“They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
I find myself repeating the refrain of this hymn all too often when I’m talking to friends or colleagues about the remarks I see posted by fellow Catholics on Facebook and Twitter or in the comments section of online articles. I shake my head at the irony of it because the words and tone of the posted remarks are anything but Christian.
It’s sad and disappointing. And it’s not limited to the online world. We are an increasingly polarized society that has forgotten how to engage in respectful debate and dialogue. Our faith encourages us to contribute our voices to the public square as a way to advance the common good. But who wants to speak out or stand up to voice an opinion if it only elicits malice and meanness? This is especially challenging in an election year like 2020, when matters related to faith and politics generate strong viewpoints and emotions.
Last fall, the U.S. bishops introduced a yearlong campaign, “Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate,” encouraging Catholics to promote “civility, clarity and compassion in the public square and to call on others to do so as well.” The campaign includes a pledge to which every Catholic and person of goodwill should commit:
• Civility — to recognize the human dignity of those with whom I disagree, treat others with respect and rise above attacks when directed at me.
• Clarity — to root my political viewpoints in the Gospel and a well-formed conscience, which involves prayer, conversation, study and listening. I will stand up for my convictions and speak out when I witness language that disparages others’ dignity, while also listening and seeking to understand others’ experiences.
• Compassion — to encounter others with a tone and posture which affirms that I honor the dignity of others and invites others to do the same. I will presume others’ best intentions and listen to their stories with empathy. I will strive to understand before seeking to be understood.
Engaging in respectful dialogue doesn’t mean compromising our convictions or commitment to the truth. But it does require us to love our neighbor as Christ instructed us and treat them with respect.
It would be naïve to think that taking a pledge will change the tone of our public conversations overnight. But, if enough of us commit to efforts fostering civility, we can start to have a real impact both in society and the Church. We can be proud when “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
You can find the pledge and other resources and prayers in English and Spanish at www.civilizeit.org.
TIPS FOR ENGAGING IN CIVIL DIALOGUE:
The “Civilize It” campaign includes a variety of accompanying resources, including tips for engaging in civil discourse:
1) Listen first and seek to understand the whole picture;
2) Ask questions for clarification;
3) Use ‘I’ statements; pay attention to body language;
4) Listen to what feelings are present and pay attention to how you respond;
5) Summarize what you’ve heard and ask for feedback.