One of the things our society seems to be losing in recent years is the ability to be able to disagree civilly. This is especially true in all matters political.
I remember reading a story one time of what life was like for members of parliament in Ottawa. In the era when Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark were leading the Liberals and Conservatives, members of parliament could enjoy pleasant conversation with each other outside the House. Their children could play together. Ideologies differed, but there was civility.
Civility has all but left government at all levels in this country, because we have lost the ability to agree to disagree.
This reality was highlighted earlier this week, when Canadian diplomats (whose colleagues had already been recalled from Tehran) walked out of a speech given by the leader of Iran at the United Nations. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government responded by calling Canadians “Islamophobic” and “Iranophobic”, warning their citizens to avoid coming to Canada.
Name-calling has become our lowest common denominator. When we don’t agree with another person, we call out a name. When another person doesn’t see eye-to-eye with us on a matter of importance to us, we call that person a (name your issue here)-phobe. The biggest problem with that is that it has created a cultural assumption that if we disagree with another person about an issue, it means we’re afraid of the issue.
If we could wade through all the rhetoric that clogs healthy debate, we’d realize that not everyone who disagrees with the way Iran runs a country is afraid of Iran. We’d realize that not everyone who believes Islam is the way, or even the preferred way, to God is afraid of Islam. The same is true for Christianity, Judaism, sexual preference, Rob Ford, travelling by bus, or any other phenomenon. But society has come to accept that an unwillingness to accept a particular philosophy, lifestyle or practice is an expression of fear.
In his first letter to a young church, John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4.18). Christ-followers are not innocent when it comes to name-calling and incivility in debate. The world will do what the world will do (sadly), but God calls those who follow Jesus to a higher standard: God calls us to be able to love one another even when we disagree vehemently.
In an age that has also re-defined tolerance to mean abject acceptance (instead of allowing another person the right to be wrong), we are called to go the extra mile and love even those who may call us names, too. Because God has made all people in his image, all people deserve our respect, even when we don’t agree.
This higher standard to which God calls us is not something we can easily achieve; it requires a heaping measure of God’s grace. To meet God’s high standard for us, we can pray for the grace to love in the midst of the rhetoric of name-calling. And when we seek that grace, we will find it.