Evangelical Manners

Evangelical Manners

Recently I tried to get started on a book on “public manners for evangelicals.” I have now decided, after several false starts, not to go ahead with it. I found myself simply repeating—but trying to use different words and examples–what I wrote fifteen years ago in my book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World–which InterVarsity Press graciously (with uncommon decency!) keeps in print. So I have concluded that I have nothing new–of a book-length sort–to say on the subject. I get irritated with authors who keep re-packaging the same basic book over and over again, so I have decided not to commit that sin myself.

But I do wish we could talk more as evangelicals about public manners, and specifically about practical ways in which we can be more civil people. Here is the kind of case that I have in mind.

I gave a talk to a good-sized audience on a large university campus, on the subject of civility. The folks who attended were mainly from campus ministry groups, many of them evangelical. There had been some controversy over “culture wars” issues on that campus in recent months, and they asked me to address questions about how we can best deal with public controversies in a Christian spirit. One point that I made with a special emphasis was the need to talk with our opponents face-to-face, whenever possible, before going public with our criticisms.

Afterward the leaders of one of the evangelical campus groups came up to talk with me. They told me how they had run ads in the campus newspaper, stating the evangelical understanding of sexual fidelity, with some mention of their opposition to same-sex relationships. One of the gay-lesbian groups had countered with an angry published response, and they had gone back and forth a bit, trading letters to the editor. “It has gotten a bit out of hand,” they said. “Realistically, from your point of view, how should we have handled it differently?”

I told them that I thought they should have asked for a private meeting with the gay-lesbian leaders at the outset. They should have shown them the ads, and said, “We know you will disagree with our position, but we do want you to see this ahead of time. And if there is anything in here that you think seriously misrepresents your point of view, we want to know about it. We want to say what we believe, but we do not want to be needlessly offensive in doing so.”

The evangelical leaders thanked me for my advice, and they told me they wished they would have done the kind of thing I proposed.

Several weeks later, I received a note from one of them. “We met with the leaders of the gay-lesbian group—we invited them to lunch, and they accepted,” he reported. “We told them that we wish that we had contacted them privately before running our ad. We apologized for how we have typically gone about making our views known, and we asked their forgiveness. It started off awkward, but by the end of the conversation we were talking about other stuff, and then they said we should meet again, and the next time lunch was on them. I think we are on a new path—not compromising, but making our case in a kinder way!”

This group was learning good manners. Why is that so hard for Christians who talk so much about wanting to “reach people with the Gospel”? Why are we so afraid actually to “reach” out with an invitation to have lunch with folks with whom we disagree? Or maybe it is not so much that we are afraid, but that we don’t even think about the need to do that kind of thing. Why not?



  1. Thanks for reminding Christians that manners matter. You have actually put the case mildly, as it seems many people in the faith are outright crude. Some of them even set out to change the world while their own selves are a real mess! Here it is important that Christians stop being pushy and domineering, and if that is the case, start validating others and their viewpoints.
    Thank you also for mentioning writers who re-package the same book. In my case, Neil Anderson has sold me the same book under a different title many times. He seems a decent guy, so I don’t know why he would do such a thing.
    Thanks again for sharing

    Comment by Konstantinos Kalpakidis — September 21, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  2. […] Of course, we’ve been warned by Jesus that the world will hate us, and (surprise!) they do, and that’s that.   There are certain things we can do to be more Christ-like when we come in contact with the world and its agendas (Richard Muow’s latest blog addresses this), but ultimately we just aren’t going to be “normal,” and, you know, so what? […]

    Pingback by Survivor Christianity : Mind the Gap — September 21, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

  3. I believe many evangelical Christians are too caught up in keeping a social order in which, in my view, is not consistent with the Church’s mission. Evangelicals have politically become too attached to keeping the status quo on many issues that affect America as a whole (affirmative action, healthcare reform, systemic poverty) and using the abortion and homosexuality issues as the only issues to “righteously” fight for. Would Paul approve? Would Christ approve? Paul said if possible live at peace with all men. Sure Paul was grieved at the idolatry and sin in Athens, but did he pick up a picket sign and protest the culture? No, he didn’t. He kept is original mission, preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Sure Paul lived under the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, he stayed the course.

    Because live in a so-called liberal democracy, evangelicals have forgotten that our allegiance is not to democracy per se, but to Christ. If we lose our right to free speech and free exercise of religion, it is our duty to obey God rather than men. Have we counted up the cost to discipleship?

    Free speech comes with great responsibility. Evangelical Christians can make erroneous claims regarding groups that don’t share our beliefs. So many evangelicals have become intellectually lazy and and stick with defending what we believe Scriptures teaches regarding life and human sexuality without “denomizing” the other in public. There are too many social commentators in pulpits and not enough preachers of the Gospel. Instead of talking about sinners, give them the Gospel.

    Liberals and progressives, and the GBLT group do believe in family values, but they come from different worldviews as conservative evangelical folk. I personally as a young preacher of the Gospel do not preach traditional family values. I preach the Gospel. Jesus said his family members are those who do the will of the Father who is in heaven. Evangelicals really need to assess the family structures in which the promote to the public. Is it a healthy alternative? Is it really biblical? Why are their so much divorces in conservative evangelical families?

    Evangelicals who speak from para-church organizations not only need to check their manners but also really need to analyze what they preach. Is it civil religion or the Gospel? Democracy, conservatism, liberalism, traditional or radical family structures, and civil religion will fail. But Christ’s kingdom shall have no end!

    Comment by Jason Oliver Evans — September 22, 2007 @ 11:20 am

  4. You gave the folks extremely good advice. We Christians need to offer the Gospel message which the apostle Paul says will be offensive to some, in a manner that is not offensive. We winsome Christians need to leave a pleasant after taste in the minds of every person we encounter.

    Comment by Bob Snelling — September 22, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

  5. […] Richard Mouw has a great post about Evangelical Manners. […]

    Pingback by The Upward Way Press » Blog Archive » Manners — September 23, 2007 @ 5:14 am

  6. Laziness. It takes time and work to do that sort of thing. Church. She has this fortress mentality that she instills with each new generation–us against them–gays and lesbians are out to destroy the very foundations of society. Comprimise. Goes along with the fortress mentality. Any kindness shown will be viewed as “being in bed with the enemy.” Talk radio. ;-)

    Comment by Brandon Blake — September 24, 2007 @ 4:03 am

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I, too, find that
    Christians of all stripes, but especially we evangelicals, are more interested in hearing our own voices rather than listening to others. I know that in listening first to others with whom I may disagree, I discover much that we agree upon. That makes our disagreements more agreeable! It has been said many times but bears repeating, “God gave us 2 ears to listen and only 1 mouth from which to speak.”

    Comment by Jack McNary — September 24, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  8. All good manners worth observing are relational. When we are in conflict however, it often feels simpler to distance relationally from the people with whom we are in conflict. I imagine it feels very uncomfortable for a person to “slam” someone else’s organization/lifestyle/identity in print when that someone else recently broke bread and participated in a dialogue.

    The idea of engaging “the opposition” in polite discourse is so lovely precisely because it suggests a new or renewed focus on relationship and dialogue. This approach could truly transform the way these issues are debated and contested because it circumvents warlike approaches and instead advocates for relational approaches, which are far more influential in the long run.

    In order to get there though, I suspect there will have to be further examination of the typically unacknowledged pleasures and motivations surrounding moral/cultural warfare. The polite, relational approach very neatly lets the hot air out of a series of very strong and exciting feelings. Power, indignation, and self-righteousness are all quite pleasant, in a dangerous sort of way, and there is often reluctance to let go of them. The compensation is that the energy would then wind up between the parties in the relationship, rather than be wasted puffing up one side over and against another. I feel though that there is an instinctual wish to hoard that energy for puffing up, rather than spending it on building up relationship with the Other, with whom we disagree.

    Comment by Diane — September 26, 2007 @ 12:03 am

  9. Dr. Mouw,

    I am not an Evangelical. I am a Mormon. So, I know we do not believe the same things. Well, that is what some would say. Perhaps it is true that our theology is different. But in the living of the Life, where the rubber meets the road, in practical application, I do not detect much difference in the way I see things (and hope to live) and the way you speak of them.

    I grant myself indulgence to imagine how the Lord thinks about things and in that arrogance I imagine He cares less about Theology than we do and more about how we treat one another.

    Thank you for setting an example that shows me how we ordinary mortals may yet attain for greater degrees of glory.

    Comment by Charles Steinman — September 28, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  10. we are really singing the same manners song. i preached on it yesterday, too. even quoted from emily post’s intro to “etiquette”. great stuff, biblical at base.
    keep up the good work and word.

    Comment by Peggy McD-C — October 1, 2007 @ 7:23 pm

  11. Nice Blog! I thought you might like reading my blog too! Check it out and please feel free to comment.

    Ryan Green

    Comment by Crazy Christian Blog — November 17, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  12. Well, now that Steven Strang has left a vacancy for a religious endorsement, on the stage at Barack’s coronation ceremony, maybe Barack should come out of the closet and recruit the religious leaders who have always supported him … and, who Barack has always supported. Pastor Jeremiah Wright … Father Phleiger … and the rest of the radicals. But, we know Barack won’t do that, because even though that represents who Barack truly is … it wouldn’t help Barack deceive us … and get him elected. In November, vote for Senator John McCain, a man who truly loves America, with over 40 years of service and sacrafice … not Obama, an inexperienced, incompetent, empty suit, who is being agressively packaged, promoted, and sold to the American people.

    Comment by Gina — August 22, 2008 @ 9:01 am

  13. Wow, Dr. Mouw, what a novel idea. I was raised in an evangelical tradition that said we should love one another, but we shouldn’t get really close to the really bad sinners, like murderers and (gulp) homosexuals. I think the day is here where evangelicals have begun to learn how to be polite to this particular group. I pray God will grant us the grace to be genuine reflections of Christ to all people, including homosexuals.

    Comment by Jonathan — July 2, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

  14. […] Christ-like when we come in contact with the world and its agendas (Richard Muow’s latest blog addresses this), but ultimately we just aren’t going to be “normal,” and, you […]

    Pingback by Survivor Christianity | mind the gap — November 20, 2010 @ 1:33 pm