Christians must choose civil discourse

It is difficult to escape the visceral and divisive rhetoric pervading our culture today. Social media rants and virtue signaling have replaced any attempt at civil discourse or deliberation. One wrong move, and the full force of cancel culture is brought to bear upon a particular person, group or company. The death of George Floyd in June — and subsequent unrest — has sparked integral conversations about race. Sadly, these necessary conversations often become entangled in a slew of divisive and self-righteous rhetoric. The temptation to resort to scathing, partisan critiques has only grown stronger as we enter the final throes of an election season. Social media runs rampant with blistering posts or comments from both sides of the aisle that demonize one another for specific policy affiliations or show support for a particular candidate. Some of this damaging rhetoric takes the shape of, “If you vote for so-and-so you hate a particular group of people,” or “If you support this policy, you want to destroy America.”

Empathy validates the person and their experience, whether or not we believe their opinions are valid.”

Undoubtedly, this type of vitriolic rhetoric is nothing new. Since our founding, our national conversations have repeatedly disintegrated into verbal feuds laden with divisive insults. However, Westmont students — and the greater Christian community — have a responsibility to stand against this latest wave of self-righteous, divisive rhetoric engulfing our culture during the months leading up to the election. Choosing the path of civil discourse and gracious deliberation is not easy, but we as Christians must pioneer the way. 

In order to combat the insidious rhetoric permeating our cultural conversations, we must choose to emphasize the grace, empathy, and humility perfectly modeled by Christ. 

Recognizing the grace we’ve been given through the cross quickly destroys cancel culture and compels us to offer this same grace to others. We are all hopelessly flawed. Every one of us deserves to be “canceled.” Yet Christ died for each one of us and ceaselessly offers us forgiveness. Thus, instead of shaming one another for an alleged past wrong or scorning one another for speaking in a way we find offensive, we can instead offer grace.

Choosing empathy enables us to see the whole person, not just their particular view, and challenges us to recognize that we are each the product of a larger story that has significantly impacted our perspectives and political views. Instead of demonizing one another for supporting a specific candidate or affirming a particular policy, empathy asks good questions and seeks to understand why someone believes what they do. Empathy validates the person and their experience, whether or not we believe their opinions are valid. 

Finally, choosing to imitate Christ’s posture of humility counteracts the self-righteous rhetoric and virtue-signaling so prevalent on social media. Humility destroys a self-righteous mentality when we recognize that our position may be flawed. Walking humbly requires us to acknowledge that things are rarely as simple as we may think and challenges us to concede that we do not have all the answers. Furthermore, choosing humility means that, instead of virtue signaling to build up our public image, we admit our own failures and focus on uplifting others through personal action rather than grandiose public statements. 

The path to genuine civil discourse and gracious deliberation does not cross easy terrain. It is much easier to simply surrender to the onslaught of divisive, vitriolic rhetoric and add our voices to the screams of cancel culture. However, the Westmont community — and the larger Christian community throughout the nation — has a responsibility to model a different way, especially as we navigate this election season. Ultimately, choosing grace, empathy, and humility requires reliance on Christ’s strength and example and cannot originate from ourselves. He is willing and able to give us the power to choose this path.