With all of the the talk about “civility” recently, I have been trying to figure out exactly when American became a civilized nation. Was it after we invaded this continent in the first place, pushing aside the original inhabitants (often in violent manners)? Was it after we started a war to gain independence? Or maybe it was after we stopped justifying slavery as a civilized norm? Was it after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the whatever-you-call our current wars? Or maybe it was after we finally gave all people the right to vote and participate in society equally? What exactly does “civility” mean in a country with a history of violence and mistreatment (both here and abroad) like ours?
Of course, maybe all of the calls for civility would not sound so hollow if so many had not just now started saying anything at all. I mean – black churches were burned… no calls for civility. Immigrant children were separated from their parents… and no calls for civility. The LGBTQA community faces constant attacks, death threats, and harassment daily… and no calls for civility. But a handful of rich white people lose a dinner while some others call for more to be harassed…. and stop the presses! We need civility NOW!
And the weird way people cherry-pick religion to support their new-found desire for civility? Especially when they didn’t say a word when white supremacists marched; or when our leaders said horrible things about people with disabilities, about women, about Muslims, about all kinds of people? Take, for instance, how Bob Vander Plaats focused on how Jesus told people that have disagreements to go and meet with those they have the disagreement with. Of course, the scripture there does not say “first” like Plaats misquotes it as, and secondly, he conveniently leaves out how Jesus again and again spoke out harshly against those he disagreed with publicly – many that He had never met. Plaats makes it seems like the only Biblical way to respond to disagreements is to privately meet with those that you disagree with, or else keep it to yourself. The Bible is not that black and white on this issue by a long shot, and it is unfortunate that Plaats would misrepresent scripture like this.
To a certain degree, I do agree with Plaats that we should get to know people before demonizing them – but I wouldn’t make that an absolute rule to live by. In many cases, it wouldn’t be safe to meet those one disagrees with (I wouldn’t recommend a woman go meet with someone from GamerGate, for instance). But we also have to realize that there is a lot more to be done after we get to know people. Plaats’ scenario is not the solution, it is a place for some to start. Plaats described where he got to know a leader in the LGBTQA community, and they stopped demonizing each other. But the problem is, both sides often can’t have both of their stances in society. We can’t can both “marriage quality for all” AND “traditional definition of marriage” as the law at the same time. It is good that they learned how to get a long. But someday, one of them will be deemed “wrong” by society. One, day, one of them will have to stick with their side and be on the wrong side of society, or change sides.
Sitting down for coffee with those we disagree with will help us get along better with certain people, but will not solve the problems in society if that is all it does. “Civility” is a call by the privileged to stay at the coffee table when they suddenly see society getting up from coffee talk and taking away their privileged spots.
But I still have a problem with people thinking that our society was all that “civilized” in the first place, or that we really need to hang on to it (if it was). Maybe it is because I live in the South and we see through civility so easily down here. People will say “bless your heart!” as way to tell you how ignorant they think you are. So many people live out civility in cities where racism is still rampant. So many people claim to be “civilized” while still being racist themselves. Civility is just too low of a target.
Mike Caulfield made an excellent point that we need decency rather than civility:
Civility is often a push-back to conflict, as a call to ignore disagreements and just get along (even though that is not really what it should be – but that is another issue for another time). Decency is how we treat people even when we disagree – or even how we call out people that aren’t decent to others (sometimes decency requires you to stand against those who aren’t decent). There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But if your response to finally receiving some push back for the way you treat others is to scream “we need civility!!!!” when you have never done so when others are mistreated, that is not decent. Civility – for too long of a time – has kept different standards for different people. You can’t have one response to one type of harassment (telling men to grab women by their….) and another response to another lesser type of harassment (getting booted out of a restaurant) and still be “decent.” But you can have different responses and still be “civilized.” Civility never was that great of a thing.
The past few weeks, I have been reading many responses from “moderate conservative” Christians to the Nashville Statement controversy. Many of them attempt to explain why liberal/progressive Christians are (typically) affirming of LGBTQA issues, while others attempt to dissect why some conservatives are stuck in the middle and not sure what side to take (while sneakily pointing out where liberals are wrong as well).
Most of these lists or examinations of why a Christian (conservative, moderate, liberal, anything) would become LGBTQA affirming are unfortunate at best. The authors do a pretty good job at exposing their utter lack of understanding of the liberal/progressive Christian viewpoint on this issue. Many progressive Christians are not LGBTQA affirming because they ignore the Bible or church tradition, but because they have studied it all deeply and come to different conclusions on what is in the Scriptures and the history of the Church.
Full stop. This is their reason. If you don’t agree, fine – you can believe what you want about these issues. But you don’t get to re-write anyone’s reasons because you disagree with them. You don’t get to define or re-write their reasons. That would go for the moderates and conservatives that are considering the progressive side as well. Taking their well-thought out, or extensively wrestled with, or even intensely debated reasons and re-imagining them as a list of moral failures or lack of personal fortitude is just inappropriate.
Don’t forget that most church traditions believed that all people of color and all women were less than white men until they changed their stance within recent memory. Or that the word “homosexual” first appeared in writing in 1869 – meaning that it probably didn’t exist as the same concept it does today much before then. So stop claiming “long church traditions” on a word that has only existed for as long as some church traditions have believed in letting women vote or letting black people drink out of the same fountain.
If you are not going to be bothered to understand the progressive position (or why some conservatives are interested in it) deeply enough to get it right, or to misrepresent it when you write about it, then just don’t say anything until you can speak Truth.
Or let’s look at it this way: Rod Drehler makes a list of what he thinks motivates “conservative Christians who are considering adopting the pro-LGBT position.” These reasons probably are true for some, but after reading through books and blog posts of many people that are wrestling with this question, I find little Truth in Drehler’s points. Plus, Drehler’s list is really just a generic list of bad reasons why people make decisions, with a few words tweaked to make it about his point. One could easily tweak those few words another way to make it true about why many other conservatives staunchly stick with anti-LGBTQA positions:
- Discomfort with being called or thought of as a friend of gays, and with the social stigma attached to it
- A desire to deny homosexuals the blessings of marriage.
- Belief that marriage is intrinsically complementary, in terms of male and female, but no ability to point out where that is commanded in the Bible beyond a few anecdotal references by the writers of certain Biblical passages that are never attributed as direct commands from God (aka, never printed in red letters for a reason).
- An inability to explain why gay marriage and homosexuality in general is wrong, except for “because the Bible tells us so.” [yes, this one stays the same – think about it]
- Having no real dialogue with a gay or transgendered person in one’s life, and not understanding how that person suffers — especially if that person is one’s child.
- Belief that the struggle over sexuality within the church is not that important, and is keeping the church from focusing on more important things (e.g., “When can we stop talking about gay marriage and get back to preaching the Gospel?”)
- Resignation over the fact that the church has solidified so much with Purity Culture to this point that it makes no practical sense to reconsider lines based more on 1950s sexual frustration than Biblical concepts. Better to accept that reality and to work within it as best one can to preach, teach, and live the Gospel
If you are really want to know how many progressives have thought through this issue from scripture, from history, from logic, from tradition, and from any other angle they are accused of ignoring, I would encourage you to read these posts (as a starting point):
- Response to Kevin DeYoung’s “40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags”
- Marriage by the Book
- Yes, I Do Believe in Your Scripture De Jour, But….
- Why Are So Many Evangelical Leaders Clueless?
- Transgender and the Garden of Eden
- America Has Always Gone Against Global and Historical Definitions of Marriage
- What if We are Just Starting to get Gender and Sex and Sexuality and All of that Right?
- Is Same-Sex Marriage Unjust?
- Its Not ‘Distorted Thinking’ – Its Called Using Our Brains
- When Albert Mohler and Other Church Leaders Resort to Lies and Manipulation
- Is The Church Really Homophobic?
Not everyone knows this about me, but I am certified to teach art at the Jr. High/High school level in Texas. We studied a lot about art history and the symbolism behind art, especially public displays like monuments. The thing to remember is that there is no way to memorialize everything “historical” that needs to be memorialized. We would have statues every two feet to even begin that. Society has to pick and choose what to memorialize. Just putting up a statue in the first place is revisionist in several ways, because you choose to symbolize one thing over another. But because of this, statues are not just about history or art. They also have to symbolize who we are now and what we want to become in the future. That is how you move a memorial out of being a mere “historical artifact” (or worse “historical revisionism”) and into being an actual monument. That is also why, for instance, 9/11 monuments don’t show a building blowing up, but usually symbols to memorialize those that died while at the same time pointing to a better future that we want to see happen.
Also, we have to realize that there is a difference – from an artistic and symbolic perspective – between memorializing events and memorializing people. This is why we see memorials to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. A memorial to the civil rights movement is not really appropriate for memorializing King, and a memorial to King is not really appropriate for memorializing the whole civil rights movement. Statues of people symbolize what that person did and who they were, not just the movement they led or were connected to – or the culture they were a part of.
This leads to the problem of Civil War statues of General Lee and other Confederate leaders being confused for memorials of the history and culture of the South. The United States Civil War was a specific type of war that was ideological in focus while being contained within our borders. Not all wars are like that, so we have to be careful when comparing it to other wars our country has been in, like the Korean War or World War II (or really any of the others). The ideas we divided over would shape the future of our country. Therefore, how we choose to memorialize and symbolize our Civil War is important. Do we symbolize the Civil War itself, or the leaders of the war? The difference is important.
This important difference means that the symbolism of the statues becomes ingrained with the history they represent – otherwise, they just simply aren’t “art.” If you look at the statues of General Lee (or other confederate leaders), they always have the pose of a leader. Sometimes taking a step forward, or on a horse – leading. This is to symbolize not only the historical record of where they led us in the past (dividing a nation to protect a state’s right to treat certain humans as less than human), but also to memorialize where the people were at during the time it was built and where they wanted to go in the future. Therefore, these statues symbolize not only art and history, but a future where people want to follow in General Lee’s footsteps again. That is why they created a statue of him as a leader (or actively leading on a horse), when he is no longer a leader. If the builders of the statues had wanted to symbolize a memorial to remind us not divide over hate again, they would not have made a statute that literally memorializes a leader leading his people into dividing over hate. No, a statue immortalizing General Lee as still leading is symbolic of a hope to go down that past road again.
Civil War monuments are also unique in that they are some of the only statues built by the losing side to memorialize their failed leaders. This has rarely happened in the history of war and conquest. Imagine the Romans (or any other large force) allowing the areas they conquered to build statues to their losing military leaders. No, usually the conquering force came in and tore down any statues of the people they conquered, and replaced them with statues of those people being conquered. To send a message. Because statues and memorials almost always send a message about the future at the same time they teach about the past.
Also, in the cases where conquered people’s statues weren’t destroyed, they were taken down and moved to a museum or trophy case of the winning side. We still see that in modern day America – symbols of the “losing” side are, at best, displayed in a museum. Most are filed away and forgotten in warehouses.
But let’s take the idea of Civil War statues into a modern context to really drive home this point. And no, not Korean War. For many reasons, the Korean War is a horrible comparison for the Civil War. No war in America can really be used as a good comparison. The closest parallel I can think of for this point (even though it is still problematic) is 9/11. Think of it this way: what if America had annexed Afghanistan as a new state (sorry Guam and Puerto Rico) and somehow the Taliban had settled down and became citizens. Then a large chunk of them moved to the U.S. and wanted to build statues to Osama Bin Laden and the people believed to have caused 9/11. And then we actually let them. And then a few decades later we wised up to how insensitive and inappropriate it was to build those statues in the first place. And then their descendants claimed we couldn’t take those statues down because it represented history and culture.
Would we buy into that? Doubtful. The people protesting the removal of Civil War statues would be the main ones crying out for the removal of these hypothetical statues. Let that sink in.
We are now all being told that the biggest problem with with our national discourse on the election is that we don’t listen to each other. On the surface, this is a good point because listening is usually always a good idea. However, it seems that this good idea is being served with an unhealthy side dish of “if you are disagreeing, it is because you are not listening and understanding.”
We tend to accept this side dish because we are taught that our problems would all be solved if we just realized that we are more alike than we are different.
But what if we all start listening to each other right now and find that…. we are all still different on many key issues?
I have lived in Texas all my life. My parents are not very conservative, but probably 90%+ of all people that I have known are. I know and understand the conservative position as much as any conservative does (and sometimes even more so). And because I understand, I disagree. Bigly.
However, I don’t believe that the conservative viewpoint should be silenced or removed from the national discourse on and topic. Many conservatives feel like their viewpoint is not being heard because the liberal media and biased system is keeping it out. To advocate for those feelings to be ignored will just cause them to grow stronger.
But at the same time, I know that there are factual problems with that last paragraph. There is a conservative side of the media that tells their story and technically gets more viewers than the liberal side. The system is a mess that causes many problems with many people, not just conservatives. And even those two sentences are greatly oversimplifying some complex issues.
But the current drift of our national narrative is heading towards an attitude that will label me as not “listening” or “understanding” just because I disagree.
Its not really one way or the other. Sometimes listening leads us to realize we are more alike than we realize – on some issues. Sometimes listening leads us to realize we are really different on some issues and that can’t be changed.
The other side of this problem are those that say that all opinions on all issues are valid, and that we should stop telling anyone that they are wrong. This, of course, is followed by a long list of exceptions to this all inclusive declaration: except for racism, except for sexism, except for religion discrimination, except for heterosexism, except for ableism, etc. This whole package sounds good on the surface, until you dig in and find out that its not that people don’t want you calling out any of these exceptions as much as they want to re-assign everything to different categories so that nothing falls into any negative area. For instance, people will acknowledge that racism exists, but any specific instance of racism is labeled as something else – misunderstanding, social media hype, personal feelings, etc – and therefore moved into the category of “personal opinion” rather than societal problem. Racism exists, its just that there are no racists. Somehow, its magic.
I know people by name that have made racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etc statements and jokes on social media. So I am not saying they are any of those because they voted for Trump – I knew that they were long before Trump was even considering running. I just didn’t see anyone that had inflammatory statements before the election posting on social media about how they voted for Clinton, Johnson, Stein, or no one after the election.
And so when I also saw people that never posted or said anything prejudiced declaring their support for Trump, you can maybe now see why it confused me. Did you know what you were voting for? Did you care? Why did you not point out that you disagreed with Trump’s sexist, racist, ableist, heterosexist rhetoric until after someone asked you how you could be okay with that? Before the election, I had one cousin that pointed out how much he hated Trump but as a Republican only wanted to vote Republican and felt trapped. I believe him. A few other connections that stated a general discomfort with “some” of Trump’s rhetoric. I believe them as well. These people are unfairly getting labeled many things they shouldn’t be.
I am not a huge fan of blanket statements. I try to avoid them even in the few cases where I suspect they might be true. But I also have listened to many Trump supporters enough to know where a majority of them come from, and I disagree with a majority of their reasoning for voting for Trump (and technically, all votes are for someone – the ballot did not say “against Hillary Clinton” on it). Additional listening on my part will not change my disagreements (even though I will still be listening because that is just who I am).
And for that matter, I don’t think getting Trump supporters to listen to me will get them to change their mind on many stances wither (even though it would be nice to stop being personally accused of killing millions of unborn babies with my own hands because I voted for Clinton).
So this is the challenge we are facing in America. Understanding each other is not going to solve all of our problems. Some, maybe, but not all. It will lead us to realize there are some things we just can’t agree on. We will need to find a way to agree to disagree and then work towards a system where everyone’s rights are protected. This will not be simple or easy. And the incoming administration seems to think there are simple one-solution-fits-all answers for every problem more so than not. I hope we don’t have to go through a large number of national tragedies and hardships for them to realize this is not the case.
Has anyone else listened to the current political debates playing out on social media and feel that it all seems familiar? Not as is “this argument happened last time,” but some thing even closer to home than that? Am I the only one that thinks the two sides are beginning to resemble a couple in the midst of a divorce going at each other? And I’m not talking about the “oh, they are just drifting apart” kind, but the “should we get the police here before we have to call an ambulance” kind?
Yeah, America needs marriage counseling pronto. And I say marriage counseling for a reason. When two people don’t get along, you don’t just tell them they need unity… they are already united whether they want to be or not (just like we are in America). You don’t let them blame external forces for dividing them. You tell them one thing: they need to sit down and listen to each other. And not just listen, but learn to practice what is called active listening:
According to experts in the field of communication, active listening means that you possess and have developed a specific kind of communication skill that allows you to fully hear what another person is trying to say.
There are many ways to do this, but the article that I quoted above lists five good places where America (aka “you reading this”) could start:
- Let your partner speak”This simply means that you should refrain from arguing your case until your partner finishes stating her or his position.”
- Put yourself in your partner’s shoes”During times of conflict, you should enter the conversation with specific goals of what you would like to learn from your mate – and not your talking points.”
- Don’t jump to conclusions”Even when folks are trying to listen, they sometimes assume that they know what their mate will say before the words can escape their mouth.”
- Ask questions”Avoid asking questions disguised as accusations. Instead, focus on knowledge that you truly need in order to better understand your partner’s position.
- Paraphrase what your partner says”Be aware there is a big difference between paraphrasing and parroting. In other words, don’t engage in a verbatim account or take on a litigious tone.”
Notice what this advice doesn’t say: “Quote Bible verses that say you should listen more than speak to the one you need to listen to” “Tell them that other factors are dividing you and there are the reasons why you can’t get along.” “Minimize their point of view by saying your point of view is just as important or more so than theirs.”
Look, I believe in unity. I believe in speaking in love and not hate. But too many times we use the ideas of unity, speaking in love, letting no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, we are all the same on the inside, the world is changed by your example and not your opinion, the media is dividing us so turn it off, etc to silence the other “side” rather than to actively listen to them.
To put this another way, even good responses can be the wrong responses when utilized at the wrong time or with the wrong intentions.
I hate to have to bring it up, but those in power usually use the concept of “unity” to force their political stance on those that they have power over. And even if you don’t buy that, any concept like “unity” has to be defined, and different people will have different definitions. If the goal is unity, then one definitive version of what that means will have to win out. And everyone else will be forced to follow the winner.
Therefore, unity is not really a great goal at this point. Maybe someday, but not now. Besides, we have had unity forced upon us in America already. It hasn’t been working all that great, especially in recent years. We don’t need to ignore our differences, or even acknowledge them and then gloss over them in pursuit of one side’s view of unity. We need marriage counseling. We need to understand each other. We need to see each other as humans and not as sides to be opposed. To some reading this, that is unity. But to those that haven’t benefited from the majority’s view of “unity” so far in America, it is actually a much higher goal. Equality.
Capturing millions of people and selling them as property to support business through slavery will not destroy a nation.
Latter declaring that these people have no legal rights and therefore can not even be citizens of your nation will not destroy a nation.
Forcing native inhabitants to move from their homelands to horrible living conditions – killing thousands in the process – will not destroy a nation.
Sending hundreds of thousands of people into internment camps just because they are the same ethnicity as the country that you are fighting with will not destroy a nation.
Dropping bombs that instantly kill hundreds of thousands of people in an instance will not destroy the nation that dropped the bombs.
Denying equal rights, voting, pay, voice, and other basic aspects to over half of the population of a nation just because they are women will not destroy a nation.
Hundreds of years of atrocities, murders, lies, cover-ups, unethical experiments, hatred, greed, mistreatment of the poor, abuse of children, and many other sins will not destroy a nation.
What is finally going to get God mad enough to destroy America (or let America destroy itself)?
Marriage equality and transgender bathroom access.
Two issues not even directly mentioned in the Bible… unlike all of the things above. But sure, God is going to finally hit that smite button because we let people marry who they want, and go pee where they feel comfortable.