Roosevelt High, Vice Presidential Debates, and the End of Civil Discourse

My son Benjamin is a junior at Roosevelt High School. So I have been watching the tensions. Homecoming activities were cancelled recently because of fear of violence. School was closed early one day and cancelled another day because of dangerous friction. A meeting was held Saturday, October 10 involving dissident students, parents, administration and school board personnel. For over three hours there were charges and criticisms and argument. In general there was a good deal of disrespect, impatience, impoliteness, rudeness, disorder and lack of courtesy.

I thought: here is another evidence of the collapse of our society into chaos and anarchy. If there cannot be civil, reasonable, courteous, patient discussion at the very institution in our society that is charged with teaching that sort of thing (namely, schools), then what hope is there that it will be a part of our civic life?

Then I heard some of the vice presidential debate on Tuesday, October 13. Good Grief! I was so embarrassed I could scarcely keep the radio on. I was embarrassed to be an American and to know that these three men were the best we had to offer for the second highest office of the land. They were, in the parts that I heard, evasive, caustic and impolite.

I thought: here is another evidence of the collapse of our society into chaos and anarchy. The highest people of the land, being watched by 20 million people, laying claim to the second most responsible job of the nation, bear a tremendous responsibility to model reasonableness, clarity, forthrightness, truthfulness, courtesy and patience. I could hardly believe the way these men failed in that great task of leadership.

What should we tell the ill-behaved, discourteous, pushy talkers at the Roosevelt meeting? Should we say: “Look to the leaders of our land and learn how to carry on a productive, rational debate?” Hardly. I could not see any significant difference between the vice presidential debates and the brouhaha at Roosevelt, except that the national leaders are a hundred times more responsible for the debasement of our civil discourse than the fairly isolated, ill-mannered tongues at Roosevelt.

I call you as Christians to consider the way of Christ and his apostles, and to follow it. Paul summed it up best: “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Let us march and speak to the beat of another drum than the drum of chaos that is taking us back to the rule of tooth and claw.

Still embarrassed,

Pastor John

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