We may be in the most divisive and contentious season of American life since the ‘60’s…the 1860’s. Everywhere we turn, thoughtful, civil conversation has been tossed out the window. Of course, it’s nothing new to have social conflict during an election year, but our current issues run far deeper than political differences. Lives are at stake—our own and the people we love. At this moment, over 190,000 Americans have died from a virus that some consider a hoax. On September 4, a new model used by top health officials projects the number of deaths in our country will go over 410,000 by January 1, 2021.

The relentlessness of this virus has created a deep angst. By now, we all know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. It may be us. Some of us have had loved ones die. On Monday, Sept. 7, our first United Methodist pastor in Missouri died from COVID. Rev. Fred Luper was the pastor of Elwood and Onward UM Churches. Please pray for his wife Jane, their children and grandchildren, his churches, and all who loved him. There are at least 14 more UM pastors in Missouri battling COVID. Please seek God for their full healing.

The tragedy of a worldwide pandemic would be more than enough to ratchet up our rhetoric, but there’s more. Multiple videos of deadly racial injustice have rattled our nation’s soul. Thankfully, a broader awareness of personal and systemic racism is bringing hope for new and long overdue progress. More white Americans than ever before are seeing the deeper problem and desiring to address unresolved issues.

The final trial of this troubling trifecta is an economic meltdown. With over 22 million jobs lost in April and May, economists now say millions of those jobs, perhaps 40 percent, are gone forever. The personal toll of these economic losses on individuals and families is impossible to gauge.

When our lives, our livelihoods and our dignity are on the line, the first casualty is civility. With so much at stake and emotions running so high, we are seeing extraordinary levels of hurtful and sometimes hateful speech on social media, among families and friends, in schools, in workplaces, and even in churches. But we don’t have to stay caught in conflict. It’s a choice. In a quarrelsome culture, here are 5 Ways to Save Civility.

  1. Begin where you agree. Find common ground and stand there first.
  2. Be a learner, not a judger. We naturally default to judging, assigning blame, and thinking, “What’s wrong with them?” Instead, switch to a learner mindset and ask, “What can I learn?” “What do I want for others & for me?” “What assumptions am I making?” Jesus put it this way, Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
  3. Stick to the facts. Avoid exaggeration or embellishment. Sticking with verifiable facts builds trust.
  4. Speak like you are right and listen like you are wrong. By all means, hold your convictions, but hold them with humility. Say, “This is what I believe. Help me understand what you see that I don’t see.
  5. Win the person, not the argument. Winning an argument at the cost of losing someone for whom Christ died is too high a price. The Apostle Paul counsels Christ followers to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Even if we ultimately agree to disagree, we can still love others by respectfully treating them as we would want to be treated. Love is something we do.

In conflicted times, people long for someone to model a more excellent way. At the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that referred to Southerners as fellow human beings who were in error. An elderly lady chastised him for not calling them irreconcilable enemies who must be destroyed.

“Why, madam,” Lincoln replied, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Perhaps Abe was on to something, something we need today.