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In 2023, can we move toward greater civility?

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At the national prayer breakfast several months ago, President Biden acknowledged the disappointing levels of enmity and hostility in American politics today. He pointed to the importance of faith to bring a fractured US politique back together. He even quoted a portion of Mark 3:25 when he said “if a house divided cannot stand, surely a house united can do anything.” “With history and God watching, we will have to prove that there is nothing beyond the capacity of the United States when we’re united,” Biden said.

Ironically, just months later, he went on a public tirade referring to conservatives as ultra-MAGA extremists. The rhetoric and name-calling only deepened the divide and distrust on both sides. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden presented himself as a trustworthy, dependable leader that would bring calm and civility back into politics. Unfortunately, none of those qualities materialized — in either his public statements or his policy efforts that have curtailed free speech and jeopardized the religious freedom of millions of Americans.

Over the last two decades, fundamental changes in the political landscape, global economy, and technology have changed the tenor of politics and civility in society. We have seemingly endless news and opinion outlets, from magazines and websites to social media, television programs, radio shows, and podcasts, each with its own political viewpoints. Discourse often descends into the rude and crude. Today anybody can say anything, and everyone has a channel. As former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

However obvious this statement may be, it seems even the “truth” is elusive. Both sides of the political spectrum claim to be the harbingers of truth, leaving the American public to choose a version of the facts that most appeal to them. Whichever side you end up on, the insults and vitriol directed at your “tribe” from the other side will be shocking.

From my own professional experience, D.C. politics was not always this way. Yes, career opportunities would flourish when your party was in power, but that did not create enmity with ideological opponents. In the field of counter-terrorism especially, our political leanings mattered far less than one’s subject matter expertise. If you knew your field, people respected your opinions. Nowadays, instead of politicians and experts focusing on solving nationwide crises like inflation and immigration, the Washington elite and their media counterparts argue over whether the crisis actually exists.

Data from the Pew Research Center confirmed the growing divide in politics. “Underlying the many policy disagreements between Biden and Trump voters is a more personal feeling of distrust and disillusionment that could make compromise all the more difficult.” 

But incivility is not the exclusive province of politicians. Celebrities, talk show hosts, cable news commentators, activists, parents, educators, and even church leaders and schoolchildren seem caught up in the aggressive rudeness that increasingly characterizes our national discourse. The modern phenomenon of social media, with its veneer of anonymity, provides fertile ground for cyber-aggression and slander. 

In the midst of all this hostility, what is our obligation as Christ’s followers? As New York Divinity School President Paul de Vries wrote, “Of course, all truth is confrontational, in some sense. However, when the truth is affirmed in love and grace, our principled confrontations will still be civil — and often fruitful, too!” We need to interact with both Christians and non-Christians respectfully. Jesus did. When He approached the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus associated with someone who was far from acceptable in Jewish society. While He fully told her the truth, He did so in a kind, compassionate, and redemptive manner. We can speak truth boldly in the public square, but we must do so as Christ’s representatives, bearing the fruit of His Spirit (Gal. 5:22–26). This means refraining from insults and name-calling not only in theological discourse but also in politics. Indeed, more nonbelievers are likely to be observing us in the latter.

So, who is really to blame for the demise of our country’s decorum? Our leaders are not to blame as much as we, the people, are. We have been baited and hooked by powerful institutions and people that recycle one-sided hyperbole tainted with fear, blame, and half-truths.

If we do not want to see our nation descend into a destructive civil war, conscientious citizens need to speak out against dehumanizing comments from any side of the political aisle and certainly not repost that nonsense, which further exacerbates the conflict. We need a movement towards greater civility and civic engagement, speaking truth to power but with compassion and self-restraint. In this new year, let’s hope the new 118th Congress, our collective voice, will be strong again, seeking diverse viewpoints and proven facts, moving towards the best solutions for us as a nation. It is time we celebrate what binds us. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights. Freedom with responsibility. A republic if we can keep it.

Hedieh Mirahmadi was a devout Muslim for two decades working in the field of national security before she experienced the redemptive power of Jesus Christ and has a new passion for sharing the Gospel.  She dedicates herself full-time to Resurrect Ministry, an online resource that harnesses the power of the Internet to make salvation through Christ available to people of all nations, and her daily podcast LivingFearlessDevotional.com.

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