Four years ago, during the presidential election, I was on sabbatical from my teaching position and for most of that fall kept myself closed up in a variety of cloistered spaces completing writing deadlines for a book and research presentations. As I occasionally came up for air, I was reminded that we were in an election season that was quite heated, but for the most part I missed all of the vociferousness of the 2008 campaign.

When I thought of what was happening on my campus across town, I was mostly relieved that my sabbatical allowed me to miss the negativity, the snarly way Christians interacted with each other because of one’s political views. Tires slashed, epithets hurled, ugly words drawn on the pavement — because someone was a Republican, a Democrat. As this fall came around and we all headed back to school, I steeled myself for the hostility of an election year.

On Monday my friend, Amy Jacober, wrote here about her desire to see Christians move from being known for what they are against to choosing to be known for being people who exemplify Jesus’ gospel message of love, hope and redemption – being people of grace. Her timely posting was one of many things that have me thinking this week about what it means for Christians to be people of grace, even or especially when we are passionate about political and societal issues. Being people of grace compels us to season our interactions with others with respect, even or especially with those with whom we disagree.

What would it look like if we committed to respectfully challenge, respectfully disagree, respectfully voice our opinions? It’s often easier to start with what something isn’t. Giving someone respect isn’t:

  • Agreement
  • Obedience
  • Diminishing one’s values and convictions

Respect is:

  • Honoring the basic human dignity of the other.
  • Accepting that while you might fervently believe another person is wrong, the other person might just as fervently believe that he/she is correct and that you are wrong.
  • A focus on gaining understanding, rather than winning a battle

I am heartened that there is a fresh breath of Christians calling for respectful interaction with the others in our world, whether those others are political, social or religious. In addition to Amy’s post and the comments of Brian McLaren, which she noted, there are others. The University of Minnesota is hosting a series this fall of respectful dialogues between people who hold strong and differing views on abortion (http://beyondlifeorchoice.eventbrite.com/) and gay marriage (http://marriageamericanfamily.eventbrite.com/) At my own school we have adopted the theme convicted civility for our series of guest speakers this year, with the goal of  “relating to the world and society in culturally relevant ways while being informed by our pietistic denominational heritage and characterized by an irenic spirit.”

In 1965, Otis Redding wrote the song that would become a mega-hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967 and a torch-song of the feminist movement. Franklin sang of her desire for her man to ‘find out what it (respect) means to me’ – to give her just a little respect when he came home. The writer of James describes respect in this way, “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters; everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. (1:19-20) May we be instruments of God’s righteousness and grace. R-E-S-P-E-C-T