Be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 ESV
This quotation was selected from one day’s text in a series of devotions my husband and I are reading together during Lent. Both he and I noticed that these verses and others in the third chapter of Titus remind us of the social unrest in our country these days.
In fact, the first thing I thought as I read the admonition to “avoid quarreling,” was that it is almost impossible to do so. A simple “How are you?” elicits a response that includes a reference to the latest political controversy, and very soon every conversation is either dissecting the quarrels of others or setting up a new quarrel.
In a country where universal suffrage makes every citizen a part of the government, it is natural and right that citizens should discuss what is happening in the three branches of government. However, as the apostle Paul points out in the book of Titus and elsewhere, Christians, no matter their opinion of the government, have an obligation to relate to other citizens with the respect, love, and grace they are to show to every human being. Our political opinions do not entitle Christ’s followers to become bellicose and vicious toward political opponents, even if the opponent advocates the end of religious liberty for Christians.
It is important to recognize that when Paul wrote his letters, the recipients of the letters lived in the Roman Empire. Paul himself was a Roman citizen, and many of the people who read his letters were Roman citizens as well. Nevertheless, citizen or not, Paul’s guidance for personal behavior was the same: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” It is important to remember that Roman soldiers were the appointed executioners who nailed Jesus to the cross. Roman emperors expected to be worshiped as gods. Roman government had a history of holding up a high moral standard for public view while in fact it was venal and corrupt to its core, and American citizens might say that our government is the same way.
When I read this text, I was struck by the image of our daily news and videos, still shots, and audio clips that record people speaking evil of one another, quarreling viciously, engaging in riots that destroy property, and showing no courtesy whatsoever to anyone that disagrees with them. Recordings of the public figures must be edited to remove language even today’s culture rejects. Members of Congress cannot find it in their hearts to show respect for a sitting president or a soldier’s widow. Public discourse is so ugly and venomous that few people even want to engage in it. I have had the distinctly distasteful experience of being called names and accused of a vile agenda for holding traditional views of human sexuality, marriage, freedom of speech, and religious liberty. I don’t know anyone who has escaped unscathed if he or she accepts the civic responsibility of the electorate to engage in public discussion of the ideas that shape the creation, administration, and adjudication of law. Advocates of ideas almost routinely turn from discussion of the ideas to assault on the opposing advocates. It is very hard to remain focused on an idea when one is under personal attack.
How shall a person who actually believes and tries to live by Biblical teaching participate in the forum of ideas?
There are a few good models, but to name them has huge potential to do what happens so frequently in today’s so-called discussions. Instead of seeing the named individuals as models of well-disciplined public discourse, the individuals are flayed and labelled like zoological specimens for their stances on the political spectrum.
I will simply say that while it is hard to find someone in public life whose speech and behavior model the teachings of Paul’s writings, it is not unheard of to see samples we could use for inspiration. Perhaps, the best way to address the problem is to ask you, the reader, to tell me who you see in public life who engages in discussion of the tax code, health insurance, immigration or international trade while speaking evil of no man, avoiding quarrels, being gentle and showing courtesy to all. Please respond in the comments with the names of people you admire for their abilities to show us all the right way to engage in public discourse.