Civil Discourse

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”  (John 13:34-35).

Have you noticed a breakdown in our ability as a society to engage in civil discourse?  I have.  It seems we prefer to argue with each other rather than engage in a constructive exchange of ideas.  The goal for many is to “win” the argument with a snarky comment.  This is particularly true on social media.

Jesus certainly did not agree with the views of the Pharisees, but instead of engaging in devise arguments he often told asked questions or made statements to encourage them to search their heart.  For example, in John 8 we learn that a woman had been caught in the act of 

adultery.   The Pharisees brought the women in front of crowd and then confronted Jesus.   “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”  They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”

In Mark 3 Jesus heals on the Sabbath at the displeasure of the Pharisees because the Mosaic law prohibited work on the Sabbath.  “Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”   Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.   He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.”

One strategy that we can use when confronted by an offensive person is to say “What I heard you say was (fill in the blank).  Is that what you intended to say?”  This will allow a break in the conversation for both parties to “cool off” and reflect on what they are saying and hearing.  Many years ago, I took a speech communications class.  One thing I remember most vividly is the art of communication.  This means that it is the responsibility of the sender of the message to ensure that the message delivered is the same message that is received.   We should be mindful that much of our message is non-verbal and the verbal component is influenced by our tone.

We can disagree with each other without being disagreeable.  Isn’t it better to win a friend than win an argument?

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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