Saturday, June 22, 2013

Telling the truth: The limits of 'civility'

Promoting "civility" in our political discourse these days is all the rage. No one who pays attention to the scene these days can deny that we as a nation are as polarized as we've ever been -- that is, in my just over 52 years of life. "Why can't we just come together, compromise and 'split the difference'?", you might ask.

That sounds nice, but it's not necessarily desirable or even realistic.

A number of evangelical Christians have complained that we live in an age of "moral relativism," where there are no absolute truths and everything is driven by worldview and/or personal opinion. To a certain extent I agree, because often missing from these discussions are actual, hard-core facts not subject to debate.

Trouble is that many of these same Christians emphasize certain Scripture passages and ignore others -- because, again, they want to promote a certain ideological agenda which may or may not represent the heart of God, thus exacerbating the problem they say they want to solve.

And that's why the church, as well as the nation, is divided.

Basically, we need people who are willing to tell inconvenient truths and ruffle feathers, which is something that may of us are trying to avoid. But we can't avoid it if we want to.

Last year the book "It's Even Worse Than It Looks" placed almost all of the blame -- in my view, appropriately -- for the dysfunction in Washington squarely upon the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Authors Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Orenstein gave specifics of how and when former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was able to sabotage the institution and reputation of Congress for mere political gain. When that book came out, however, they were never invited to discuss their findings on the Sunday morning talk show circuit -- because they went against conventional wisdom that both sides are to blame.

But the evidence is overwhelming that such isn't the case. Republican leadership generally opposed anything that Bill Clinton did, though they were able to cut deals at one point. It's become even worse under Barack Obama, what with the distractions of his citizenship or lack thereof, his alleged ties to former Weather Underground figure Bill Ayers and former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, their blocking appointments of Federal judges and Cabinet positions -- the list goes on. (No, liberal Democrats do not do this -- one, they don't have the belly; and two, they still respect the political process.) Right-wing talk radio, with all its lies and distortions, certainly doesn't help matters.

Anyway, there are theological implications to telling, or not telling, the truth no matter who's offended. We can't tell people that "Jesus is the only way" and not try to be fair, just and honest in our dealings, overlooking facts that don't jibe with our opinions and calling anyone who challenges our worldview as "biased." (Of course, they don't consider that they themselves might be biased.)

I was once accused of suggesting that conservatives often act in bad faith, and the person who said that was frankly right. Until that's addressed, we have no chance of establishing "civility."

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