EDITORIAL: Respect in differing

Many commentators on both sides of the political aisle in recent years have correctly raised the issue of increasing incivility in public speech, especially when crowds are sharply divided along political and policy lines.
The on-going debate about proposed health-care reforms ignites particular fire in the public arena. The literal shouting down of people on the “other side” – participants both for and against reforms – serves no useful purpose in understanding the particulars of proponents and opponents.
Unrestrained anger and rudeness hardens attitudes, and debate collapses into meaningless shouting matches.
It’s safe to assume that here in the Deep South many of the people involved in confrontations from both sides are Christians – or religious adherents whose faith teaches them respect and tolerance and civility.
The Apostle Paul, who apparently did plenty of rabble-rousing and violent persecution before his conversion, spent the rest of his life evangelizing the Western world – from Greece to Rome.
In Athens, he engaged many of the leading citizens in conversation even as he was scandalized by the presence of so many pagan idols and temples. Paul didn’t tear any temples down and he didn’t destroy idols. He argued persuasively in the Jewish synagogue and on the streets, raising curiosity that finally brought him before a court/council called the Council of the Areopagus, in public.
Paul, a witness to the resurrected Jesus who was considered a threat to the Athenian deities, was given an apparently respectful opening to speak to the council and others.
The biblical record (Acts 17-16-34) gives no indication that he was shouted down or rudely interrupted while making his point.
The Athenians, after all, were civilized people, even if not Christian. They were, by intellectual reputation and history, seekers after truth.
They didn’t agree with Paul, but there’s no record of threats being made or suggestions of violence.
Paul encountered that in other places, but not in the most sophisticated city in the world.
The Athenians were a model of engagement and civility in listening to Paul’s all-important message about the one God and the life offered in God.
Paul didn’t convince many, if any, but they said, “We will hear you on this subject some other time.”
No ridicule. No derision. No shouted threats in Athens, so far as the Book of the Acts records.
He left and took his message to Corinth, also a pagan city in the grasp of the Roman empire, where he worked without serious incident until his own people, Jews who were Corinthians, turned on him, using the Jewish law as their weapon.
Paul’s famous encounter with the Athenian council has become a model for the exchange of seriously differing ideas. Paul, respectful but determined, walked away, but his views eventually prevailed.
Many issues demand thorough public debate; none justify threats of violence or disrespect of anyone in a democracy where free speech is a constitutional guarantee.

NEMS Daily Journal