In our contentious world, human dignity is often disregarded and lost. Yet from Genesis 1 throughout the Scripture, God says people are made in his image and have significance. Thus, they and their lives are worthy of respect. Whether it’s a forming child, a person at the end of life, or anywhere in between, the image of God in each one of us means we are important to God.

How we speak about people makes a difference; how we care for people matters. God’s love for everyone gives each person a dignity that deserves our respect. We are so important to God that he sent his Son to show how much he values all who are made in his image. Jesus’s life, death for sin, and resurrection reclaims the dignity that the sin in our world distorts. His completed work and our embrace of this fact means that Christians, in particular, should understand, appreciate, and defend the dignity Jesus died to reclaim. Our discourse should always mirror an awareness of that kind of divinely created respect.

This statement is made with a sense that our civic discourse has descended to a level where we need a reminder about dignity and respect, even in the midst of sincere disagreement on issues facing us as a society. There is too much “us versus them” where belittling is the weapon used. Race and gender have become objects or topics to abuse. Rather than seeing souls Christ longs to redeem and seeing faces to love, hear, and seek to understand, we make people political pawns in a game of societal war or objects to demean. There is too little conversation about us as people with shared needs and concerns. The gospel we believe and profess aims for reconciliation as we appreciate our intense need for God.

This election cycle has exposed the attacks against human dignity and mutual respect for others. Injustice has come from all directions, all parties, and has been aimed at many targets. It has made parents hesitant to expose their children to the public debates that are a part of an election season. Our discourse has often failed to be edifying even as it seeks to advocate causes. We all need to confess our failings here. Injustice and disrespect have been defended in many ways, often with a claim that “they” do it too or do it worse, often with a blind eye to what we have done that has contributed to the toxic dialogue.

The ends do not justify the means.

Dishonesty, injustice, and disrespect are all evil in the sight of God. Their presence or use elsewhere is never a defense for participation here and now. Like poison and cancer, when such abnormalities are ignored and thus left untreated, that harms all of us—perpetrators and victims. When souls do not matter, sin is present, and society is damaged. When we allow ourselves to stoop down into its muck, harm results for us and others. We only lower ourselves, defy God’s purpose, and muddy his witness. 

Biblical values should always transcend party lines. As Amy Black has reminded us recently, “In the process of seeking to influence political debates, it is easy to get caught up in the trappings of power and lose sight of our central calling as Christians. Political decisions matter and governing institutions shape our lives in significant ways. But politics must always be subordinate to our ultimate allegiance to the kingdom of God and our ultimate calling to share the gospel.” 

The way to break this cycle is to return to a place where the image of God is honored, and respect is embraced even in the midst of social debate. We urge all, especially leaders to this higher level of discourse. Whether the discussion involves the moral choices concerning the beginning of life, male/female relationships, race, nationality, human migration, sexuality, politics, or religion, let’s be careful to respect one another as human beings in the midst of the legitimacy of our debates. Let’s acknowledge our failures here and personally own them without excusing or justifying ourselves for them.

Let’s reclaim dignity and renounce belittling others in speech or act. In the rediscovery of dignity and respect, we may just find we end up having a little higher regard for the neighbor Jesus calls us to love.