In the past few years, educators, parents and legislators have aggressively tackled the problem of bullying. Such behavior deserves to be condemned. Countless young people have been scarred both emotionally and physically by bullying in hallways, playgrounds and social media. We should have zero tolerance for such malevolence.

If only adults could abide by this principle. Bullying has become an accepted weapon in the political and cultural wars. On the Right, Donald Trump regularly belittles, threatens and insults his adversaries. If elected, he promises to beat foreign foes into submission or extinction. The Left can be just as guilty. College professors have been cowered into issuing “trigger warnings” lest they be accused of “micro-aggression” for saying something some student might find offensive. Politically, certain municipalities, corporations and entertainers have threatened to boycott North Carolina and other states that adopt religious freedom legislation, particularly in regards to transgender use of washrooms. On both the Right and the Left, threats and intimidation are applauded as effective tools. 

Even the church is not immune from the charge. A quick survey of Calvinist Geneva or the Crusades provides convincing evidence of Christian bullying.

Publisher and columnist Joel Belz offers these thoughts on the subject:

“Brute force is almost never an admirable substitute for sound reasoning when someone’s trying to win an argument. Even the threat of such force should raise serious doubts about the legitimacy of the threatener’s position. … Like Trump and his supporters, PayPal and (CEO) Schulman are throwing their weight around. It’s what classic students of logic have called the “argumentium ad baculum” — or an appeal to force. And almost every time you sense that it’s happening, you should sound the alarm and note that somebody’s changed the subject and is trying to win the day using an argument where force, coercion — or, more typically, the threat of force — is its main justification.”

What should we do in such a toxic environment? Nearly 25 years ago, theologian Richard Mouw wrote a book titled, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. In it he argues, “One of the real problems in modern life is that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions and people who have strong convictions often lack civility. The real challenge is to come up with a convicted civility. Being civil is a way of becoming more like what God intends us to be. Aristotle would have agreed. He was firmly convinced that civility is necessary for people to realize their human potential. We must learn how to behave among strangers, to treat people with courtesy not because we know them, but simply because we see them as human beings like ourselves.”

Today we struggle with many complex political and social issues. Decisions are best rendered through thoughtful discussion and passionate debate. We all lose when they are the product of intimidation and fear.

Rev. Harry Parker is pastor of First Baptist Church of Oak Park.

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