JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Growth in the social media sphere has created a challenge for Southern Baptists that we did not have prior to the launch of Facebook in 2004. Prior to the invention of social media there were not as many voices attempting to gain market share with their particular message. Even those in our Baptist ranks who were tasked with the duty to communicate the messages for our media outlets wrote and spoke in the context of certain “rules” that applied – even when discussing difficult issues.
Now, there are hundreds of voices speaking simultaneously into the context of the latest issue, and there seem to be no rules. Some of these voices speak from the context of fact. Others regurgitate the messaging of someone who has an axe to grind. Still others don’t have a clue about Baptist theology or biblical values. They use their troubled voices to create an air of suspicion about Southern Baptists in general, our SBC leaders and, ultimately, the gospel.
Our tribe, Southern Baptists, have a history of pronouncing our opinions. However, because we are people of the Book, our history records that we eventually submit to its authority and to one another.
There is no doubt that Southern Baptists have some real issues, but somewhere, somehow, Christ-followers must turn down the noise and listen more closely to the Lord and to one another. As a part of the process, we must learn the art of responding to one another with civility.
There is a growing realization that our inability to deal with our Baptist struggles is largely attributable to the destructive ways in which we talk about issues and one another. Frankly, on a national scale, POTUS’s Twitter account is not conducive to civility and sets an unappreciated tone for verbal abuse. Neither is the plethora of blogs, websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts hurling words of contempt and spewing venom at people and institutions with words that are all too hurtful.
Southern Baptists must pause and ask ourselves, “Are we victims of our culture, or will we demonstrate a different, more biblical way to have conversations about the difficult issues we face?” This raises a crucial question: What exactly do we mean by “civility”?
Civility means something more than mere politeness. We really haven’t learned civility if all we accomplish is training people to say, “Excuse me, please. Pardon me please,” while the opposition (figuratively) stabs you in the back. Civility cannot mean “roll over and play dead.” When people feel disenfranchised or sense they are losing something precious, they need to be able to raise tough questions and present their cases to those in leadership. But we can all do so with kindness.
There are tough and difficult issues that cannot be avoided because we choose politeness as our defense mechanism. We cannot deny there are real issues of importance that need careful deliberate conversations. Sometimes a public forum is not the best way, but if we must use the public forum, at least for Christ-followers, we must be civil. Consequently, Christ-followers must become increasingly sensitive to the use of our words and attitudes reflected in public, including the realm of social media.
We need to carefully consider how we speak and write about one another.
Here for your consideration are Dr. Yeats’ 14 practical ways to demonstrate civility:
Acknowledge someone’s presence by greeting them.
Always express gratitude—please and thank you are always in order.
Everyone is worthy of respect, even if you disagree with them or they have hurt you.
Be ready with a question to show interest in their world. It shows that you think of others more than you think of yourself.
Actively listen to their response. Work at eye contact and avoid chasing after peripheral movement.
Pause and think before you speak. It is a good time to carefully choose your words that do not curse but bring forward the healing salve of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration.
Guard your words and attitude as if the Lord Jesus was listening and watching your conversation (He is).
Don’t cross your arms. If you are to be an authentic listener, you cannot let your body language communicate disinterest.
Don’t skirt the issues but seek to frame the conversation in terms of seeking solutions; don’t focus too much on the details of a problem.
You may not come to an agreement but let the record indicate you are attentive, kind and sensitive toward those who disagree with you.
Keep anger at the foot of the cross, along with snarky, crass, and sarcastic words.
Do your best to separate people from the problem; focus on solutions.
De-escalate by seeking a win/win for methodological and systemic contexts. A solution is not a win if it violates Scripture. The Word of God is never up for a vote.
Remember the evidence of the fullness of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:20-23).“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every action must be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14 CSV).
This article was originally published in The Pathway a bi-weekly newsjournal by the Missouri Baptist Convention and endeavors to cover not only the events that affect Baptists in Missouri but also the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole and evangelical Christians everywhere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. John Yeats is the Executive Director of the Missouri Baptist Convention.