No cause justifies disrespecting others (2024)

Today, both within society and the churches, we are finding itever more difficult to resolve our differences because ourconversations are shot through with incivility, name-calling,character-assassination and disrespect.

What’s particularly worrying is that we are doing this in thename of truth, cause, the Gospel, and Jesus. We are givingourselves permission to hate, demonize, and disrespect each otherin God’s name. Our cause seems so important to us that, consciouslyor unconsciously, we give ourselves permission to bracket some ofthe essentials of Christian charity; namely, respect, graciousness,love and forgiveness.

This is wrong: No cause allows me to exempt myself fromfundamental charity, even if I see myself as a “warrior for truth.”There is a Gospel imperative to fight for truth, and ultimately weall need to be prophets who fight for what is right; but even warhas its ethics. Even in war (perhaps especially in war) disrespectmay never be rationalized on the basis of claiming that God is onour side. Indeed, if God is on our side we should radiating respectfor others.

Respect, graciousness, love and forgiveness are non-negotiableessentials within Christian charity. They are also part and parcelof all that’s noble within humanity.

Whenever we step outside of these, as we often do today in ourdiscourse with those who are not of our political or ecclesialmindset, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the highcause we think we serve justifies this fundamental lapse in ourhumanity and charity.

Whenever our words or our actions show disrespect, we are notserving Jesus or truth, no matter how high the canopy under whichwe put our reasoning. Rather, we are serving some ideology, orworse still, working out some personal angers and pathologies.

Some years ago at a theological college where I was teaching, wehad a student who was obsessed with defending Catholic orthodoxy.He became such a negative presence in every classroom that none ofthe faculty wanted to teach a class that included him. Eventuallythe situation became so intolerable that the faculty, afterconsiderable and pained discernment, asked the dean of the facultyto ask him to leave the college.

Immediately after his expulsion, he wrote a letter to his bishopcomplaining that our college had expelled him because he “was tooconservative and too orthodox” to fit into our ethos. He copied thedean with the letter. The dean wrote his own letter to the youngman’s bishop, telling the bishop that the college had asked him toleave not because he was too conservative and orthodox, but becausehe lacked basic courtesy and respect for others.

The example here is one of a conservative pathology, butliberals do this just as well. Neither side should delude itself:Whenever we lack basic respect and basic manners, the real issue isnever orthodoxy or cause, but bad health.

We live in bitter, highly polarized times inside of society andinside of our churches. The causes are real, and what’s at stake iscritical: war, injustice, abortion, poverty, the ecology, racism,immigration, multiculturalism, the economy, democratic principles,law and order, freedom of speech, proper authority, proper dogma,proper ecumenism, legitimacy within ministry, Christians relatingto other religions, and the proper freedoms and limitations withinsecularity itself. A

ll of these are, in the end, life-and-death issues that,precisely because of their importance, are invariably emotionallyinflamed. Anyone who has any real concern for the world, the churchand their future will sometimes be at odds with others, sometimesbitterly so, over some of these issues.

And the perennial temptation, especially when the issue at stakeis a critical one, is to bracket the essentials (respect,graciousness, love and forgiveness) on the basis of cause, and inessence, fall into a way of thinking that says: This issue is soimportant that I need not be respectful, gracious and loving. I maydemonize my opponent, assassinate his character, name-call, and useeverything in my power, perhaps even violence, to have my truth winout. Because I am right and this is so important, I can bracketbasic respect!

What’s wrong with that?

Beyond deluding ourselves that lack of charity and respect maybe justified in the name of the Gospel, all that’s best within ourhumanity and all that’s best within Christian principle call forthe exact opposite: The urgency of a situation and the bitternessalready inherent within it call for more, not less, care in ourrhetoric and in the actions we undertake.

The more we encounter anger, hatred, disrespect, demonizing,name-calling, refusals for real a conversation, and spoken andunspoken threats, the more we are called to bear down on theessentials of charity: respect, graciousness, forgiveness,openness, and the offer of a true, mutual conversation.


Because in the end, we don’t win moral battles by beatingsomeone —- we win them by winning someone over.

No cause justifies disrespecting others (2024)
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