Civility has taken a nosedive over the last 18 months. Maybe you’ve noticed too.
I’ve seen drivers become so much more aggressive that I fear for pedestrians and those riding bicycles in my community. Retail clerks brace themselves as each shopper comes to the counter, ready to be verbally abused. Political pundits scream more than ever at each other. Those asking restaurant-goers to abide by mask mandates get harassed, or worse. Social media is filled with nasty comments.
I get it. We are mentally and emotionally exhausted. We have had our lives turned upside down by the pandemic. We’ve had changes of all kinds thrust upon us. Family members and friends have died. We’ve become alienated from other family member and friends. The web of societal norms that had kept us functioning well before the pandemic—interpersonally and in community—have been ripped away.
Where it really bothers me is when we see these kinds of behaviors in the church. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, to quote Paul (Romans 3:23). Or, as The Message says in the same passage, we’ve proven “that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us…”
A recent example brought this to life for me.
A woman of faith said some nasty things recently. Uncalled for and unnecessary things. A friend witnessed the nastiness and texted me. “I’m in the middle of a ‘how will I ever go back to church’ moment in my life and this is just making me want to run. I just don’t understand how [Christians] justify acting this way.” The friend pointed out that we, in the church, “have a book that has already told us how we are meant to treat each other.”
Indeed, not just a book but a person. Jesus. What would Jesus do in that same situation? There’s nothing to suggest from his track record that he would have made nasty and snarky statements. Jesus teaches us to love one another.
Soon after that text exchange I saw a tweet that expanded my thinking about this: “Many youth are leaving church today not cause they are out there chasing ‘sin’ but because they are seeking virtue, love, authenticity, and community, and they ain’t finding it in churches.”
I know it’s tough right now. I know we’re all struggling. But Jesus still calls us to love one another. The song “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” was popular at one point in youth groups and at church camps. Maybe it still is. I just know there are a lot of people who claim to be Christian who aren’t showing much love these days. That’s probably what led John Pavlovitz to write his latest book, If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk, published last month. I’ve just begun reading this, with the hopes I can discern my part in helping us all turn away from less-than-loving ways.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director.