culture

Is Civil Discourse Dead?

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By Jeremy Bell

In any relationship, communication remains a vital key for human connection. Human beings are created with a God-given design to communicate with one another. We see the gracious gift of God’s design from the opening chapters of Scripture. The only time God mentions that his creation is “not good” is when the first man—Adam—was alone (Genesis 2:18). God graciously brought the man a helpmate—Eve (Genesis 2:22). While Christians have rightly used these verses to defend the traditional view of marriage, the text also implies that human beings were created to be in relationships with each other—i.e., marriage, parenting, friendships, church life and culture.

One implication from these first two chapters of the Bible is that we are designed to be in earthly relationship built on respectful communication. In other words, we fulfill God’s design when we communicate. For example, God commanded the man, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16–17). The Bible does not explicitly indicate that God verbally conveyed this command to the woman after her creation, but we could infer that it was Adam’s duty to relay this rule to Eve. Therefore, communication remains a vital key for human relationships.

The doctrine of the Imago Dei implores us to speak to one another with humility, grace and love.

Looking at the current American landscape, it seems that the idea of respectful communication is either dying, at best, or dead, at worst. Have we, the American people, put an end to civil discourse? It seems that the invention of social media has unintentionally caused us to be less diplomatic in our communication. We have all become online trolls saying things we would probably rarely or never say in a real-life conversation sitting opposite another human being. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our insensitivity in communicating with other people. We have remained socially distant, and thus, more apt to engage with others online.

Perhaps we need to be called back to the reality of our creation as human beings. Maybe we need to all be reminded of what James says about the tongue, which exists as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison,” that has the ability to “curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 1:8–9). The reality is that in the online world we have created, we no longer feel responsible for how we speak to other human beings. On the internet we don’t experience the tension, tone or body-language of the person we are in dialogue with, and as a result we find it challenging to have open and honest conversation without hostile language. We need to remember God designed all people in his image—meaning everyone has inherent value and worth. We the people need to be aware that the person on the other end of our computer screen is indeed just that—a person made in God’s image.

Is civil discourse dead in America? From observing the incessant division in our culture, the answer could be a resounding yes. At minimum the fabric of dialogue is torn in two. However, a reflection of our creation ought to drive us to revive our ability to speak to each other both online and physically with the utmost respect and decency simply because we are human beings in relationships. Are we going to disagree? Yes. Are we going to have differences of opinion? Of course. Yet, the doctrine of the Imago Dei implores us to speak to one another with humility, grace and love. To put it another way, perhaps now is the time to reflect upon our common humanity instead of speaking to one another in an indignant manner over our disagreements. Then, by God’s grace, we may have a chance to restore communication, which will begin to rehabilitate the relationships in our culture.

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  • culture
  • public square
  • social media
Jeremy Bell

Jeremy Bell serves as the Director of Certificate Services at Southeastern. He is a graduate of SEBTS (Th.M. and M.Div) and is a Ph.D. Candidate in Christian Ethics. Jeremy is married to Katie, and father of Avery, Landon, Addilyn, Lincoln, and Levi. You can find more of Jeremy's thoughts over at beimitators.com.

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