By Jack Wilkie

I haven’t been on the earth all that long in the grand scheme of things, but when you measure today’s world against what we learn from history, it sure seems we live in one of the most uncivil times the world has seen. Any sense of decorum and politeness has disappeared, and social media gives that rudeness an enormous megaphone.

We have a president who creates derisive, mocking nicknames for his opponents. He and our former vice president recently had an exchange over which one would win a school yard fight. But this lack of civility clearly isn’t just contained to the highest offices of government – sarcastic, harsh language is rampant in our society, from the White House to the Senate all the way down to the average American’s living room. We are a people who have forgotten how to agree to disagree, how to remain friends with people despite not seeing eye to eye.

Just look at this example from a New York Times Facebook post. The two top comments on a totally uncontroversial, apolitical post about a tech malfunction devolved into a liberal mocking the intelligence of GOP voters and a (presumed) GOP voter questioning the mental stability of the liberal. What on earth is going on here?

Day by day, these things happen more and more, and the world gets crueler all the time as civility no longer seems to have a place in our daily lives and in our national discourse. If we feel we’re right and someone else is wrong, we as a society have decided that that gives us the right to treat them however we want. We’ve decided we can say whatever we want to about them (whether to their face or behind their back).

Sadly, the same lack of civility permeates the lives of many churchgoers, as well. Many a church has been plagued by a lack of civility. Gossip winds its way through many church families as those Christians are content to run down all of their brothers’ and sisters’ shortcomings behind their backs. Others feel that anonymous, slanderous attacks on their fellow Christians are fully justified. But it’s not just within the church. The lost are also driven away when Christians abandon civility, often on social media. How? Consider a couple of examples. Some do so by commenting on the death of celebrities outside of Christ with Facebook posts like “I guess he believes now” or “It’s hot where he’s going.” Still others do so by calling April Fool’s Day “Atheists Day,” drawing on Psalm 14:1 but giving no regard for how that condescending, mocking tone would be perceived by those who don’t believe.

What happened to civility? What happened to our ability to disagree with people and still like and respect them? Of all people, Christians should be shining examples of civility through our gentleness and care for others.

The Christian’s interactions must be based in the same mindset that Jesus had in His interactions with people, which was marked by two characteristics – a love for people’s souls, and a commitment to truth. It’s very easy to delude ourselves into thinking our commitment to truth trumps our commitment to souls, leading a person to speak what they know to be true without any concern for how their presentation of the truth will be taken. Those on the other side of the coin will abandon the truth instantly if it means having people’s good favor, and that’s just as wrong. The Christian’s duty is to be able to speak the truth in love (1 Corinthians 13:1) and to make every effort to keep peace with people without compromising the truth (Romans 12:18).

Though all of this rudeness is sad to see, it represents a massive chance for Christians to shine our lights. In a world where people hate those who disagree with them on the slightest point, we are told to love our enemies. In a time where insults fly in all directions, we are told to pray for those who persecute us and treat us poorly. We claim we are different. We know we are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). The world is giving us a clear-cut opportunity to stand out from the crowd and show that Jesus provides a better way. Are we willing to take it? Are we willing to step away from the insult-slinging? Are we willing to stop sharing Facebook images that call our political opponents stupid or evil for holding a different view? Are we willing to stop looking down on people who don’t think like us, and instead start praying for them? Are we willing to be peacemakers, showing kindness to those we think are wrong? If we are, we will undoubtedly stand out.

Love and respect people who disagree with you. Refuse to participate in gossip, lies, or unfair or unloving criticism. Always consider the other person’s needs and feelings when you talk to them or about them, whether in person, online, or otherwise. Let’s show the world that there is a better way by pointing them to the Savior who innocently went to the cross and still refused to revile His enemies, but instead asked for their forgiveness. That’s the kind of civility this world needs.