Rancor in politics, especially these days, may be the norm, but a nationwide effort is…
A call for civility as the 2020 election approaches
I like it.
A year before the 2020 election, the U.S. bishops have launched their own campaign: Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate, in which it is asking Catholics “to pledge civility, clarity, and compassion in their families, communities, and parishes, and [to] call on others to do the same.”
“Conversation in the public square is all too often filled with personal attacks and words that assume the worst about those with whom we disagree,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane, of Venice, and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. “We are in need of healing in our families, communities, and country. Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate is a call for Catholics to honor the human dignity of each person they encounter, whether it is online, at the dinner table, or in the pews next to them.”
You don’t need me to spell out the political divisions that are facing our country. We know and experience them on a daily basis. And we also know, most unfortunately, that we face similar divisions within our Church. For both of these reasons, a campaign encouraging civility could not have come at a better time.
Anyone who has spent time on Catholic Twitter or reading the comments on Facebook posts about the Church knows that Catholics need this push toward civility as much as anyone else. Publicly, we profess to love our neighbor, but when a difference of opinion takes place, usually under the cloak of anonymity, the gloves come off in a very unneighborly way. It’s not a great look for the Church or for those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ.
The simple fact is that it’s much easier to vilify one with whom we disagree rather than engage in respectful dialogue. We can write off those with differing opinions as uninformed at best and the spawn of the Evil One at worst. Good, honest debate, however, actually takes effort. It takes patience and understanding. It takes a desire to open one’s ears to another point of view, putting aside one’s own limitations and myopia. It takes a thorough comprehension of one’s own position and an ability to clearly articulate it. And it calls us to remember that the one with whom we are interacting — regardless of differences in opinion — is a beloved child of God. Even if — let’s be honest — we’d sometimes rather not.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has provided some tools to get our civilized conversations started, including a “civility pledge”; a prayer for civility; a pastoral aid full of resources, with tips for civil dialogue; and robust document of promotional materials, including a plethora of social media graphics and banners.
“With the Civilize It! campaign, Catholics are called see the ‘dignity beyond the debate.’ We can make room in our own hearts for civil dialogue, which assumes a posture of understanding and a commitment to honoring one another’s dignity,” the pastoral aid document says. “While we may not hold all opinions or viewpoints as valid, we can create room in our hearts to hear from those with whom we disagree. We can commit to seek understanding before we seek to be understood. We can create a space where human dignity is the start of the conversation.”
Can a “Civilize It” campaign save us from the vitriol that no doubt will mark the 2020 presidential campaign? Doubtful. But it can, at the very least, give Catholics some basic tools that will help us be leaders in embracing meaningful dialogue that begins — as should all things — with charity.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editorial director for periodicals at OSV. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.