Be Civil in Your Discourse
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). “Loving Others and Living With Differences” General Conference, October 2014 (Part IV).
When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation. “Loving Others and Living With Differences” General Conference, October 2014 (Part IV).
[W]hen believers seek to promote their positions in the public square, their methods and their advocacy should always be tolerant of the opinions and positions of those who do not share their beliefs. We should not add to the extremism that divides our society. As believers we must always speak with love and show patience, understanding, and compassion toward our adversaries. Christian believers are under command to love their neighbors (Luke 10:27), to forgive (Matt. 18:21-35), and to do good to those who despitefully use them (Matt. 5:44). They should always remember the Savior’s teaching that we “bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44). "Truth and Tolerance," CES Fireside, September 11, 2011 (Part V).
To achieve our common goals we must have mutual respect for others whose beliefs, values, and behaviors differ from our own. This does not expect that we will deny or abandon our differences but that we will learn to live with others who do not share them. It will help if we are not led or unduly influenced by the extreme voices that are heard from various contending positions. Extreme voices polarize and create resentment and fear by emphasizing what is nonnegotiable and by suggesting that the desired outcome is to disable the adversary and achieve absolute victory. Such outcomes are rarely attainable and never preferable to living together in mutual understanding and peace. “Hope for the Years Ahead,” Address given at the Utah Valley University Constitutional Symposium on Religious Freedom on April 16, 2014 (Part III.C).
[R]eligious persons will often be most persuasive in political discourse by framing arguments and positions in ways that are respectful of those who do not share their religious beliefs and that contribute to the reasoned discussion and compromise that is essential in a pluralistic society. Speech on Religious Freedom given at BYU-Idaho on October 13, 2009 (Part VI).
Even as we seek to speak with love, we must not be surprised when our positions are ridiculed and we are persecuted and reviled. As the Savior said, “so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:12). And modern revelation commands us not to revile against revilers (Doctrine and Covenants 19:30). Speech on Religious Freedom given at BYU-Idaho on October 13, 2009 (Part VI).
As we work together to protect religious freedom, we should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for the sincere beliefs of others. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. We should seek the understanding and support of nonbelievers. And we must also enlist the official actions of governments and appropriate multinational bodies. All of this is necessary to preserve the great good that religious organizations and believers can accomplish for the benefit of all humanity. “Challenges to Religious Freedom,” Address at the Argentina Council for Foreign Relations (CARI) April 23, 2015 (Part VI).
Differences on precious fundamentals are with us forever. We must not let them disable our democracy or cripple our society. This does not anticipate that we will deny or abandon our differences but that we will learn to live with those laws, institutions, and persons who do not share them. We may have cultural differences, but we should not have “culture wars.” “The Boundary Between Church and State,” Part II of transcript, Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference, October 20, 2015.
Believers and religious organizations should…refrain from labeling governments and laws and officials as if they were inevitable enemies. “The Boundary Between Church and State,” Part II of transcript, Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference, October 20, 2015.
[P]arties with different views on the relationship between church and state should advocate and act with civility….We all lose when an atmosphere of anger or hostility or contention prevails. We all lose when we cannot debate public policies without resorting to boycotts, firings, and intimidation of our adversaries. “The Boundary Between Church and State,” Part III of transcript, Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference, October 20, 2015.
[W]e should all seek a cease-fire in the culture wars. In our pluralistic society we must learn to live peacefully with laws, institutions, and persons who do not share our most basic values. As part of this, we should refrain from labeling our adversaries with such epithets as “godless” or “bigot.” Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part IV, March 25, 2016.
The first step toward a cease-fire in the culture wars is to try to understand the other side’s point of view. Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part IV, March 25, 2016.
A second step is to avoid leading out with nonnegotiables or extreme positions. Both sides in these controversies should seek balance, not total victory. For example, believers should not seek a veto over all nondiscrimination laws that offend their religion, and the proponents of nondiscrimination should not seek a veto over all assertions of religious freedom that impinge on nondiscrimination. Both sides in vital controversies like this should seek to understand the others’ positions and seek practical accommodations that provide fairness for both and total dominance for neither. Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part IV, March 25, 2016.
We all lose when an atmosphere of anger or hostility or contention prevails. We all lose when we cannot debate public policies without resorting to epithets, boycotts, firings, and other intimidation of our adversaries. We need to promote the virtue of civility. Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part V, March 25, 2016.
I like the Christian Science Monitor’s insight on civility. We should apply it to the current contest between nondiscrimination and religious freedom. “When employed in word or action, civility is not just polite manners or a social lubricant. Nor does it always lead to compromise on an issue or the acceptance of an opponent’s position. Its strength lies in allowing a voice for minority views or a marginalized group, a situation everyone may be in someday. It allows old assumptions to be challenged by new arguments and evidence. …Civility is a virtue of civilization, to use a term that relies on the same root. It allows a politician to call out a lie without naming someone a liar: It treats opponents as worthy of heavenly thoughts rather than destined for ‘a special place in hell.’ It opens a door for dialogue rather than shutting it with shouts and slurs.” Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part V, March 25, 2016 (citing The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, Feb. 29, 2016, 35.)
[L]et us pursue our goals with the civility that serves our citizenship and is obedient to our faiths. Remarks at Claremont Graduate University Religious Freedom Conference, Part V, March 25, 2016.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them. “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship,” Ensign, May 2014 (p.9).
Elder Quentin L. Cook
We need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. We live in a world where there is much turmoil. Many people are both angry and afraid. The Savior taught us to love even our enemies (see Matthew 5:44). This is especially true when we disagree. The moral basis of civility is the Golden Rule. It is taught in most religions and particularly by the Savior. “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). “Restoring Morality and Religious Freedom,” Ensign, September 2012 (p. 36).
We caution you to be civil and responsible as you defend religious liberty and moral values. “Restoring Morality and Religious Freedom,” Ensign, September 2012 (p. 38).
You are Latter-day Saints. Where possible, be peacemakers. Explain your beliefs in gentle, loving terms. Be wise, thoughtful, considerate, and friendly. “Latter-day Saint Lawyers and the Public Square,” Clark Memorandum, Fall 2009, p. 11.
Elder L. Tom Perry
We must show mutual respect for others and treat all civilly. No one should be belittled for following their moral conscience. “Mormon Apostle Promotes Religious Freedom” (Video)