Setting the Table for Civility

Ervin StutzmanErvin Stutzman is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.

Over the next days and weeks, many of us will celebrate the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Perhaps we’ll sit at the table with friends or loved ones, or gather for meals with work associates or fellow church members.

While we might wish the holidays would be all laughter, love and light, the reality for many will be more complicated, particularly if the conversation turns to politics or sensitive social issues.

I sometimes wring my hands in despair at the tone of discourse in our nation’s political debates. For example, a political hopeful in my home town just promised to conduct a “ruthless,” “vicious” campaign, with “no holds barred.” It’s not just true in government, but also across the church. It appears to be worsening over the past year, with deep polarization in our nation’s capital that reflects the strong feelings in our local communities. How then should peace-loving followers of Jesus respond? How can we be “salt and light” to the people around us?

One helpful approach is to join with others who seek to bridge these painful fissures in our common life. To that end, Mennonite Church USA has agreed to promote the Initiative to Revive Civility sponsored by the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD). This is a nonpartisan national group that organizes a variety of activities to promote civility and encourage people of different political views to improve the tone of our public discourse. We are promoting their resources because their mission is consistent with our belief that each person is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect — whether we agree with them or not.

This holiday season, the Initiative to Revive Civility invites people across the country to participate in “Setting the Table for Civility.”

The goal is to call Americans to come together over the holidays for reflection and dialogue about how we can bridge the deep divisions in our country. There are many things you could do to raise the issue of civility this holiday season including:

  • Have a worship service and/or a sermon about the importance of civility and respect
  • Meet with leaders of another church that has different political views for dialogue and prayer
  • Have a discussion in a youth or adult group about why civility matters to Christians and how we can practice it in our lives.

The Initiative to Revive Civility has resources that can assist you with these and other activities on their website at www.revivecivility.org. I find their ideas and conversation guides to be useful. I hope that we, along with other people of faith, can take the lead in reviving civility in our nation. Let’s plan now to participate in some small way in “Setting the Table for Civility” in our congregations and/or communities.

I signed the following pledge, and I encourage others all across MC USA to so as well:

To help revive civility and respect in my community, I will make a conscious effort to:

  • Seek out a variety of reliable news sources with different perspectives in order to learn more about the forces that divide — and also unite — our country.
  • Listen respectfully to people who have views different than my own, be mindful to avoid stereotyping and not use language that is insulting or derogatory.
  • Encourage and support efforts to bring people of different points of view together in our community to have civil and respectful conversations
  • Invite other people to join me in the Initiative to Revive Civility and get involved in helping to connect people across political divisions.

During this holiday season, may we all have the joyful occasion to celebrate God’s love and generosity with those we love. And if we find ourselves in sharp disagreement with someone at the table, may God grant us the grace to listen and share our food for thought with civility and respect. Bon appétit.