Compass Bearings: A Covenant of Civility

Women Bow And Pray

The Rotary Club has a familiar and well-framed set of questions about constructive dialogue. They call it the Four-Way Test.

Here it is: “Of the things we think, say, or do: 1) Is it the truth? 2) Is it fair to all concerned? 3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

That’s a pretty helpful grid to help us flesh out James’s admonition to be “quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). It is especially true in these days of overheated social media where hasty, uncompromising, and punishing seem to be the new rules of engagement by too many. Too much that parades as commentary is little more than unfair “truthiness” stoking divisiveness for self-importance. Can you tell I am not a big fan of social media? The potential to enlighten too often succumbs to the temptation to enflame. (Of course, you should, nevertheless, follow me on Twitter @eccprez.)

Too much that parades as commentary is little more than unfair “truthiness” stoking divisiveness.

A while back I joined other Christian leaders to sign a Covenant of Civility to counter unbecoming and abrasive public discourse, particularly in the United States, but also to a degree in Canada. Here it is in abbreviated form.

“1) We commit that our dialogue will reflect the spirit of the Scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.’

“2) We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other.

“3) We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, ‘we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will ‘be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love’ (Ephesians 4:2).

“4) We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful.

“5) We recognize that we
cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore ‘put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body’ (Ephesians 4:25).

“6) We commit to pray for our political leaders—those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. ‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made…for kings and all who are in high positions’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

“7) We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree.

“We pledge that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across political lines.”

Now, here is my hope for our own interactions with one another. While it is titled a Covenant of Civility, might it actually mark the civility of the Covenant.


  • C. John Weborg

    C. John Weborg is professor emeritus of theology at North Park Theological Seminary. A longtime columnist for the Companion, he handwrites his columns and is a train enthusiast. He lives in Princeton, Illinois, where he attends the Covenant church there.

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