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!