The Case for Civility

Today I have an essay at The Gospel Coalition, laying out why I believe civility is essential to meaningful community.

Here’s an excerpt:

While my father was pastoring his second church, he experienced a slow but profound transformation in his personal philosophy of ministry. This transformation made him attempt to lead the church in particular areas of change and growth. Some of these changes were welcomed, but many were resisted. These were hard seasons for Dad. There were times when I felt he was lying down, not insisting on what he knew was right and biblical, and allowing certain people too much freedom to criticize and oppose him.

My dad understood something that I didn’t: the thicker and deeper the community, the more important and more difficult meaningful change becomes. The dominant spirit of much public activism is like me, at 17 years old, wondering why my dad didn’t just name and shame those in the church who were consistently standing in the way of what I thought was obviously correct. Human nature in its immaturity assumes that all good change must happen quickly, and that those who stand in its way can be bulldozed for the sake of the cause. What such revolutionaries desire is a more perfect reality; what they get in destroying norms of civil discourse—such as listening, making good-faith arguments, and finding wisdom in others—is a broken, dysfunctional public square.

I hope you’ll read the whole thing.

Author: Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.

One thought on “The Case for Civility”

  1. (stands and applauds) Well said, sir; well said!

    I am one of those who threw the word “civility” into the recycle bin, not because I didn’t believe in it, practice it, or teach it, but because the word seemed to carry many of the connotations you describe in this piece. You have convinced me to pull it out of the bin and champion the practice once again.

    And if not civility, then what? In a battle against the harmful effects of cultural norms and trends, it is not enough to simply tell someone “don’t do that.” We also have to instruct others on what to do instead, modeling it as well as teaching it. As hard as it is for some to believe, a new generation coming of age lacks the skills necessary for practicing civility. As you rightly pointed out, it is an opportunity cost born from endless interactions with devices and environments demanding a lower moral standard. Whereas many have to recover what was lost, some need to learn what they never had.


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