On Being Civil in a Civil Society


I recently became a citizen of the United States. The application and interview process culminated in a ceremony in which citizen candidates orally repeated the oath of allegiance. I found the ceremony to be a very moving experience. Something shifted in the atmosphere of that room when the ceremony began. I know that something shifted in me that day as well. That atmospheric presence intensified as the ceremony progressed and climaxed during the oath.  I cannot imagine how any one of us reciting the oath of allegiance that day could have done so in a flippant manner. It was a privilege to share in this experience with about forty other precious lives representing a diversity of cultures from around the globe.

Part of the oath we collectively declared that day states,

“I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America

A few of my reflexions since that day:

Maybe it would be beneficial if natural born citizens are encouraged to take that same oath when they come of age.

If the estimated 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants in our country could one day participate in that same ceremony and recite the oath of allegiance in such an atmosphere it would greatly enrich our nation.

The framers of this amazing document intended to create a civil society.

I must respectfully disagree with my fellow Christians who hold that the United States of America is a Christian nation. There is nothing in the Constitution to suggest that. This document was intended to establish and frame a civil society. In a civil society, everyone is invited to the table to have an equal voice in deciding how we are to govern ourselves. The exercise of love in a civil society requires self-discipline. I must not allow my voice to dominate or overpower the voices of others, even the voices with which I disagree. The exercise of love in a civil society is also enabling. It enables others to discover their voices and opens the way for their voices to be expressed.

I have appreciated watching the effective exercise of civil responsibility modeled in our own backyard here Lake County Oregon over the past two decades. A recent outcome of this kind of exercise of civil responsibility warranted front-page status in our local weekly newspaper. The article banner announces, “Sage grouse non-listing decision testament to collaboration efforts”  Such was the recent announcement of The Honorable Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior. According to a posting by the Department of Interior,

Because of an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across 11 western states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the greater sage-grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Oregon Senator, The Honorable Ron Wyden commented,

I applaud the efforts of ranchers, conservationists, governors and others who have come to the table, signed agreements and worked hard on the ground to fight for rural Oregon jobs and communities. This victory goes to show how collaboration between private stakeholders and local, state and federal leaders can lead to balanced, sustainable solutions for the management of wildlife and our public lands.

Oregon Senator, The Honorable Jeff Merkley also stated,

Today’s news is a victory for conservation and a huge relief for so many of our rural Oregon communities. A sage grouse listing could have been devastating for many Oregon ranchers, and for the economic vitality of Eastern Oregon. I applaud everyone who worked together and engaged in this unprecedented collaborative effort so that we could protect our local economies and our natural heritage at the same time.

Oregon Congressman, The Honorable Greg Walden remarked

Farmers and ranchers in Eastern Oregon have been working hard to avoid a listing of the sage grouse, a move that would severely impact jobs in rural communities throughout the west. I’m glad that the Administration recognized these efforts and decided not to move forward with a listing. This will give communities in Oregon time to implement locally driven conservation efforts without the federal government’s heavy hand getting in the way.

Even the President, The Honorable Barak Obama submitted this White House post,

Unprecedented Collaboration to Save Sage-Grouse is the Largest Wildlife Conservation Effort in U.S.

This success was only possible through close collaboration among western states, the Department of the Interior, USDA, and more than 1,100 ranchers across eleven states. The bipartisan leadership of many western governors, including Colorado Governor Hickenlooper, Wyoming Governor Mead, Nevada Governor Sandoval, and Montana Governor Bullock is a testament that when we work together, we can successfully conserve landscapes and help save species, while providing certainty to rural economies.

Of course, not everyone is happy with this decision and there is more work that needs to be done. The point is that progress is being made on the resolution of this issue because a diversity of voices are being represented at the table and a diversity of fellow citizens are collaborating on solutions.

I appreciate the imagery of folks sitting together at a table. It depicts family and fellowship. The civil society table reflects family and fellowship that must extend beyond one’s own acceptable and comfortable circle of relationships.

It is interesting to note where God chooses to set my table when He prepares it.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. {Psalm 23:5}

The good news is that God prepares a table for me. The challenging news is that I might be quite uncomfortable with the dinner guests He has arranged for me.

Even though he lived in a theocratic society, Jesus modeled civil behavior. He sat at tables with those who had been marginalized and stigmatized by members of his society. This practice earned him a reputation,

‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ {Matthew 11:19}

Jesus, of course, was not a glutton or a drunkard but he was a friend of the marginalized and stigmatized.

Together we can raise the level of civility of our nation. This is a wonderful nation than can be greatly enriched by making room at the table for all its citizens.

2 thoughts on “On Being Civil in a Civil Society

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