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Whatever Happened to Civility?

Basic manners are lacking in today’s culture

By Christina Quick

School officials in Stamford, Conn., suspended a high school basketball game and cleared the gymnasium last December after people in the stands threw water bottles onto the floor and began hitting each other.

A Hollywood celebrity stumbled over a barricade in New York last year and mistakenly thought a nearby photographer had tripped her. She responded by punching the man in the nose.

In June, a former city council member and grandfather of eight publicly apologized for screaming at an umpire during a Little League baseball game on Father’s Day.

From motorists who drive aggressively to people who carry on personal cell phone conversations in crowded elevators, you don’t have to look far to spot rudeness. Many observers believe uncivil behavior is on the rise.

In an Associated Press poll, 69 percent of respondents said people are ruder than they were a generation ago. The same percentage placed “a great deal of blame” on parents for not teaching their children good manners. They also pointed the finger at television shows and movies that promote rude behavior (44 percent); celebrities, athletes and public figures who behave rudely (38 percent); and busier lifestyles that allow little time for politeness (34 percent).

In a recent online survey sponsored by the etiquette-focused Emily Post Institute, 81 percent of respondents said people are more uncivil today than they were 20 years ago. Participants attributed the trend to lapses in relational basics, such as respect, consideration, patience and kindness. Respondents also cited too much tolerance for bad language and poor behavior.

Heather Rogero, an Assemblies of God minister who owns Martha’s Vineyard School of Etiquette in Tulsa, Okla., is not surprised by the findings.

“I definitely believe there is a decline of manners in today’s society,” Rogero says. “Evidence ranges from the absence of young men holding doors open, to the elderly not being esteemed, to children being allowed to be disrespectful to adults in the name of personal expression, to disturbances in school classrooms derived from a lack of manners, hindering the education of all.”

Rogero, who formerly pastored Vineyard Haven Assembly of God with her husband, Walter, says teaching manners has proven an ideal way to build relationships in the community while helping shape the next generation.

“A lack of respect has affected our divorce rate, crime and unwed pregnancies,” Rogero says. “At the core, manners are treating others as one would desire to be treated and using common sense.”

She says being considerate of others is a basic tenet of the Christian faith. She points to verses such as Matthew 22:39, in which Jesus exhorted, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“As Christians, our standard of conduct for treating others with respect is a commandment,” Rogero says.

The Bible addresses matters of civility, Rogero says. For instance, gossiping, which is forbidden in Scripture, is also considered poor manners.

“Unfortunately, there is often a gap between our spiritual commitment to Christ and just good manners and decent behavior,” says Gary Allen, Assemblies of God Ministerial Enrichment director. “The NIV Bible has 71 ‘one another’ statements, such as ‘love one another’ and ‘bear one another’s burdens.’ Good interpersonal behavior is pretty strong in the theology of Christianity, but I don’t know that we live it out well. Getting saved doesn’t necessarily give us good manners.”

In a recent survey of office workers, 29 percent said they work with someone who is rude or unprofessional on the job. Sixty-eight percent of those said dealing with rudeness was a routine occurrence.

A poll by the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University and the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore asked participants to rank the rude behavior they found most annoying. Among the top 10 were workplace discrimination, aggressive driving, taking credit for someone else’s work, treating service providers as inferior, mocking and taunting, bullying, littering, and answering cell phones in the middle of a conversation or during meetings or appointments.

“All these things are symptomatic of an attitude that says, ‘Others don’t matter as much as me,’ ” Allen says. “Learning to be polite and considerate of others is minimized in today’s culture. Many parents fail to pass it on to their children because they don’t know how to behave themselves.”

Evangel University student Anthony Martin encountered appalling behavior from adults while working as a Little League baseball umpire in southeast Missouri.

On one occasion, a coach and several of his family members came at Martin with aluminum bats, threatening physical violence over a call he made.

Another time, he had to stop a game twice to deal with a coach’s profane tirade.

“After I told him to leave the game, he went across the road, and I could still hear him cursing me,” Martin says. “I had to stop the game and say, ‘That isn’t far enough. You’re going to have to get completely out of the park. I don’t even want to see you by the swing sets.’ Unfortunately, that kind of thing sends a message to kids that it’s OK to be a jerk when you get to be a certain age.”

Rogero says the message is often reinforced on television and in movies.

“Modern media make light of children talking back to parents, or even find it comedic in sitcom form,” Rogero says. “A ‘humph’ from children is not seen as disrespectful, but rather as expressing themselves.”

The use of technology may contribute to the problem as well, allowing people to make degrading comments online or via text message without having to face the person they’re hurting.

“Many people would never say the things face-to-face that they say by texting,” Allen says. “They often fail to realize that attitudes of harshness, rudeness and meanness can become a lifestyle. It eventually carries over into their homes and social groups.”

Rogero says the church should set the standard for civil behavior.

“Being able to logically express differing ideas and still have respect is a lost art in today’s society,” Rogero says. “We need to realize everyone is valuable. As Christians, when our focus is not on ourselves we may easily be used to bring about the purposes of our Father.”

Former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer CHRISTINA QUICK is the mother of two children. She lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly of God.

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