Where has civility gone?

On February 6, 2020, politicians and religious leaders gathered in Washington, DC, for the National Prayer breakfast. The breakfast is a time for leaders of religion and government to come together, break bread, and pray for one another. Although it was held unofficially since the 1930s, in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower attended as has every President since.

This year the breakfast came after the President’s acquittal in his impeachment trial and two days after the State of the Union Address to Congress. As one can imagine, it was a little tense to say the least.

The main speaker for the event was Harvard University, Professor Arthur Brooks.  Brooks gave a talk titled “America’s Crisis of Contempt,” in which he spoke of the contempt that the various sides have for one another. “I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart.”

Brooks spoke of the need for a new way of thinking and reminded those listening of the words of Jesus, and words you all will be familiar with, from Matthew’s Gospel, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45).

At the end of the speech, Brooks gave his audience some homework;

1. Pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to help to provide us with strength

2. Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt

3. Go out looking for contempt so you can answer it with love.

In his remarks following the talk, President Trump said he was not sure he could agree with Brooks, and for that comment, the President took a lot of heat. I think the President was misunderstood. I believe the President was trying to say that loving your enemies is hard work, it is much easier to have contempt for them or to hate them, but loving them is what we are called to do. I am a realist and know that it will always be difficult to love those who oppose us or disagree with us, but if we are going to be the light that shines in the darkness, then we need to try and commit each day to genuinely loving everyone.