stage, I tried to see the best in his or her comment, while also offering a counter case. My interlocutor claimed that Jesus never actually existed: a claim that most dyed-in-the-wool atheist historians would laugh at. But mocking and shaming them wouldn’t be loving my enemy. Nor would failing to tell them the truth. So, gently, I noted that few atheist historians would take that view and said (sincerely): “I’d be very interested to read a careful, skeptical review of @DrPJWilliams book that took time to evaluate the evidence he presents.” 

 Love is both the scriptural response to our enemies and the best way to win them for Christ. 

He or she responded, “Secular scholarship already exists in this matter. Don’t need review of a book. You need data and analysis. You can find all the info online. Acedemic [sic] journals are superior to book since the formal [sic] attempts to eliminate bias—books do not or at least aren’t required to.”

I replied, “Agreed! Can you point me to the academic journal articles you have in mind? If they are recent and published in leading journals, I’d be quite curious to read the best skeptical scholarship on this question.”

I could have added the sarcastic phrase, “I’ll wait.” But I didn’t. I wasn’t there to own this person, but to win them.

Meanwhile, other Christians had started weighing in, like spectators at a boxing match, cheering their champion, and adding their own punches to the fight. In the end, the Dawkins-fan retreated from the field. This person had no answer to my gentle question. But I fear the Christian pile-on had also not left him or her feeling loved.

In an increasingly aggressive public square, it’s easy to think that what we need is more attack. And in one sense we do. If we Christians do our homework, we’ll find we hold the cards of reason in our hands, and we must be prepared to play them. We need more scholarly, rigorous, accessible books—like Peter Williams’—to train our team. We need to raise our intellectual game. And we need to find the thousands of Christian professors whom God has raised up in the secular academy and learn from them, so that our arguments are drawing from the best of Christian thought, and we’re not guilty of recycling half-truths and indefensible claims—like the atheist claiming Jesus never existed. 

But when we go on the offense with our apologetics, it must have love at its heart, and gentleness and respect on either hand. People like me, who are prone to intellectual point-scoring, must fight this temptation just as we would fight lust or laziness. 

This does not mean we should not clearly disagree and marshal every neuron to the fight. We must. Indeed, Christ’s love compels us. But if we are truly seeking to draw people to Christ, our gentleness must be evident to all (Phil. 4:5). And if we are truly following Jesus, we’ll seek to win non-Christians, not to own them.

By / Jan 27

In June 2019, there was a Twitter backlash against the Black Hat security conference and its decision to confirm Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tx.) as a keynote speaker. Black Hat is a technology event series founded in 1997. Many within the national security and cybersecurity fields, along with many long-time attendees, voiced their disgust that Black Hat would choose to highlight Hurd given his pro-life convictions and voting record. Black Hat decided to rescind the invitation, bowing to public pressure.

While the issues of abortion and cybersecurity seem to be separate, the canceling of Hurd’s keynote is a prime example of a phenomenon in our society called “cancel culture.” This happens when a group seeks to cancel someone or something often based on a single disqualifying factor. These factors can be as simple as a past tweet or article, or as large as a deeply held religious or social belief. Those who seek to cancel someone will use anything to silence any dissenting opinion or thought, which leads to a breakdown of civil discourse and a weakening of our social fabric.

Unfortunately, cancel culture is the norm now. In our society, one’s position on an unrelated issue can lead to a fallout. Even one tweet or offhand comment has the potential to ruin one’s career or family, especially in the hands of those who are seeking to discredit someone. 

What is cancel culture?

Simply put, cancel culture is the boycotting or silencing of someone or something with the threat of financial or popularity loss. The case of Black Hat reveals that many believe hosting someone with differing ideas affirms everything that a person has ever said. In these cases, shaming in order to enact change is a tactic used to silence opposition rather than engage in a conversation or debate over the things most important to us. This reveals that the public is not able to maintain a pluralistic understanding any longer.

Cancel culture became prominent after the rise of social media in the mid-2000s, which gave those without a public megaphone the ability to share their thoughts and ideas with anyone across the world. In the last few years, social media has increasingly been abused to shame those some disagree with on fundamental issues. We have to acknowledge that technology, like every tool, will be misused, abused, and manipulated.

This cultural phenomenon reveals the deep longing for power and control that each of us have, as well as the lack of honest dialogue in our society that can strengthen our own understanding in the face of dissenting views. We would rather lord our perceived superiority and intellect over our neighbor rather than love him by giving him the respect he deserves as an image-bearer of God (Matt. 22:37-39). 

As Christians, we are called to push back against this culture and to stand up for the dignity and rights of our neighbors, especially those with whom we disagree, as we seek to persuade them of the truth of God’s Word.

But Scripture speaks of the Christian, not as a proud person who exploits power for his own gain, but rather as one who imitates Christ, who willingly laid down his life on the cross for his enemies (1 John 3:16). The Bible teaches us that humility and the ability to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19) should be the foundational characteristics of a redeemed individual (Col. 3:12).

In a broken society marred by sin, we are all naturally drawn to power, especially the power of “canceling” someone because it makes us feel as though we are in control. But instead of seeking power, we are called to live under the reign and rule of God alone, recognizing that each of us falls short of God’s glory. Our pursuit should be one of laying down our pride, power, and person. We are each corrupted and broken (Rom. 3:23) and are called to submit to God alone.

Thicker skin and intellectually honest dialogue

In addition, defining someone’s worth based on the issues we disagree with does immense damage to our credibility in the long run because it shows we are unable to engage one another’s ideas as presented nor have a rich debate about what is true. We show that our ideas only have longevity if we continue to force them on people rather than withstanding the refining nature of deep and thoughtful engagement. We would rather cancel someone or something than take part in honest dialogue.

Engaging ideas dissimilar to our own means listening to someone’s views with respect, especially if we disagree. Just as Christ doesn’t define our dignity based on one sin or one particular issue, neither are we to condemn another based on one thing. We are more than our ideas, beliefs, and failures. Christians of all people should understand this because we were bought with a price by the blood of Christ—blood that is powerful enough to completely wash us clean, not just clean up an isolated stain.

As we engage one another, we must champion the dignity of every individual, which will often mean having the courage and moral fortitude to withstand criticism and hard questions. In order for each of us to grow and mature, we must be able to defend our beliefs rather than run from the opposing position. Christians should take this challenge to rise to the occasion and give a reason for the hope within us, with confidence in the God of all wisdom (1 Pet. 3:15). 

Engaging the cancel culture with respect 

Just as we are called to give a reason for the hope within us, we are also called to do it with gentleness and respect because those we engage with are not simply ideas but human beings made in God’s image. As our society increasingly becomes more divisive, we must take important steps to love our neighbors in our online dialogue. One practical way of doing this is by seeking to understand one another’s ideas or positions rather than caricaturing them. This will mean that we read widely and listen intently to those with whom we disagree. We must attempt to represent their ideas for what they really are rather than being intellectually dishonest about what our neighbor believes. Representing their views in a way that they would agree with goes a long way in showing your credibility and love. This is the beginning of convictional kindness. We engage others in truth but also in love.

Cancel culture will only lead to a segmented society and to a breakdown of civility and public discourse. Ultimately this can lead to a weak trust in one another as well as the erosion of our democracy. But, as Christians, we are called to push back against this culture and to stand up for the dignity and rights of our neighbors, especially those with whom we disagree, as we seek to persuade them of the truth of God’s Word. We must care more about loving God and our neighbor than we do about being right or popular. Instead of seeking power in vain, we should submit to the One who has already won the victory, as we represent him to those in need of the grace that will cancel their sin.

By / Nov 26

For Thanksgiving travels, we wanted to bring you a message on the twin values of civility and courage ERLC president Russell Moore recently gave at Veritas Church in Iowa City. This event was part of the ERLC's Faith and Healthy Democracy project that seeks to help Christians better understand our chaotic public square and engage our current cultural moment.  

Resources from the Conversation

By / Sep 27

As part of an effort to learn more about how American evangelical Christians might contribute to healing political and cultural divides in America, the Fetzer Institute commissioned  “Faith and Healthy Democracy,” a report produced by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

While the full report includes an opinion poll, what the researchers heard from their interviews with evangelical thought leaders, and information from academic and historical work on evangelicals and American politics, this article highlights only the findings of the poll, which were included throughout the 72-page report.

Here are the poll results broken out by category:

Civility in the Public Square

• More than a fifth of respondents believed that civility in political conversations is not productive, rising to almost half of those aged 18 to 34.

• About 1 in 4 said that if a political leader they supported insulted an opponent, they would be inclined to believe such insults were justified.

• About 1 in 3 admitted to engaging in “whataboutism,” or responding to a critique by citing examples of wrongdoing on the other side.

• Around 40% said they had spoken up publicly to disapprove of someone on their side for unacceptable words or actions.

• More than half of evangelicals believed that if their political opponents were able to implement their agenda, democracy would be in danger.

• More than half said they trusted news more if delivered by someone with similar views on social and political issues.

• Two-thirds said they tend to believe their political opponents’ motivations are good (this was especially true among Southerners and Hispanics), but a majority did not believe the other side extended the same charity to them.

• More than half report they do not reveal their political beliefs in environments where those beliefs are unpopular.

• More than a third said they simply ignore disagreeable political comments in conversation rather than engaging them

• Women are more likely to self-report being civil than men, and seniors more civil than youth.

• Agreement with the statement, “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin,” was associated with greater civility.

• Having a political worldview founded on the belief in the inherent and equal dignity of all was associated with higher levels of civility.

• Having friendships with people of a different income or a different religion was associated with higher levels of civility.

• Concern for religious liberty as a primary issue was associated with higher levels of civility.

• A belief that the stakes of our political disagreements are existential was associated with lower levels of civility.

• Agreement with the statement, “If those I disagree with politically are able to implement their agenda, our democracy will be in danger” was associated with lower levels of civility.

• Obtaining one’s news primarily from social media or other online image- or video-based sources, especially YouTube, was associated with lower levels of civility.

• Evangelicals who said that prominent Christian leaders have influenced their political views scored self-reported lower levels of civility.

• Evangelicals who said they prefer to follow others on social media with whom they agree on social and political issues self-reported lower levels of civility.

• Evangelicals who prefer to get their news from someone with whom they already agree self-reported lower levels of civility.

• Evangelicals who said they are single-issue self-reported lower levels of civility.

Consumption of News Media and Social Media

• Three-quarters of respondents said they regularly get their news from television—half from Fox News alone.

• Almost 40% regularly get their news from websites (again, with Fox News’ website the leader by a wide margin) and from social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

• Just over 1 in 4 regularly get their news from a print newspaper or magazine.

• Half of all respondents check Facebook several times per day, and one-quarter visit YouTube with the same frequency.

• More than half said television and news websites made public debate less respectful.

• Nearly two-thirds said social media made public debate less respectful.

• Almost two-thirds felt print news media made public debate more respectful.

• Two-thirds claimed never to engage with others about social or political issues over social media.

Engagement in Non-Religious Civic Activity

• Less than 15% said they participated monthly in any type of organization (not counting church), including sports clubs, hobby clubs, affinity groups, neighborhood associations, non-profit organizations, veterans’ groups, and more.

• Over 70% said they did not participate in any nonreligious civic activity.

Political Identification, Engagement, and Issue Prioritization

• Half of our respondents self-identified as Republicans, with weekly church attendance being correlated with Republican identification

• Older and whiter evangelicals, especially in the South and West, were more likely to identify as Republicans.

• Almost a third of those espousing evangelical beliefs identified as Democrats, but only a quarter of those who self-identified with the evangelical label did so.

• Northeastern and African American evangelicals were far more likely to identify as Democrats.

• Three-quarters of respondents claim to have voted in the 2016 primary, 2016 general election, and 2018 mid-term election. Older and more educated evangelicals voted in even higher numbers.

• For around 40% of respondents, voting was their only political activity.

• Less than 15% report having donated money to a campaign, attended an event with a candidate, or campaigned for a candidate.

• About 1 in 3 report doing research before voting, and almost 40% watch televised debates.

• Between 75 and 85% said the Bible informed their political views; that they look for biblical principles to apply in political issues; and that their faith influences how they engage others politically.

• More than half said that the teachings of their local church or a prominent Christian leader influenced their political views.

• About 80% said they cared about several issues compared to less than 10% who identified as single-issue voters.

• More than half agreed they would only support a candidate who was pro-life.

• More than half agreed they would only support candidates who would fight racial injustice.

• Between 85 and 90% said they would only support candidates who demonstrate personal integrity.

• Between 66 and 70% said that they would only vote for a candidate they believe is a Christian.

• The top public policy issues they were concerned about were healthcare, the economy, and national security, followed by immigration.

• One-third of evangelicals listed religious liberty as a top concern, falling to 28% of the youngest cohort and 13% of black Protestants.

• Whites, older respondents, those with graduate degrees, and those who attend church at least once per week were more likely to list religious liberty as a top concern.

• Two-thirds of evangelicals said it is important to advocate for religious liberty for Muslims and other non-Christians.

• Less than 30% listed abortion as their top concern.

• Between a fifth and a quarter said providing for the needy or working for racial justice was a top concern.

• White evangelicals were far more likely to list abortion, religious liberty, national security, or immigration as a top concern.

• African Americans were more likely to list helping the needy, healthcare, and racial injustice. (In comparison, 11% of white evangelicals say racial injustice is a top concern.)

• Evangelicals who attend church most frequently were least likely to say that helping the needy is a top concern.

• About 90% of respondents agreed that their political views are informed by the idea that every human being has equal and inherent dignity.

About the survey

The opinion poll consisted of an online survey of evangelicals conducted November 14 –23, 2018. Respondents were screened to include both those with evangelical beliefs, and Protestant or nondenominational Christians who self-identify as evangelical (there were small divergences because some people who profess evangelical beliefs nonetheless do not call themselves evangelicals).

Evangelical Beliefs were defined using the NAE LifeWay Research Evangelical Beliefs Research Definition based on respondent beliefs. Respondents were asked their level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point, forced choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Those who strongly agree with all four statements were categorized as having Evangelical Beliefs:

• The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.

• It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.

• Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.

• Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

By / Sep 26

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Sep. 26, 2019—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission unveiled results of a public survey conducted by LifeWay Research today that explore the perspectives of American adults with evangelical beliefs on civility, politics and how likely they are to engage with views different from their own.

Additionally, the ERLC released a report interacting with the findings of this public survey, titled “Faith and Healthy Democracy.” The lead researcher and author of the report is Paul D. Miller, professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and an ERLC research fellow.

Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, commented on these projects:

“The results of this survey were occasionally encouraging, frequently surprising, and, in some cases, indicting. What the responses clearly show is that there are forces driving apart those within the church. That shouldn’t surprise us. But it should convict us. My prayer is that this survey and report would be one among many initiatives that can help show us the way forward and help us learn to love one another and stand with courage in the public square. Biblical courage often means being willing to stand alone, against a crowd. But biblical unity means those who are in Christ should never be forced to stand alone, or against, those who bear the name of Christ.”

The LifeWay Research survey covered a broad range of topics—asking questions concerning civility, political preferences, personal relationships and news sources, among other things. 

Paul Miller, lead researcher of the “Faith and Healthy Democracy” report, utilized the LifeWay Research survey results to consider the state of public discourse and then ask how evangelicals can help improve the public square. The report concludes with two sets of recommendations, one for individuals and another for churches and seminaries. 

The full report is available at this link

By / Sep 26

In June 2017 a gunman opened fire on a group of Republican Congressman, nearly killing one. Just over a year later, several pipe bombs were mailed to prominent Democratic officials, including former President Barack Obama. In recent years Americans have attacked and killed fellow Americans at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and a church in Charleston because of political, religious, or ethnic differences. In June 2018, 31 percent of respondents in a Rasmussen poll believed civil war was likely to break out within the next five years.

These sporadic incidents of political violence are still thankfully rare, and civil war is unlikely. But the violence is a warning sign, a dramatic indicator of a broader breakdown in the American public square—in how Americans perceive their neighbors, their government, and their opportunities for civic engagement. The American public square, as our interviewees unanimously told us, is caustic, toxic, ignorant, and corrosive. The level of polarization, mistrust, and tribal animus is not unprecedented in American history—the 1790s, 1860s, and 1960s were worse—but the 2010s rank close to those decades as among the least flattering to the aspirations of American democracy. We hate our politicians, and we hate each other.

Some observers warn that democracy cannot survive a wholesale loss of faith in one another, in public persuasion, and in the rules of democratic politics. That conclusion might be overdrawn— the United States did, in fact, survive the 1790s and 1960s (and, barely, the 1860s)—but it is also unnecessary. We do not have to believe that democracy is on its last legs to want it to see better days. It is enough that something is wrong for us to see a duty to put it right. Waiting for an apocalyptic crisis is a dereliction of the duties of citizenship, a form of national procrastination that is both cause and evidence of the state of the public square. Christians can and should desire a better public square, and we can and should bear public witness for that goal. Christians are called to love our neighbors; we are called to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” in which we sojourn (Jeremiah 29:7); we are called to “fear God, honor the king,” (1 Peter 2:17), to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” (Matthew 22:21), to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), to “work heartily, as for the Lord” in all things (Colossians 3:23).

This report explores how American evangelical Christians might contribute to healing political and cultural divides in America. It also aims to identify gaps in Americans’ civic education and civic practice and to suggest ways to fill that gap. We hope to engage Christians on what healthy democratic participation looks like: how do we love our neighbors politically, and how might our faith lead us to advocate for human flourishing in the public square?

This report shares what we heard from nearly 50 interviews with evangelical leaders and learned from a survey conducted by LifeWay Research. We do not have a central thesis or argument; we do not (yet) delve deeply into solutions or recommendations. This is only the first of many steps we aim to take over the following year. With the public release of this report, we hope to kick off a dialogue among churches, seminaries, with the public, in the media, and with the academy.  We also hope to develop materials for use in churches based on this research, helping equip church leaders to teach their flock about how to love their neighbors politically. Civic education is not the church’s primary mission, but the church’s primary mission of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ has implications beyond the four walls of the church, and we hope to help churches teach about those implications with truth and love.

The full report is available at this link

By / Jul 1

We live in an age where “speaking your mind” is considered a virtue and a hailed as a sign of good leadership. But is this trait something the Bible comends? Should Christians be known for “speaking their mind?”

There are several truths about our speech we should consider from Scripture:

  1. The Bible commends honest speech. Proverbs 6:17 names a “lying tongue” as one of the things God hates. The prophet Zechariah instructed God’s people: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another. Paul commands the new covenant people of Ephesus, “Let everyone of you speak truth to his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25). Lying is a sin, the product of a fallen nature. Lying is the work of the enemy (John 8:44). So truthful speech is the sign of a redeemed heart.
  2. The Bible commends truthful speech for rebuke. Faithful, the Proverbs says, are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). Flattery is the tool, not of someone looking to deepen a relationship but to leverage proximity for personal gain (Proverbs 29:5). God used the courage of the prophet Nathan to confront David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:17). Jesus in Matthew 18 gives instructions on redemptive confrontation designed to restore a sinful brother into loving community (Matthew 18). Paul considers this a sign of love, from one brother or sister, to another (Galatians 6:1).
  3. The Bible commends public arguments against sin and heresy. Jesus very publically, throughout the gospels, confronted errant religious leaders. When the heart of the gospel message was at stake, Paul was unafraid to confront Peter publically (Galatians 2:11-13). And much of the New Testament, the inspired canon of Scripture, consists of public letters that contain, at times, stinging rebuke of sin. Paul says that polemics are not only important within the church, at times, but also without, as we are tasked with engaging the reigning worldview arguments and presenting alternative, biblical worldview (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  4. The Bible seems to commend the use of satire and other forms of creative engagement. Elijah playfully taunted the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). Jesus employed the use of parables, metaphors, and similes in communicating truth. Paul was often acerbic in his rebuke of the Corinthians. Sharply worded polemics, uplifting satire, and, at times, sarcasm, can be employed in a way that reflects faithful Christian witness. However, this must be done within the boundaries of what is considered civil and wise speech (see below).
  5. The Bible commends civility and respect in speech. In the Scriptures, kindness, respect, and good manners are not simply “nice” things for certain people, but are considered Christian virtues. Peter, in a letter written to address the persecution and marginalization of Christians, exhorts God’s people to be both courageous and civil (1 Peter 3:15). Later Peter reminds us to treat every single human being with dignity (1 Peter 2:17). In the Pastoral Epistles, you will notice that one of the cornerstone characteristics of qualified church leaders is gentleness (Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3).
  6. The Bible commends wise and informed speech. The way we speak is a oft-repeated theme in Scripture. James devotes almost an entire chapter to the power of the tongue (James 3). Words have power. Words matter. Words can either be life-giving or life-crushing. King David’s prayer was for a mouth that offered words that were “acceptable” in the sight of God (Psalm 19:14). Proverbs affirms the value of applying just the right word in the right moment (Proverbs 25:11) and, like James (James 1:19), rebukes those who speak before thinking (Proverbs 17:28; 29:20).
  7. The Bible says that the mouth is a good barometer of the heart. Luke records Jesus words: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45). Words are not neutral; they reflect either good or evil. Nobody can really say, “I didn’t mean that.” It’s better to say, when we misspeak, “Those words come from an unsanctified part of my heart.” What’s more, speaking my mind may not reflect speaking that is true or virtuous, because the Christian mind is in constant state of needing to be renewed by the gospel (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
  8. The Bible commends the wisdom of not sharing everything with everyone all the time. Proverbs says trustworthy people keep confidential information confidential and it is a sign of low character to reveal secrets (Proverbs 11:3). Later, Proverbs extols the “prudent man” who knows to keep information to himself and rebukes the “heart of fools that speak folly” (Proverbs 12:23). Sharing everything all the time to anyone who listens is not a sign of “authenticity” but a sign of foolishness.
  9. The Bible commends humility as a sign of grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – this maxim is mentioned three times in Scripture (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6,1; 1 Peter 5:5). What does this have to do with our speech? I tells us, I believe that graceful, measured, civil speech is a sign of God’s grace and proud, boastful speech is a sign of God’s resistance. Humility means speaking with recognition of our own fallenness. It means resisting the urge to speak out of turn. It means we have the self-awareness to know if we are the right person to speak on a particular issue at a particular time.
  10. The Bible commends speech that edifies. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says that Christians can either speak words that destroy or words that build, words that are given with a desire to build up the body of Christ or words that are wielded as carnal weapons of destruction (Ephesians 4:29). There is a difference, even, between verbal and written engagement meant to crush and winsome polemics meant to inform or rebuke.

So, is “speaking your mind” a Christian virtue? Not if “speaking your mind” implies unfiltered, uninformed foolish talk that hurts and destroys. Let’s pray for Holy Spirit power to seek after God in the way we use the gift of language and pray for repentance when our mouths reveal as-yet unsanctified parts of the heart.

By / May 7

Matt Hall shares how can Christians, especially leaders, can cultivate humility and civility in a social media platform.