Hate speech, inflammatory rhetoric and uncivil discourse are all too common in politics and social media.
In seeking a positive means to respond, I’m joining my organization, Peace Catalyst International, in a campaign to wage peace.
I’m seeking to wage peace because peacemaking is a battle. Overcoming evil with good or seeking to end a conflict nonviolently demands strength and fortitude.
To do so, we must choose to wage peace with wisdom, to do so in love and to be willing to move beyond security. Doing so can help change the angry, polarizing climate by becoming a powerful force for peace.
There are many practical ways to wage peace with wisdom. One of the keys to this is to explain, promote and model the four Rs of civil discourse:
1. Be respectful.
If we take the Scriptures seriously, we will “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17).
When we get an angry email, an outlandish Facebook post or have an intense debate face to face, Christians are called to resist the temptation to “fight fire with fire.” Even if the other person’s words are hateful and evil, we can still show respect.
We should remember that all people are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28). We should see the face of God in everyone and treat them with dignity, whether Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, Caucasians, Democrats or Republicans (and the list goes on).
2. Be relational.
Relational communication is loving communication. “Let all that you do be done in love,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 16:14). We are to speak and write in such a way as to manifest love and strengthen the relationship.
So when we face controversy or conflict, we remember to attack the problem, not the person. We are commanded to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Speaking the truth means we can debate issues and expose problems. In fact, we must do so.
But speaking the truth “in love” means we seek to be winsome. There should be no angry edge to our communication.
Like many of you, I receive criticism on Facebook and I am tempted to respond in kind. But I have made it a personal rule to never respond quickly. I take time to ponder and pray.
I often thank people for sharing their views. Then I like to ask questions to make sure I understand their concerns. Questions also help people think more deeply about their statements.
Sometimes these questions expose the error of my critics. Sometimes they open the door to deeper, meaningful dialogue. Either way, questions are good and help keep us focused on the problem rather than the person.
By the way, asking questions was central to how Jesus taught and communicated.
3. Be reasonable.
The God of truth commands us to love him with our minds, so civil discourse should be reasonable. This means that we engage in dialogue and debates by presenting facts and giving arguments for what we believe.
Reasonable people weigh the evidence for a position and change their minds if persuaded.
4. Be receptive.
When we engage in civil discourse, we should be receptive to other viewpoints. Proverbs repeatedly says that the wise person receives reproof, which means wise people are eager to learn and grow (Proverbs 12:1,15; 15:31;19:20).
The four Rs of civil discourse can be summed up in one word: wisdom.
The book of Proverbs and the letter of James teach that wisdom is about both our wording and our being, about a discerning mind and a gentle heart.
Using these four Rs of civil discourse, we can seek to wage peace with wisdom.
Rick Love is the president of Peace Catalyst International and author of “Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities.” A version of this article first appeared on the Peace Catalyst blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his website, and you can follow him on Twitter @drricklove.