Stephen Carter in his column Politics for Adults bemoaned the lack of civility in political discourse. What are we as Christians to do?
The division and strife that characterize our political life, the substitution of slogan for argument and attack for policy, have grown so heated and painful that they threaten our pretensions to democracy. We face political discord that leaves us mired in mutual suspicion so deep that hardly anyone wants to talk to anybody with a different view. The challenge we face—especially we who are Christians—is what to do about it.
We know that God calls Christians to an ethic of love. He also forbids us to stay silent in the face of evil. How do we meld these competing mandates in our political stances? Over the years, I have heard and read answers that usually say a Christian is obliged to hold position X on issue Y. Sometimes this is surely true. But recognizing the causes for which we ought to fight is not the same as knowing how we should conduct the fight.
As an evangelical you might think that Carter would hold up a conservative on how to solve this problem. Rather, he holds up arch-liberal Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall for whom Carter clerked. When he asked Marshall what he thought of segregationist, John W. Davis, Marshall had nothing but praise.
When I met Marshall many years after Brown, I asked him what he thought of John W. Davis. I expected him, in the fashion of the times, to respond with the sort of vicious and ad hominem assault that I no doubt would have selected. After all, the man was—no point in sugarcoating it—a segregationist. But Marshall surprised me. He said, "John W. Davis? A good man. A great man, who just happened to believe in that segregation."
Carter concludes with a very powerful a forteriori argument.
And if Marshall could reach out across the divide of segregation and meet people on the other side with respect and even affection, and so make deals to move the country forward, is it really impossible to imagine the rest of us doing the same?
Imagine that: a politics actually worthy of adults.