FIRST-PERSON: Civility amid the commotion

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) -- 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.

Back then, there weren't as many voices attempting to gain market share with their particular message. Even those in our Baptist ranks who were tasked with communicating the messages for our media outlets wrote and spoke in the context of certain "rules" that applied -- even when discussing difficult issues.

Now, hundreds of voices are speaking simultaneously into the context of the latest issues, and there seems to be no rules. Some of these voices speak from the context of fact. Others regurgitate the messaging of someone who has an ax 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, has 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, we 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.

We must 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. Civility cannot mean "roll over and play dead." When people feel disenfranchised or sense that 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.

Here for your consideration are some 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.

-- Actively listen to their response. Work at eye contact and avoid chasing after peripherals.

-- Pause and think before you speak. Choose words that 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. Do your best to separate people from the problem. And avoid focusing too much on lesser details.

-- You may not come to an agreement but let the record show 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.

-- De-escalate by seeking a win/win, but 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 (Ephesians 5:18) is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:20-23).

"Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong," the Scriptures tell us. "Your every action must be done with love" (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 CSV).

John Yeats is executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column is adapted from The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
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