Magazine Article

A Spirit of Civility

With malice toward none...

Andy Nash
A Spirit of Civility
Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash

Recently I took a private tour of the U.S. Capitol with our youngest daughter. Our host was a family friend—an Adventist young adult working for a U.S. congressman.

While standing on the floor of the House, I asked our friend what relationships were really like among the politicians we see in the media. She said that many political rivals were remarkably congenial off camera; there were legitimate friendships. (She shared some surprising examples.) But when the cameras came on, she said, the politicians reverted to the divisive rhetoric and attacks.

“Why do they do this?” I asked.

“Because,” she said, “that’s what their constituents expect from them.” 

“Or they lose support,” I commented.

“Yes,” she said.

So let’s follow this dynamic a moment. Political leaders model divisive rhetoric to their constituents, who then model it back to their political leaders. Where does the cycle stop?

There’s a group of people on my Facebook feed that impresses me. These people have strong personal principles, and I have a pretty good guess at their political leanings. But while they’re loyal to their principles, they’re not blindly loyal to their political leaders. They’re not afraid to constructively criticize the political leaders they voted for. Neither are they afraid to point out something positive in the political leaders they didn’t vote for.

While some might view this type of behavior as weak, I view it as mature. We don’t worship humans; we worship God alone.

 Jesus Himself was not afraid to flip the script. He told the Samaritans that Jews had truth; He told the Jews that Samaritans had love. So unpredictable was Jesus that the leading voices of the day acknowledged His inner compass: “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are” (Mark 12:14, NIV).

We’re living in a volatile season in American politics—in worldwide politics. It’s going to take strong figures to set us free from a culture of division and hatred.

The same day we visited the Capitol my daughter and I also visited Ford’s Theatre—where President Abraham Lincoln was shot. When Lincoln was elected, he received less than 40 percent of the popular vote (split between four candidates). Lincoln was unsupported by the pro-slavery South, and his proclivity toward respectful dialogue frustrated many in his own party. Even as Lincoln evolved into a stronger abolitionist, he insisted on a spirit of civility. By his second term the gentleman had won over the hearts of many, and was elected with 55 percent of the popular vote.

When the Lincolns arrived at Ford’s Theatre, our guide said, they were greeted with warm applause. Two hours later a hateful man broke into their balcony and shot Lincoln in the head. Just a few weeks before he died, Lincoln spoke these words to a nation on the road to healing: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in . . .” (Second Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1865).

Andy Nash

Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor and professor who leads study tours to Israel.