How to Grow Some Civil Discourse

“Just shut up!” she explained. “This is our show, and we’ll talk about whatever we want!”

Just grow up, I thought. Then I pushed a button and, voila, I was listening to something else on the radio.

So there you have it: A snapshot of a typical “discussion” in modern America. Whether it’s talk radio, social media, blogs, opinion pieces in the newspaper, political rallies or – if they still exists – old fashion conversations at the water cooler or dinner table, we seem to have lost our capacity for civil discourse around tough issues.


Instead, we draw battle lines and close our hearts, minds, and ears to anyone who disagrees with us. Then we commence to spouting snotty rhetoric that draws applause from our friends and inflames our opponents (who are listening only for the purpose of becoming inflamed).

Civil discourse, by the way, is that archaic term that means “conversations intended to enhance understanding.” And it’s an area where we all need to grow like Jesus.

If you think this is a problem only among “others,” then I’d encourage you to look around. I see it all the time, and not just from the jerks of this world. I see it from people who are generally good-hearted, well-meaning, and kind … until they get on Facebook and start talking about things like which public restrooms a person should use. I see it from liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, followers of Jesus, atheists, Muslims, Jews, gays, straights, hybrids … well, from everyone.

Yes, I also see it from me. And if you think my words can be bad, you should hear what’s in my heart sometimes.

As I listen in on the social and political debates of our day – whether it’s Clinton/Trump or the great bathroom debate – I often find myself wondering how we all can be so insensitive toward each other’s views. And, frankly, it often seems that the people who are the loudest when preaching tolerance are also the most firm when trying to shut down the voices of their opponents.

When Luke 2:52 tells us Jesus grew in “favor with man,” it doesn’t mean everyone liked Him or agreed with Him. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. But if we want to do our part to restore civil discourse in our country (and the world), we can learn a lot (OK, everything) from the Master about how to enhance understanding.

Here are some high-level areas where I believe we all have an opportunity to grow if we want to change the discourse of history:

  • Avoid Trivial Pursuits – It’s easy to trivialize issues or people rather than engaging them in a thoughtful, meaningful way. The idea is to marginalize those souls who think differently and to diminish the validity of their viewpoints. It’s an elitist attitude that dehumanizes people. It results in false comparisons (“This is just like water fountains in the 1950s!”) and dismissive jabs (“Only sensible people would disagree on this, so who cares what people on the fringe think?”)
  • Chase the Truth – Pilate posed a question for the ages when he said, “What is truth?” (See John 18:38) Like many of us today, he seemed to be asking rhetorically, because Jesus just had given him the answer. Jesus: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (See John 18:37) If we lean into the truth of God’s Word, we will have something worth sharing to anyone who might listen – not because we’re smarter or more righteous, but because we’re sharing the Word of God and not our emotion-based opinions.
  • Embrace Grace – Most people don’t have a relationship with Jesus, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to understand or embrace His truth. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you can beat them over the head with it. You can shout it at them. Or, you can grow like Jesus and offer grace and love as you try to model God’s truth. Jesus never sacrificed the truth, but He displayed an amazing sense of empathy as He reached into the hearts of people with love.

Growing in these areas, by the way, won’t ensure that you will win any arguments. Indeed, if you stand on Biblical truth in America, you’ll likely stand on unpopular side of most debates. So the last and most difficult thing I would recommend is that you surrender your desire to win. Let go, and let God, as the saying goes. Leave the results to Jesus, just as He surrendered the results of His life to the Father.

For me, that’s the most challenging idea of all. I want to be understood. If you understand me, after all, surely you will agree me. But growth without surrender only produces weeds.


As I wrote this, I came across a podcast by Michael Hyatt that offers some tactical approaches to improving your civil discourse: Click here to see it.

Encore Episode: How to Lead Transformational Conversations [Podcast]