"I designed my book to counteract the incivility of people who, like myself, operate with strong religious convictions."
He goes on to give a descriptive definition of Christian civility and an anecdote that illustrates the power of practicing the art of civility in an uncivil world. He writes:
"We can think of civility as a form of hospitality. It is making room for other people, for their hopes and fears; it is a willingness to create a space in our minds for their ideas and experiences, for showing empathy for what is going on in their lives, even when strictly speaking we are not obligated to do so.
Jesus showed a literal hospitality to people whose lifestyles and ideas he strongly opposed. This is what got him into trouble with the religious leaders of his day: "The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (luke 5:30). I can understand something of the concerns of those religious leaders. A genuine vulnerability often comes with a hospitable spirit. The same holds for a willingness to "make room" for the ideas and experiences of those with whom we disagree on serious matters. But we need to take the risk.
Once I gave a talk to a good sized audience on a large university campus. I spoke on the subject of civility . . . Afterwards, the leaders of one of the evangelical campus groups came up to talk with me. They told me how they had run ads in the campus newspaper stating the evanglical understanding of sexual fidelity, with some mention of their opposition to same-sex relationships. One of the gay-lesbian groups had countered with an angry published response, and htey had gone back and forth a bit, trading letters to the editor. "It has gotten a bit out of hand," the leaders said. "Realistically, from your point of view, how should we have handled it diferently?"
I told them that I thought they should have asked for a private meeting with the gay-lesbian leaders at the outset. They should have shown them the ads and said, "We know that you will disagree with our position, but we do want you to see this ahead of time. And if there is anything in here that you think seriously misrepresents your point of view, we want to know aobut it. We want to say what we believe, but we do not want to be needlessly offensive in doing so."
The evangelical leaders thanked me for the advice, and they told me they wished they had done the kind of thing I proposed.
Several weeks later, I received a note from one of them. "After we talked with you," they said, "we met with the leaders of the gay-lesbian group-we invited them to lunch, and they accepted," he reported. "We told them that we wish we had contacted them privately before running our ad. We apologized for how we have typically gone about making our views known, and we asked for their forgiveness. It started off awkward, but by the end of the conversation we were talking about other stuff, and then they said we should meet again, and the next time lunch was on them. I think we are on a new path--not compromising, but making our case in a kinder way!"
This group was taking some important risks in cultivating civility. I was proud of them fow what they had done. They were learning good manners!"
Then, Dr. Mouw concludes his essay by making an observation as to why we Christians are so reluctant to reach out to people with whom we disagree, particularly fellow Christians with whom we have much more in common than those who are lost in this world. He writes:
The answer I keep coming back to is that it is a failure of spirituality. We have not seen public manners, the cultivating of civility, as an important element in our spiritual formation.
Dr. Mouw suggests that cultivating good manners and hospitality is as important to spiritual development as prayer, reflection, Bible reading, etc...
The Christian, even that Christian with very strong convictions, who does not work as hard on good manners, is as unspiritual as the person who doesn't pray or read his Bible.
Amen, Dr. Mouw, amen.
In His Grace,