My heart has been hurting since I heard the news of the recent slaughter of school children by the Taliban in Pakistan. I cannot wrap my mind around that kind of hate. I can vaguely comprehend a mentally ill person doing such a thing. But to gun down more than a hundred children and their teachers in the name of some twisted, self-created god is beyond me. Echoes of Herod’s slaughter of the children in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus echo in this Christmas season. And I weep for the parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and all those who are grieving because of this horrific act. Even the survivors’ scars will last a lifetime. I close my eyes and see kids the same age as my grandchildren, and I grieve for those who have lost the future promise of those young lives.
I spoke this week for the first time in several years about the Institute for Civility in Government, and its work to encourage civility in the process of government. Two Presbyterian pastor friends founded the Institute. I helped them write the story of the Institute in the book, Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square: Ten Rules that Work. I told those who came to hear my talk that as I was writing the book, I was coincidentally also teaching an adult Sunday school class on religious violence. Because of that juxtaposition, I reached the conclusion that the opposite of civility is not incivility. The opposite of civility is the violence that comes with the breakdown of civil society—the kind of violence exhibited by the Taliban in their bloody massacre. I told the audience that the Institute defines civility as: “Claiming and caring for one’s own identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”
In the discussion that followed my presentation, I was struck by one man’s suggestion that the Institute’s definition of civility sounds like grace. I’m still thinking about that, but I like that idea. It’s not exactly how my theological dictionary defines grace, but favor and kindness, the definitions for the Greek and Latin words from which our theological term grace is derived, do sound like another way to define civility. That is we stand up for our own beliefs, but we extend favor and kindness to others as they do the same. If all of us practiced that kind of civility, we might have a bit less violence in this weary world.
Grace and Peace,