Why Civility Matters



There are many explanations of how our culture descended to this degraded level of public conversation. The glorification of rebellion during the '60s certainly helped. In recent years the use of obscenities and profanities in movies, books, magazines and television, along with publicity about celebrities who openly flaunt traditional standards of civil behavior have added to the mix too.

In a February Wall Street Journal opinion piece, sociologist Charles Murray brought up the insights of the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975). Murray said that Toynbee, in his book A Study of History, came to the view that the emergence of a "thug code" of coarse behavior in daily life--and its acceptance by cultural elites--is one characteristic of the disintegration period of a civilization. During such times, Toynbee wrote, the opinion-forming elites lose confidence in the very values that characterized their civilization during its early life and growth.

Just what those values were in early American history are quickly spotted on the Internet. Look up the word "civility," and one of the first things you see is the full text of something copied down by George Washington when he was just 16, entitled Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.

The little document contains 110 maxims that reinforce over and over the principle that our behavior at all times should be modest, restrained, considerate of others and truthful. "Neither curse nor revile," and "Let your conversation be without malice or envy" are just two that indeed characterized Washington's own behavior throughout his life.

It's not a surprise to learn that Rules of Civility has a Christian origin. They were first penned by French Jesuits in 1595, then adopted by Puritan English in the 1640s.

In our let-it-all-hang-out, casual-is-best era, civility and good manners are sometimes sniffed at, even by Christians, as nitpicky restrictions on our "freedom of expression." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Civility is at the very core of a peaceful and pleasant life in any society, and unless we apply some restraints to our behavior, chaos quickly results. And when chaos results, dictators come in to impose more laws on us.

The Christian take on this is very simple: At the heart of civility is the conviction that every human being, even if he or she is unaware of it, is a creature made in the image of God and potentially a child of God. Paul says to "let your gentleness be evident to all" (see Phil. 4:5)--the "all" including both the godly and the wicked--and to "do everything without complaining or arguing" (see Phil. 2:14). In the Christian understanding of civility, we are called on to behave well even to those who thoroughly mistreat us.

Civility--being a gentleman if you are a man and a lady if you are a woman--can be an incredibly powerful way both of confronting evil and pointing others toward God.

While researching the life of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's longtime opponent of apartheid, I was struck by how his dignified, courteous manner even in prison won his jailers over to his side. More than once Mandela turned down easy opportunities to escape in order not to bring trouble on guards who treated him well. Mandela's overwhelming moral presence as an advocate of justice and peaceful change was instrumental in persuading white South Africa's leadership to turn the country over to black majority rule in 1994.

I often have been amazed at the persuasive power of civility in general and Christian courtesy in particular. Economists used to say, "Good money drives out bad." It's time Christians respond to the vulgarity in our own civilization with a similar principle of behavior: Good manners drive out bad.

It's one of the simplest ways to help head off chaos.

Best Magazine Deal. Subscribe now and get 3 magazines for the price of 1. Get Charisma, SpiritLed Woman and Ministry Today, all for $24. YES - I want this deal!

3 Reasons Why you should read Life in the Spirit. 1) Get to know the Holy Spirit. 2) Learn to enter God's presence 3) Hear God's voice clearly! Click Here to draw closer to God!

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
View/Add Comments
  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez was the first Hispanic pastor in history to pray at a presidential inauguration.

    At Trump Inauguration, Charismatic Leaders Pray Boldly in Jesus' Name. Is This Foreshadowing a New Day in America?

    It was an amazing day to let religious freedom ring in America.

  • Donald Trump certainly needs your prayers.

    Why You Must Pray for Donald Trump

    Here are eight ways I plan to intercede for President Trump regularly.

  • Pastor Jim Garlow in a file photo shown praying.

    Conservative Christian Leaders Gather in DC, Calling Trump's Election an Answer to Prayer

    "Although the news media is predicting protests, what I'm seeing is that everyone is abuzz ...

  • When I flew into D.C. yesterday, there were so many Secret Servicemen on the plane I wondered what was going on!

    Jennifer LeClaire Releases Urgent Prophetic Warning Over Washington, D.C.

    When I flew into D.C. yesterday, there were so many Secret Servicemen on the plane I wondered what ...

  • Here's a prophetic word for Washington, D.C.

    Prophecy: The Lord Is Raising Up Daniels in DC

    I believe we're on the precipice of a Third Great Awakening the Lord spoke to my heart about in ...

  • Does any of this reflect what's going on in your marriage?

    9 Characteristics of a Healthy Sexual Relationship for a Believer

    A healthy sexual relationship for a Christian couple takes effort, and it's worth working for.

  • Churches don't address this topic affecting women.

    The Secret Sorrow Women Carry

    This woman breaks the silence about a taboo subject to help restore many women.

  • Bishop Eddie Long died at 63.

    Bishop Eddie Long Dead at 63

    "Although his transition leaves a void for those of us who loved him dearly, we can celebrate ...

  • Continue Your Journey with the Holy Spirit

    Continue Your Journey with the Holy Spirit

    Follow God on the most fulfilling journey of your life with Encounter the Holy Spirit! Break away from past hurts and press into the One who wants a personal encounter with you.

  • Dream the Unimaginable In His Presence

    Dream the Unimaginable In His Presence

    Reach your full potential and be led by His Spirit. In His Presence takes you to a deeper understanding of who God is and how he communicates with us.

  • Set Your Spirit on Fire

    Set Your Spirit on Fire

    Receive the power and gifts that come through the Holy Spirit Baptism. Don’t go empty-handed; accept all that He has for you! His power is available to those who ask.

  • Put on the Full Armor of God

    Put on the Full Armor of God

    Break every stronghold with the power of the Holy Spirit. Use the power of your tongue to declare and decree the Word of God. Witness heaven move on your behalf.

Use Desktop Layout
Charisma Magazine — Empowering believers for life in the Spirit