Saturday, November 08, 2008

Political Discourse

We are a bruised nation.  We're bruised economically, we're bruised internationally, but mostly we're bruised internally.  We're bruised because the uncivil discourse that characterizes most political campaigns bruises and soils our individual and national souls.

While it may not be articulated in exactly this way, the sentiment seems to be growing:  if people of local, state and national prominence can speak of one another so distastefully, get away with it and even win elections doing it, then we can get away with it in our more intimate interpersonal encounters. 

I've lived through numerous presidential elections.  After each one, people will say, "Stop the negative campaigning." But it never happens, because the game is to win at all costs. So what if the cost is littered reputations, piles of innuendo, and downright lies spoken and written?

Of course, after the elections, the winners and loser always say all the right things.  Everyone shakes hands, and talk about taking the high road to local, state and national cooperative politics.  But I contend those bruises have infected us so deeply that a few words spoken after the multiple hits are no more than extra-heavy makeup over an infected sore.  All surface--and with no change to disease-laden bacteria brewing beneath the temporary cover-up.

It is utterly ridiculous to insist that what we are exposed to does not affect how we think and act.  A recent study suggested that young girls who watch the kind of TV shows that indicate no restraints upon the expression of sexuality are more prone to become pregnant long before they are ready for the responsibilities of motherhood.  Almost immediately, the results of the studies were disputed, saying that it was more likely that sexually active teens were drawn to sexually permissive TV programming.  Right.  God forbid that parents might have to take responsibility for watchfulness over the TV viewing habits of their offspring. God forbid any of us might really want to pay attention to the slow corruption of our civility when we unconsciously model that which is beamed into our eyes and ears by the ubiquitous presence of ever-on media.

Sexually oriented media rarely if ever present moral and sexual restraint as normal, but as something to be fixed as quickly as possible.  In the political arena, the profound lack of civil discourse is now presented as normal. That normality bruises us all. This infection underlying our bruised souls denies the restraint and thoughtfulness demanded by truly civil discourse.  Our infected souls laugh at words of Jesus that read like this:  "You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill'"  (Matthew 5:21-22, The Message Translation). 

Words do kill.  And we are rapidly killing each other.  It is time for us who call ourselves civilized to begin to act like it in every area of our lives. This is especially true for call themselves both civilized and Christian.  For the Christian is more literally a "Christ-follower."  One who follows Christ knows the power of words to heal and the power of words to kill.  Let us be the ones to actively re-introduce the world to truly civil discourse, with words that give life, rather than death. 

Did you agree with the results of the last elections?  Then season your agreement with humility.  Did you disagree with those results?  Then choose your words of disagreement with caution and undergird them with the rules of civil discourse.  See if you can breathe life to your own ideas without having to bring destruction to others in the process.  Let us be a truly civil people and heal the infection that has left many aching with pain.

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