Posted by: Philip Rushton | February 25, 2013

Convicted Civility: Taking a stand without losing our balance

“One of the real problems in modern life is that people who are good at being civil lack strong convictions and people who have strong convictions lack civility.” Martin Marty

This past week we explored the story in the gospel of John where Peter denies Jesus three times. It is a text many of us can relate to. In the midst of public pressure we often struggle to take a stand for what we believe. When following Jesus costs us social credibility we often remain silent, or try and skirt the issue.

I know I am often nervous to take a stand for my faith because Christianity comes with a lot of negative connotations. It is not so much that I am ashamed of the gospel; rather, I am ashamed with the way in which the gospel has been falsely represented in the public square. By claiming my faith I feel as though I am claiming a whole lot of historical and political baggage. I’m aligning myself with a stereotype that I do not particularly want to endorse. So I make excuses. I get into apology mode. In Martin Marty’s assessment I tend toward civility without conviction. I’m nice to people but I don’t really want to talk religion.

I was called out on this recently from an unexpected source. I participate in a discussion group on Wednesdays, which includes people with different perspectives on religion and spirituality. One of the members of the group recently confronted me for being overly apologetic for my opinions. Apparently whenever I advocated for a traditional Christian interpretation of scripture I joked that I was getting in trouble with them. One member graciously asked me why I was being so apologetic and assured me that I was not getting in trouble with anybody when I shared my perspective.

What I realized is that I had lost an important balance in my witness to Christ. In my desire to avoid the caricature of the bible thumping culture warrior I had swung too far to the other extreme. I had recovered the civility that is necessary for us to engage our pluralistic culture, but I had been tentative to voice my convictions.

Our cultural moment requires that we recover this balance of civility and conviction. Civility is required because we live in a culture that is extremely diverse and divided. If we simply try and win a culture war by yelling louder and trying to overpower our opponent (which is sadly the method used by many conservative Christians today) we will only alienate and aggravate people further. Those who follow this model should heed the words of 1 Peter 3:15 where it says, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” For some reason we never quote the second part of this verse! At the same time we need to keep our convictions. If we really believe that Jesus is the hope of the world then why would we try to hide this from people?

I believe that this combination of conviction and civility will help repair some of the division that has occurred between the church and culture. I confided in one of my groups recently that I often do not like to tell people I am a pastor. Like the word Christian it is a word that comes with a lot of baggage. However, I was encouraged by one of our group members to own the label. She said that we need people who lean towards being civil to own the label so as to help change the perception. I share that challenge with you as well. Let’s help change the perception by combining conviction with civility. Let’s take a stand without losing our balance!


  1. Thanks for this good, balanced perspective.

  2. Excellent, but why am I still offended by all those “Repent” signs stuck all over Cowlitz county…………………..

    • My personal take on why the gospel signs might offend is because they are not relational. They make a loud public claim without creating any context for dialogue. I also feel that the complexity of faith and spirituality cannot be summed up very well with a one-liner!

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