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).
For some of the signatories, it was perhaps a commitment to repentance. As Kyle observed, the signatories included Harry Jackson, Samuel Rodriguez, Robert George, and Chuck Colson:
Let's see, Rodriguez recently participated in the right-wing anti-health care reform "prayercase" where he declared "the same spirit of Herod who 2000 years ago attempted to exterminate the life of the Messiah today lives even America. The legislation that incorporates death and infanticide all under the canopy of reform."
Jackson has been militantly crusading against marriage equality in Washington DC , declaring that it is an effort by gays to oppress blacks and warning of "bloodletting" if the issue is not put to a vote.
And Colson, who believes that gay marriage causes terrorism, recently teamed up with George to produce The Manhattan Declaration, which they sold as Christians' last hope for preventing America from sliding into totalitarianism and Nazi-like dictatorship.
Even so, evangelical minister Jim Wallis said in explaining the motivation for the pledge:
Members of Congress have been calling me saying 'It's never been as bad as it is now, but we can't do much about it because we're not credible to a lot of Americans.' They said to the faith community, 'please help us.'
The document has 114 signatories, among them the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God and the president of the progressive Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Not on the list, points out Mark Silk, "is anyone from the Southern Baptist Convention, whose prime spokesman on public policy issues, Richard Land, has been among the most vociferous opponents of HCR." (Note in the lede our "hyperventilating rhetoric" link to a comment on Land.)
Their pledge is sevenfold:
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 the Lord and Father, 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 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 but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
4) We will ever be 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 thanksgivings be made … for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 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).
This is the most recent in a series of similar efforts in the past year. One in October was greeted on the right as a conspiracy. More recently, before the health-reform-related race baiting, a Southern Baptist Republican balked at GOP incivility. In October, the Interfaith Alliance called for "a restoration of civility." And there have been others.
The alternative, however, is to concede the field to the proliferation of political strategies based on fear.