Covenants of Civility

Like many of you, I am increasingly concerned about the political incivility that exists in our country at the present time.  As an American History instructor for many years, I recognize too many correlations between our political discourse in this decade and the political discourse in the 1850’s that led to the Civil War in the 1860’s.

In his latest book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, Jim Wallis states the case for civility in politics and the danger we face with the incivility now exercised by politicians,  TV commentators and radio talk shows from both ends of the political spectrum.  He says…

“Truth and civility are too important to lose.  The political polarization of our society has now reached a new and dangerous level.  Honest disagreements over policy issues have turned into a growing vitriolic rage against political opponents and threats of violence against lawmakers have been credibly reported and even carried out.”   (p. 76)

In response to requests from several members of Congress who were people of faith and expressed their concerns and fears to him, Wallis convened a group of Christian leaders in 2010 to talk, pray, and discern how churches and pastors might lead by example to help create a more civil and moral tone in our politics at all levels.   The group was diverse and comprised of leaders across the political spectrum from liberal to conservative and included Democrats, Republicans and Independents.  They joined to create and endorse a “Civility Covenant” which they signed and invited thousands of pastors and laypeople to also sign.

In this era when members of congress are asked to sign “no tax pledges” perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask them to sign the covenant that I have given below.   I hope you will read it….then let’s try to live it ourselves….and demand by our ballots that those who run for and are in elective office subscribe to it with their actions as well as words.

The Covenant for Civility

As Christian pastors and leaders with diverse theological and political beliefs, we have come together to make this covenant with each other, and to commend it to the church, faith-based organizations, and individuals, so that together we can contribute to a more civil national discourse.   The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences

Too often , however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ.   We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  (Ephesians 4:31-32)

1.  We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”  (James 1:19)

2.  We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God.   The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other.  “With the tongue we bless God, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God…this ought not to be so.”  (James 3:9-10)

3.  We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see put a poor reflection as in a mirror”  (I Coringthians 13:12).  We will therefore “be completely huymble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  (Ephesians 4:2)

4.  We will be ever mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs.   “Before destruction one’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor.”  (Proverbs 18:12)

5.  We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good, in the common life we share together.   Each of us must therefore “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”   (Ephesians 4;25)

6.  We commit to pray for our political leaders—those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree.   “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thangsgivings be made for kings and all who are in high positions>”  (I Timothy 2:1-2)

7.  We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them.   We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed “that they may be one.”   (John 17:22)

We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down.   We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines.   We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world..

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