Civility and Political Speech at Andrews
Michael Nixon, VP for Diversity & Inclusion, shares some helpful approaches for civility and political discourse this U.S. election year
With just about five weeks left until the upcoming U.S. November 2020 elections, I thought it would be good to provide a specific framework of best practices, and some context for political activity and speech on our campus, for these final weeks before this nation’s elections.
As several of us have shared in recent campus messages, we want to encourage all members of our campus community to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider their own engagement in our national political process. In fact, we believe that being good citizens is a vital part of our witness as World Changers.
As we pursue meaningful engagement in our political processes in these complicated times, with no shortage of challenging issues for our country and community, here are some key concepts that should be helpful for each one of us in this Andrews University community:
- Civility: Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s character and expertise in the process. Political discussion, particularly where differences of opinion are being expressed, should always be done in a civil manner that does not devolve into ad hominem attacks (that is, attacking the person, rather than her or his position) or the degradation of each other’s character and reputation.
- Respect: Civil discourse is characterized by respect for all and seeks to avoid any intentional discomfort to others in our speech and expression. This does not mean that discourse will never be uncomfortable, but creating discomfort and dissension should not be anyone’s primary goal in political discussions on our campus. We should always have strong, well-informed opinions while also honoring the dignity of those who differ from us.
- Love: Our regard for the dignity of others should be expressed in the loving manner in which we both speak and listen to others. “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of His body, the church.” Ephesians 4:15 NLT
With these key concepts in mind, and after referencing this additional helpful resource on voting and political engagement that comes from the Ellen G. White Estate, I’d like to strongly urge that each member of our Andrews University community adhere to the following principles and practices:
- No partisan campaign materials (signs, stickers, buttons, candidate campaign slogans, party platform documents, etc.) should be displayed on University bulletin boards, office doors, interior or exterior walls, etc. This guideline would not prevent someone from having such materials displayed on their private, personal property, such as a vehicle. However, individuals must carefully consider how their public partisanship on campus can impact their effectiveness within our University community.
- No partisan political campaign events should be conducted on campus. This includes, but is not limited to, inviting political candidates or their surrogates to our campus for such a purpose.
- Campus events discussing political activity and/or engagement (voting, political issues, ballot items) should be strictly non-partisan and should provide multiple viewpoints and perspectives and push no particular partisan agenda.
- All voter registration initiatives should be strictly non-partisan. Any activity to the contrary should be reported to our Division of Campus & Student Life.
Once more, Andrews University would like to reiterate our desire that you thoughtfully and prayerfully consider engaging, or continuing to engage, in the national political process to the extent that you are convicted to do so.
This kind of engagement is an indelible part of our legacy as Adventists. At the historic May 1865 annual session of the General Conference (only the third GC session for the young Adventist Church), delegates such as J.N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, M.E. Cornell, J.N. Loughborough, J.H. Waggoner, Joseph Bates, I.D. Van Horn, James and E.G. White passed the following resolution on the topic of voting and political engagement:
"Resolved, That in our judgment, the act of voting when exercised in behalf of justice, humanity and right, is in itself blameless, and may be at some times highly proper; but that the casting of any vote that shall strengthen the cause of such crimes as intemperance, insurrection, and slavery, we regard as highly criminal in the sight of Heaven. But we would deprecate any participation in the spirit of party strife."
General Conference Session, May 23, 1865
I’d like to invite you to act in keeping with this powerful legacy of moral, ethical and civil engagement in our political process.
If you’d like to have more information on your eligibility to vote in the upcoming election, please see here.
I want to encourage and thank you again for your prayerful and thoughtful engagement in this year’s U.S. elections, along with the opportunities that these elections represent for our country and its citizens as it votes for its leaders.