Civil Discourse & Baptist Blogs

Is civil discourse dead in America?  If this week’s death wishes for Sarah Palin are any indication, then my answer would be a resounding yes!  Following the news of former Alaska Senator Ted Steven’s death in a plane crash on Tuesday, two New Hampshire Democratic politicians publicly mused how they wish Sarah Palin would have been on board the aircraft.   Keith Halloran, a candidate for the New Hampshire House of Representatives, commented on Facebook, “Just wish Sarah and Levy [sic] were on board.” Halloran has since apologized for his outrageous comment, but one wonders whether his apology is sincere.  Before he issued an apology on his Facebook page, he reportedly told the Associated Press that, “It’s just a tempest in their Tea Pot,” an obvious reference to the darling of the Tea Party movement.

A second NH politician, State Rep. Timothy Horrigan, was forced to resign after he wrote “a dead Palin wd [sic] be even more dangerous than a live one…she is all about her myth & if she was dead, she cldn’t [sic] commit any more gaffes.”   The remarks of these two pols certainly gives new meaning to New Hampshire’s motto, “Live Free or Die.”  They must have forgotten the wise old saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, then don’t say anything at all.”

Of course, incivility is not the sole province of Democrats.  Republicans have been known to utter stupid or insensitive remarks their fair share of the time.  Who can forget South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Barton, on the floor of the House of Representatives, yelling out “you lie” to President Obama during his speech to a joint session of Congress?  Or Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R.-TX) calling Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak “baby killer” in the midst of debate on the Health Care Bill earlier this year?

I wish that incivility was confined to the halls of Congress, but sadly, this malady has been known to rear its ugly head in some of the most unlikely places, including on Baptist blogs.  Like Congress, the blogosphere can be a rough and tumble world.  We can often get passionate when talking about politics or religion.  Nothing wrong with passion.  However, when that passion becomes unhinged or out of control, then Houston, we have a problem!

I love to dialogue and sometimes even debate the heated issues of the day, whether we’re talking religion, law, politics, or even sports (although I usually leave that one to my brother-in-law). I have recently been involved in discussions on two different Baptist blogs, SBC Today and SBC Voices.  In both cases, there are folks, including me, who have strong and often conflicting opinions on major issues affecting Baptist life.  That’s as it should be.  If everyone agreed on everything, life would be somewhat boring.

However, we can and should disagree agreeably.  There are times when we may want to disagree even more forcefully (sometimes in person), but it is at those times that we need to remember that what we say and how we respond not only reflects upon us, but as Christians, also reflects upon our Savior.  Some people are good at pushing our buttons.  There are often folks who wait to see what we say and then make comments that are intentionally designed to provoke us into a less than Christ-like response.  When we fail to address the issues, but instead resort to personal attacks, who can we blame?  Take a look in the mirror and you will have your answer.

So, the next time you’re tempted to comment on a post at your favorite blog, take a deep breath and reflect on what you want to say, if anything.  Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor and you simply need to ignore someone else’s comments that are nothing more than verbal hand grenades lobbed into the conversation for maximum carnage.  At other times, you may want to respond to someone, but try to give the benefit of the doubt to your “opponents” and demonstrate grace in your words, even if your actions are not reciprocated.  Who knows?  If we all made a concentrated effort, we might just find that civility (and grace) in America is not dead after all! 

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About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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7 Responses to Civil Discourse & Baptist Blogs

  1. Bennett Willis says:

    We get our discourse training from TV and Talk Radio. Both of these take only loud positions–even when trying to be “Fair and Balanced.” Regarding balanced, I seem to notice that balance in most “news” articles consists of finding a quote from someone who disagrees with the “thrust” of the article and putting it into the story. The quote seems to be at the end of the article and is obviously given for the sole purpose of “balance.”

    My conviction regarding “civil discourse” is that you can have civil discourse only when you are trying to find some common ground that you both can stand on. Maybe you can have civil discourse if you each recognize that the other has a valid position. When you know that there is no common ground (and you “know” that the other person has no valid position) you don’t have civil discourse, you have a win/lose debate. Or you try to have one. I don’t think that I have ever seen anyone “win” on the threads. People get tired and move on but they don’t change their minds or acknowledge that the other side has a “position.”

    In any discourse, you should be looking for some common ground. Otherwise, it is just an argument. This seems to apply to both civil and uncivil discourse. 🙂

    Off the subject: Look at the moon and Venus tonight. They looked good last night and should be even more dramatic tonight. (8/13/10) You might even have dark skies (which we don’t here) which would make them better.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Bennett,

      I agree wholeheartedly with your observation. It seems that people on certain blogs have to “win” the debate, sometimes at all costs. I used to be like that (and can still be at times), but it is counter-productive, whether on a blog or in a church. Too often we forget Paul’s admoniton to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentelness.” A lot of quarreling and impatient people, many of the pastors and most professing Christians, talking past one another instead of to one another. But, I guess that’s the nature of blogs.

      Thanks for the heads up about the Moon and Venus. We live on the eastern side of the Tularosa Basin in southern NM. The moon and venus can be seen perfectly as they are in the western sky. Also, with SunSpot Observatory in the Sacramento Mountains behind us, we have yellow (dim) lights throughout the city which makes night viewing spectacular. Have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

  2. Dave Miller says:

    I think the key to civility is more people agreeing with me.

  3. Dave Miller says:

    Good post, by the way.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Dave,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is funny how civility happens when we are in agreement. I think that many times folks agree on a lot more than we think, but it’s always more “fun” to debate those issues where we don’t see eye to eye. However, I think we can always be mindful of how we “witness” through our words (and actions), especially with people who like to push our buttons. Look forward to continuing the civil and Christian dialogue. God bless,

      Howell

  4. Stephen Fox says:

    Howell:
    In a sense you are very late to the topic of Civil Discourse. I think you are a good fellow but anybody of the SBC fundamentalist, inerrantist persuasion who does not come clean on Robert Tenery’s Baptist Advocate yellow journalism, the strange career of LeeRoberts, the strong case Charles Kell makes against Jerry Vines and other convention sermons during the heart of the Takeover in his book Tongues of Fire; the history of demagoguery of WA Criswell, doesn’t have much of a tradition to talkabout Civil Discourse, a small platform indeed.
    I say that with all kindness, but candor. Bobby Welch and his diatribe at the Evangelists Luncheon of Weds of the 84 Convention; add that to the list.

    Two other matters quickly; David Montoya has a great link in the comment stream of SBCplodder blog latest post on the worship style we can expect fromKen Ezell’s NAMB
    Kathryn Joyce has a seminal, a stellar piece this morning on world of Glenn Beck and the international Religious Right. Hope to see you weigh in on that one soon, with a blog here at your homesite.
    I made, admittedly, a poorly styled, but substantive response there at http://www.religiondispatches.org
    Hope things otherwise are well with you. I am enjoying these exchanges here and at baptistlife.com with you and the liberty with which we relish frank exchange.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Stephen,

      No doubt that civil (Christian) discourse is in short supply and perhaps has been for a while. We cannot do anything about the past, but we can do something in the present and future. Thanks for the link about worship. I have seen that before and it is lol funny. I don’t know if it was done as a parody of big churches or was done by a big church as a sort of self-parody. Either way, it makes the point well about what we consider “worship.”

      You may have missed my post on September 3 dealing with the Glenn Beck Rally and some of the religious leaders, including Richard Land and Jerry Falwell, Jr. I would encourage you to take a look at it at http://www.fromlaw2grace.com/2010/09/03/glenn-beck-a-r…cher-to-follow/. Look forward to your take. God bless,

      Howell

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