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Introducing the Civil Language Project

The language of division tries to get enough people hostile toward enough other people so that the provocateur gains power. Too many in the political class, too many faith-based leaders and faithless skeptics, too many wealthy bosses and elite technocrats speak this language of division. Far too many average citizens speak it, too. If it goes on, eventually each person will have gained just enough power to be everyone else’s enemy. We must not tolerate such a hell on earth.

There is a better language out there. People are using it and flourishing. Rather than division and power, it seeks out unity and love. We need to rediscover that language and speak it with urgency and power.

Who is speaking this better language? It is happening right here among the Rabbit Room community, where C. Christopher Smith and Robert Pattison are discussing Reading for the Common Good at the Art House. It is happening on the pages of national news, where Michael Gerson is calling average Americans to step up and be the leaders they wished they had. It is happening on stage, where Switchfoot and Lecrae are “Looking For America.”

That is such a minuscule list of examples of the language of hospitality and grace. There are thousands more stories about authors, songwriters, preachers, educators, and average folk speaking empathetically into the world’s current tense moment.

The Civil Language Project is an idea. It percolated here in the Rabbit Room forums, originally inspired by a speech David Brooks delivered to leaders of Christian colleges and universities. Brooks told those assembled, “Everyone, religious or not, is on a road to a holy place. You guys have the language. The rest of the world needs it.” By extension, “you guys” clearly includes Rabbit Roomers and any Gospel-infused user of language in the public square. The Civil Language Project is an attempt to respond to the challenge, “the rest of the world needs it.”

But do we need another movement? Doesn’t Q Ideas and First Things and the Christian Makers have this covered? Probably. Though something that personally strikes me is the ease with which I can comfortably hand off cultural engagement to the pros. The movers and shakers and influence makers can handle it. I will just cheer them on.

Who can predict if the Civil Language Project will turn into much? Here is the hope. Be it few or many, some amount of people will respond. You? You will write, sing, preach, teach, and converse in a manner that seeks pathways to unity.

In the weeks to come, myself and some others will be reflecting on this project. Not only on the Rabbit Room. (Elsewhere, I wrote about Confession Instead of Accusation.) Look out for the hashtag #SpeakUnity and feel free to use it yourself. Like Gerson suggests, “While waiting for leaders, perhaps the most practical and hopeful path is to become them.” May we do so with grace and hospitality.


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