I am heading down to Canberra for this weekend to attend the conference, Voices for Justice 2012. its purpose is to remind politicians of their commitment to the millennium development goals, and to challenge them with the fact that they have not lived up to their promised foreign aid spending.
the voices for justice website states the following about the participants:
At Voices for Justice 2010 gathering, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referred to Micah Challenge supporters as “nagging prophets” for our persistent effort lobbying politicians to care about global poverty, and he urged us to continue.
the conference is an exercise in what is sometimes called public theology. We are attempting to outwork the values of our faith in the realm of politics and culture. the term “nagging” started me thinking about the lost virtue of civility, and the difference between firmly and respectfully communicating an argument and rudeness. A person who embodies the virtue of civility is respectful to everyone, and treats even those with whom she disagrees with respect and dignity. Civility is a social virtue, contributing to the health of relationships, to the progress of ideas and to wise decision making. Civility goes hand-in-hand with some other virtues. the civil person is:
• humble, recognising that they have something to learn from others;
• curious, open to fresh insight
• respectful, recognising the dignity of others, especially those with whom you disagree
Now, the truth is that civility is hard. I have studied 16 years after finishing my HSC, published books and articles and I am absolutely certain that my theological opinions are better than yours. Or so the arrogant, close minded, rude and untamed part of my character presumes. some of my recent dealings with the issue of Christians who support the submission of women to men evidence my own tendency to the vice of rudeness.
I was reading an article by Anne Summers during the week entitled “her rights at work” (see here), which explored the obnoxious and sexist way in which the Australian media, the opposition and the general public have attacked Australia’s first female prime minister; terms like “Juliar”; “Bob Brown’s bitch”; “ditch the witch.” And that is only the start. In his book, Hope (see here), Tim Costello, describes an address he once gave to parliamentarians (including Kevin Rudd) noting that good people, enmeshed in an increasingly rude environment, have lost the public virtue of civility. the consequence is that Parliament is no longer a forum for rational discussion and wise decision making. Instead it is an ongoing brawl. the tendency to attack political opponents ends up undermining the very purpose of Parliamentary discussion.
like politicians, protest its can also be horribly uncivil. And because that is so they undermine their own message, abrogating the right to be heard. Our challenge, in the face of parliamentarians whose politics we might fundamentally oppose, is to embody a different spirit. Costello notes that “Civility has to be cultivated; it is a learned art. Australians can do a lot better at it in all contexts.” If the theological virtues of faith, hope and love really do colour our moral life, then the virtue of civility must be part of the habits of our character.