Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson is a Kentucky native who was ordained a priest for the Louisville archdiocese in 1987. He served in parishes and in a variety of other assignments, including vicar general in the Archdiocese of Louisville, until he became Bishop of Evansville in 2011 and Archbishop of Indianapolis in 2017.
Over the Independence Day weekend, Archbishop Thompson renewed the “Call to Civility” he first published in November 2020 in the wake of extremely divisive national elections. The archbishop argues that no society can survive, let alone thrive, when fundamental civic virtues are absent from conversations among people with different opinions. He says:
“The ability of any community to survive, even thrive, amid adversity is the measure of civility. This is especially true during times of chaos, division and transitioning of authority. Unfortunately today, the misuse of social media includes the proliferation of shaming, abusing and scapegoating.”
This lack of civility has become commonplace among families, in communities and throughout the news and entertainment media, especially on the internet. When we disagree with someone, we’re quick to demonize them, to attribute to them evil motives.
Instead of giving those with opposing views the presumption of good intentions, we too readily dismiss them out of hand.
The result is a widespread lack of trust among people from diverse political, racial, social and economic segments of society. This was a serious problem before the pandemic, but it has increased during the past 16 months.
Instead of bringing us closer together, the crises spawned by the pandemic seem to have caused further polarization and racial and economic inequity among families, communities, religious organizations and national and international groups.
“Within any dialogue, there must be an ability to listen and learn from one another,” Archbishop Thompson says. But he argues that “three things, in particular, must be avoided if we are to preserve authentic dialogue: name-calling, making threats and raising voices in hostility. Any one of these can readily erode the trust and openness needed to maintain mutual relationships.”
Archbishop Thompson’s renewed call to civility should be taken seriously by all Catholics, and all people of good will. It is a wake-up call for Americans who cherish freedom of speech and who want to safeguard the rights of everyone to express opinions without the fear of repercussions from those who think differently.
“Civility is not the absence of differences and disagreements,” Archbishop Thompson writes, “though it does involve a refusal to allow polarization to divide and destroy the very soul of humanity. Rather than pulling away, civility demands that we pull together. Rather than succumb to despair, we must dare to trust in the Holy Spirit. It requires of us the capacity to seek forgiveness, understanding and justice tempered with the sweetness of mercy.”
Let’s refuse to allow name-calling, threats and hostile shouting to divide and destroy us as free people. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us pull together as sisters and brothers in Christ.
Dan Conway is a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.