SBC Life Articles

A Call for Christian Civility

Do we love one another? Do we love our pastors? Do we genuinely care one for another? Do we care for the lost? Obviously, the list could go on and on, but the question remains, "Do we love and care for one another?"

I have been greatly burdened in recent days. Our lost world, our lost continent, hurting churches, and hurting pastors are crying out. A few days ago I had the opportunity to share Christ with a young man on an airplane. At that very moment, I had to decide whether to continue writing this article or talk to this young man. Obviously, I put the writing material down and spoke with this young man who is in desperate need of Christ. He, like our world, is looking for authenticity and for love. I point this out because I believe we often are making the wrong choice.

Our witness is being diluted and energies expended on other activities, especially on internecine conflict.

Church conflict is rampant. Seldom does a day go by that I do not receive a call for help from either a church, a pastor, or a staff member. Recently I received three in one day. And there seems to be a new way to deal with church conflict. These days, increasing numbers of church members launch Web sites detailing allegations, accusations, and complaints. I ask church members this question: Do you think lost people see this? When newspaper reporters are called and church conflict becomes known in the newspaper, either locally or nationally, what do you think this does when lost people read it? For Christ's sake, for the sake of the lost, stop!

Personal attacks are on the rise. I recently removed my endorsement (as did David Dockery, Thom Rainer, and others) when a hoped-for and needed place for dialogue on the Internet degenerated quickly into a place of personal attack against denominational leaders as well as those who are advocating reform. For Christ's sake, stop!

Phone calls, e-mails, and hallway conversations continue to take place with the bottom line being character assassination. For Christ's sake, stop!

Yes, as you can tell, I am sick and tired of all of this. But guess what? What I think or feel matters little, if at all. However, what does matter is what our Lord Jesus thinks. He states His heart in John 17:21, where He prays, May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. Also, Paul states in Galatians 5:20 that the works of the flesh are: strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions and factions.

What must we do?

1 We must beg God for forgiveness. We have spoken ill of brothers and sisters of Christ in ways that should never occur.

2 We must pledge to avoid personal attacks in the future and not to support an activity or conversation in which this occurs. By the way, there is an individual in our Convention with whom I have disagreed and have done so publicly. I personally think that is fine. However, I will not be a part of a personal attack of any brother of sister in our Convention.

3 We must learn to disagree using the biblical mandates in Matthew 18, Ephesians 4:15, and other related passages. Most church and Convention problems could have been overcome if we would have followed these biblical mandates.

4 We must learn to listen to one another. This applies to all of us. It is time for leaders, trustees, pastors, and people in the pew to listen to the concerns of others, even those with whom we have serious disagreement. The pattern of totally ignoring others with whom we disagree has led to a stone walling and given many the encouragement to become extreme.

5 We must learn to talk to each other, not just about each other. I challenge you to do this. I also promise you that you will find new friends in so doing.

What is at stake? Certainly I am concerned about the future of our Convention, its great mission work, and the educational work in which we are involved. However, even more importantly, I am concerned about lost people and new believers. They are seeing the deep division and sometimes hatred that is flowing forth among churches and from those who are involved in Convention discussions. For Christ's sake, stop!

A Plea for a More Civil Discourse
by Thom S. Rainer

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

I wish I could say that I get it right all the time. I wish I could say I get it right most of the time. But, more often than I care to admit, the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart are not acceptable to the Lord. I do not always bring glory to God in the words I say and the words I write.

I, therefore, consider myself unworthy to pass judgment on those who say and write matters that seem to me to be displeasing to the Lord. But my silence is no longer an option.

Electronic media, particularly Web sites and blog sites, is neither inherently good nor evil. This medium can be used for God's glory, or it can be used in a manner that clearly does not glorify God. I have seen it become a particularly wonderful medium to keep us updated on key issues, to engender dialogue, to provide a forum for healthy debate, and to ask necessary questions.

But it can also host forums that do not please our Lord. Whereas most print media have the accountability of boards, bosses, and subscribers, much social electronic media does not have clear and explicit accountability — it's the community's responsibility. Words that are hurtful, untrue, and even displeasing to our Lord can be written without culpability. The community then becomes collectively accountable.

I'm not saying avoid substantive issues and the calls for accountability, but I plead with my brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly in our denomination, to move toward a more civil discourse, a more Christlike attitude in what we say and write.

My passionate desire is to be a bridge builder in the Southern Baptist Convention. Not to compromise biblically. Not to be soft in my theology. I desire true collaboration with those of uncompromising biblical certitude to reach a lost world with the Gospel of our Savior. My prayer is that the conservative resurgence will now grow into a Great Commission resurgence.

But our witness is compromised when a spiritually lost world sees us fighting with one another, when they see unloving words hurled without restraint, when they see terse comments cloaked in civility — when they see little evidence of Christian love.

Would you pray with me that the world will see us as men and women who love the Lord with all of our hearts, and who love one another? Will you be a part of the conversation that shifts from negativity to Great Commission obedience?

I ask: Will you be a person who speaks a truth in love in such a way that your comments glorify God and are found acceptable to Him?

Such is my plea. Such is my prayer.

Thom S. Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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