Eugene Cho

the inconsistency for the call of civility

In light of an unsuccessful campaign to become the president of my middle school as an 8th grader, I have no plans on entering politics and running for political office. But, I have been learning so much about civic engagement, policy making, advocacy, and the larger realm of politics. Several days ago, I spent 2 days in Washington DC to continue that education. And while I wasn’t able to play hoops with President Obama and throw him a couple elbows, I even had the opportunity to attend a briefing in the White House. While it wasn’t as surreal as I expected, it was a neat experience nevertheless.

While I’m not able to disclose too much of this gathering, we had a conversation that I feel like I’m hearing and reading quite often:

The topic of civility.

…And particularly around the discourse of politics.

Ahhh, the conversation of politics.

As I shared with my church recently, I’m not looking forward to the next election season in two years. If folks thought that the most recent presidential election were intense, heated, and vicious…wait till the 2012.

As an independent voter with

an interest in politics not because I love politics but because politics impact policies which ultimately, impact people…

I don’t see a way around it:

Christians need to be engaged with our civic responsibilities.

The unfortunate thing is that I’ve seen people feel isolated, offended, and upset because they think I’m espousing a certain view. I even had couple people leave the church simply because my face appeared on this cover of the “ultra liberal left-wing” Sojourners Magazine.

When people ask if I am a Democrat or Republican, I often respond:

On what issue?

But going back to the question and conversation of civility, I wholehearted agree that we – as a larger society (and as a Christian  community) need to learn how to be civil:

  • We need to learn how to listen.
  • We need to speak without shouting and screaming.
  • We need to not to accuse and attack.
  • We need to stop demonizing one another or prominent leaders.
  • We need to be better informed.
  • We need to agree to give space to disagree. It’s ok.
  • We need to learn where we agree and see how we can work together.

I have my thoughts and views and I’ve shared some of them like my thoughts on Glenn Beck, or Arizona, Immigration, and Xenophobia, and while I’ve received my share of disagreements and criticism, I’ve appreciated the freedom to be able to both convey and communicate – and – listen and learn.

But as Christians, we need to agree that the most significant aspects of our relationship are not our politics, our political views, or our political affiliations but that we are connected together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Politics has its role. But Christ is the most significant aspect of our community.

It does seem true that the our larger society seems to be fueled and propelled by disagreement, tension, and vitriolic banter rather than harmony, cooperation, and unity.

But as I hear so many folks speak up, write, blog, teach, and preach about the necessity of civility in public and political discourse – all while citing numerous examples and stories of the lack 0f civility and mean-spiritedness against President Obama,  I honestly have a hard time being fully engaged with their voices.


It’s not that I dislike Obama…it’s just that I wonder:

Why weren’t the same folks speaking up for President Bush? And when I say “folks,” I’m also referring to some Christians who – in my opinion – were absolutely cruel, vicious, and mean-spirited.

I agree. Let’s discuss and engage the commitment to civility but let’s make sure we apply that – even to those on “the other side.”

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31 Responses

  1. […] conclude with this from a Seattle Pastor & Thinker, Eugene Cho: But going back to the question and conversation of civility, I wholehearted agree that […]

  2. Pat says:

    I would suspect that the reason people weren’t speaking up on behalf of President Bush, is that attacks against President Obama are seen as racially motivated, subtle as those attacks may be. People probably feel the need to rush to the defense as they see it as an attack on him as a person. That’s unfortunate though they we weren’t motivated to speak up before now. Incivility is incivility, although as an African-American, I can tell you there is a sting behind verbal jabs that assault one’s person based on their race. If we’re going to learn to be civil, we need to start with each and every person we encounter, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Until we do that, we won’t be able to have sensitivity to those who have been unfairly treated in our culture.

  3. Ian Ebright says:

    Eugene- would you write this same post if you were living during the time of slavery or before the civil rights act? I don’t think you would. You, as a Christian leader, would probably say (despite the risks) “get on board, everyone. Right is right and good is good.” Did Bonhoeffer write “we can agree to disagree” when his country was being overtaken by the Nazi party and the church was largely silent?

    I like most of your article and hold similar views to much of it, but I feel like this quest to be respectful and moderate really trivializes some current issues that have had devastating consequences: war crimes, invasion, surveillance, torture, and more. These should not be in the same category of discourse as say, which tax rate for the rich is best for economic recovery, or election drama. You follow me?

    I don’t want civility to replace our calling to speak and act clearly about the injustices of the day- and some of those injustices stem from political policy in the US, and moreso from one prominent political party. I will agree with you that we are to be respectful and acknowledge the power structures, and we certainly don’t need to be personally cutting towards elected officials.

    Let me say this- as a fellow independant voter who (mistakenly) voted twice for Bush and voted third party in 08 and has no “dog in this fight,” the difference between obama and Bush at this point is that Bush and many in his administration have likely committed war crimes. The evidence is overwhelming, as is the global “cost.” This is no trivial matter. This country is approaching a threshold where nothing will be seriously examined because people are either 1) too insane and crazy about “the sky is falling” and so their political concerns get dismissed or 2) too detached and unwilling to stand up and speak clearly IF the issue is divisive along party lines. Meanwhile, real people suffer. Where is the church?

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Thanks Ian for the comment (and for the CD).

      You wrote:

      I don’t want civility to replace our calling to speak and act clearly about the injustices of the day- and some of those injustices stem from political policy in the US, and moreso from one prominent political party.

      I completely agree.

      My call to civility isn’t to discourage the conviction and courage to speak and act clearly. Far from it. It’s just that we can do these things w/o being jackarses.

      I read your post about Bush, his administration, and the possibility of war crimes. Powerful…

      • Ian Ebright says:

        “My call to civility isn’t to discourage the conviction and courage to speak and act clearly. Far from it. It’s just that we can do these things w/o being jackarses.”

        You’re right (and you’re welcome- hope you enjoy the disc).

  4. PJ says:

    Civility is good.

    With regards to Obama, he seems to have similar policies as Bush though.
    –Still in Iraq, more troops in Afghanistan, no public option, stimulus packages for Wall street, the poorer get poorer with this new extension of the Bush tax cuts where people earning less than 40,000 lose out.

    The difference between Bush and Obama is the persona that they give off, with their different mannerisms and how they speak. That’s why it’s easier to take shots at Bush. However, Bush said he won’t take shots at Obama, and even Bono and Obama have praised Bush on how much he gave to Africa.

    In terms of policies though, they’re overall very similar with Bush maybe being a bit more on the right like having implemented that law against partial birth abortion. Even regards to same sex marriage though, Obama believes in the traditional definition that has angered many gay advocates.

    Has anyone seen Bush on Jay Leno or Oprah? It was pretty funny.

  5. PJ says:

    I think this issue of attacking one another based on politics, is basically because people have formed their identity and loyalties around being “left and liberal” or “conservative and right-wing.”

    Once, you put yourself in either camp and committed yourself, you become biased no matter how much we think we’re independent thinkers.

    It’s the same thing with Christians. We align ourselves as being part of this ‘tribe,’ and anyone else outside of it, we’re biased against them, and don’t tend to see the good that comes from other ‘tribes.’ We naturally want to point out and attack.

    Sometimes, the basis of being in one tribe is out of a mutual dislike of the other tribe. I think that’s why Obama was so popular when he got elected, he was the anti-Bush. But once there’s no demon to be united against, the unity falls apart. That’s what we’re seeing in the democratic party now.

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eugene Cho, Eugene Cho and rex hamilton, Cameron Garcia. Cameron Garcia said: Good post by @EugeneCho on being Christian and being civil. […]

  7. Ann F-R says:

    Yes. Thank you, Eugene. All voices, all issues, speaking truth in love without dishonoring & obstructing one another. Would the media cover such boring campaigns? I pray so!!

    Then, the hard part is voting for/against candidates when the issues of their platform don’t line up with ours. Not to mention, I do steer toward ethics & integrity in character, as much as can be discerned, along with the issues.

  8. janamills says:

    The church needs to wake up. There is a war being waged by the rich against the rest of us. As Warren Buffett confirms the rich “are winning”. Forget about democrat vs republican what is happening is rich vs the rest with the poor bearing the brunt. I know which side God is on, it time church leaders pulled their finger out and start fighting.

  9. That’s exactly what I’ve noticed. For eight years, I saw protesters in downtown Kansas City with hateful rubbish on posters every day. Photos of Bush with a Hitler mustache and whatnot – not even comments that can be debated, just personal insults. I never heard anyone standing up for Bush, asking people to take it easy on him.

  10. Jason says:

    Great post. I especially likes this part: I agree. Let’s discuss and engage the commitment to civility but let’s make sure we apply that – even to those on “the other side.”

  11. […] facts (or non-facts).Linda. Josh (what about you?).So true, Brad, so true. So helpful, Eugene, so helpful.Patrick weighs in on a sensitive claim — the Not Ashamed Day — by some UK […]

  12. Peggy says:

    Timely, Eugene. Thanks.

    I don’t know why it is so hard for people to understand the difference between disagreeing with someone (anyone!) and speaking out intelligently about why one disagrees … and just attacking the person, well, personally.

    The minute someone attacks personally, they have lost the debate … disqualifying themselves — especially those who claim to follow Jesus.

    Whatever happened to “love your enemies”? Sheesh!

    Peace to you … and thanks for your voice in the insanity.

  13. […] the inconsistency for the call of civility « eugene cho. LikeBe the first to like this […]

  14. Rich Melheim says:

    Eugene – I’d like to introduce you to my 22 year old daughter, Kathryn Melheim. She’s politically aware, passionate for the rights of the poor, and graduating with a double major in social work and spanish in six months, thinking about her future. I think she’ll enjoy reading you.

  15. jperez2002 says:

    “We need to learn how to listen.”

    I think in the west we do not know how to listen, but do an excellent job at talking over each other. As a college educator I work really hard at trying to get students to learn how to listen. I think if they are able to learn this skill they will be better at whatever vocation they are called to.

  16. DoveArrow says:

    Well first, I think there were plenty of people defending Bush during his presidency. For example, how many times did you hear people claim that it was unpatriotic to question a president’s war strategies during war time, or that his tax cuts (then and now) are necessary? Heck, if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone defend the Bush Administration’s policies on water boarding, I’d be a wealthy man.

    Personally, I think that, regardless of your political affiliation, you always hear the criticism of your beliefs louder than you hear the defense, and right now the volume on the criticism is turned up so high, that it’s practically all you hear. I think when people ask for civility, they’re really asking for a quieter form of criticism that’s less emotional, and more rational.

  17. […] homeless community in our very neighborhoods and country; Immigration and Health Care Reform; The increasing lack of civility. And the list goes […]

  18. […] homeless community in our very neighborhoods and country, immigration and health-care reform,  the increasing lack of civility, and the list goes […]

  19. […] homeless community in our very neighborhoods and country; Immigration and Health Care Reform; The increasing lack of civility. And the list goes […]

  20. […] So, I encourage you, with humility and wisdom…engage politics; Be civil. […]

  21. […] So, I encourage you, with humility and wisdom … engage politics and be civil. […]

  22. […] concerns about the growing culture of “Throw stones first. Ask questions later.” Respect and civility seem to be a growing issue – not just in the public forum of politics but in our broader […]

  23. […] with Hybels’ concerns about the growing culture of “Throw stones first. Ask questions later.” Respect and civility seem to be a growing issue — not just in the public forum of politics but in our broader […]

  24. […] Respect and civility seem to be a growing issue – not just in the public forum of politics but in our broader society – especially as it pertains to our engagement with whom we have disagreements. […]

  25. […] Especially during the election season, please BE HUMAN. Please don’t be a jerk. […]

  26. […] Especially during the election season, please be human. Please don’t be a jerk. […]

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One Day’s Wages

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People often ask, "How does one stand all that rain in Seattle?" Actually, it doesn't rain that much. I like the rain. Keeps everything "evergreen" and clean. Keeps our air fresh. What's challenging is the gray weather. Give me a few more sunny days. 99 more days to be specific. 
Regardless, still love this city. Checking out Canada in case I need to move up North after the presidential election. Just saying, eh.

Downtown Toronto. Fascinating architecture. Amazed by the diversity of this city. We desperately want our children to not just be captivated by the beauty of creation...but more importantly, to the actual Creator of all that is good and beautiful.

Actually, we want and need this truth for our souls, too. What a privilege. This isn't possible without all those who give, pray, and support the work of @onedayswages. This week, I signed and mailed grants to three partner organizations totaling over $170,000. These grants will empower people by supporting maternal health care, refugee relief efforts, access to clean water, provide education, etc.

Sometimes, the brokenness of the world feel so overwhelming but let's keep running the race with endurance. Let's keep pursuing justice, mercy, and humility. Let's be faithful and may we be spurred on to keep working for God's Kingdom...on earth as it is in heaven.

Again, thank you so much for your support for @onedayswages! My wife, Minhee, and I stand on the shoulders of praying mothers. I'd like to take a moment to honor my mother-in-law. It's hard to put words together to embody her life but she is a very special, anointed person. I'm so blessed to have her as a mother in my life.

She was a devoted wife until she lost her husband to cancer, mother to three daughters, and later became a pastor. She became a follower of Christ as an adult and as such, led her her family to Christ. In her late 50s, she obeyed God's calling to go to seminary and be a leader in the church. She graduated #1 in her class and reminded us that it's never too late to follow a new dream or calling.

As she'll soon celebrate her 80th birthday, I'm especially grateful for the ways that she poured into and prayed over Minhee and her other children.  Even though she's officially retired, I'm inspired that the concept of retirement is not in her vocabulary.  She continues to serve the local church, evangelize and bear witness to Christ, and goes to the early morning prayer meeting at 5am everyday to pray for our family, our church, and for others. 
Jangmonim, we love and honor you. 어머니, 사랑합니다.

Someday, I hope that when my kids speak of Minhee and I...above all, they would say with integrity that their parents prayed for them and kept pointing them to Christ. On this Mother's Day, I want to take a few words to honor mother.

There’s a moment from a few years ago that will stick with me until the day I die. It’s regarding Sung Wha, my mother.

Minhee and I were at a point of transition, between working at an ethnic Korean church in the northern suburbs of Seattle called Lynnwood and launching Quest in urban Seattle. As I shared earlier, I was in desperate need of a job. I had a mortgage to pay. A pregnant wife. A kid at home. 
Then, praise God, after months without work, I finally landed a job.

My mom was in between jobs at this point in her life. She was in her late fifties, but she had such bad knees and degenerative hips that it was, and is, difficult for her to walk. My mom is like a human barometer—when a storm is coming and when it rains, her hips throb. Although my parents lived in San Francisco, she was visiting us in Seattle to encourage us in this difficult season.

As I prepared to go to work one early morning, I walked downstairs to put on my jacket and shoes, and forgot that my mother woke up early every morning to pray. In fact, she had been praying for months that I would find a job. “Eugene, where are you going?” she said when she saw me.

I hadn’t told my mother the news that I had just recently been hired for the janitorial gig at Barnes and Noble. I chose not to because I thought she and my father would be devastated. I didn’t want them to think that after laboring, sacrificing, and doing so much for us over all those years that their son had failed them.

But I couldn’t lie to her, so eventually I told my mom that I got a job and was going to work. “Great! What job? What are you doing?” “Um, I’m working at Barnes and Noble as their custodian,” I said finally.

Without asking another question, my mother got up from the dining table where she had been reading her Bible and praying. She slowly walked slowly toward me.

She approached me, then walked past me without saying a word, and I realized she was headed toward the closet. She opened the closet door, put on her jacket, turned around and said to me (in Korean), “Eugene, let’s go together. I will help you.” This is my mother.

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