WASHINGTON (ABP) — Even as Democratic members of Congress report death threats over their votes in favor of health-care reform and a prominent conservative broadcaster continues his attacks on a left-leaning evangelical leader for advocating social justice, a group of Christian leaders from across the ideological and theological spectrum are calling for a renewal of civility in the United States’ public discourse.
A group of 114 leaders — from Southern Baptist theologian Timothy George to United Church of Christ General Secretary Geoffrey Black — endorsed “A Covenant For Civility: Come Let Us Reason Together,” released March 25.
“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,” the statement says. “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).”
The covenant commits to seven principles of elevating discourse between Christian brothers and sisters about political and theological topics as well as praying for political and religious leaders — including ones with whom they disagree.
“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,” the document says.
The same week it was issued, U.S. Capitol Police officials began investigating several threats to, and violent actions against, the offices of Democratic lawmakers who voted in favor of President Obama’s massive health-care-reform bill.
Also that week, Fox News personality Glenn Beck continued his crusade to “expose” Jim Wallis, a politically left-of-center evangelical who heads the Christian anti-poverty group Sojourners. Wallis had advised Christians to quit watching and listening to Beck after a March 2 television show in which Beck told his listeners to leave churches that use the words “social justice.” Wallis pointed out that social justice is one of the central teachings of Christianity and most other world religions.
Beck spent much of his March 23 show attacking Wallis, accusing him of being a closet Marxist and desiring “forced redistribution of wealth.” Wallis responded, in a post the next day on his blog, that Beck “really does completely misunderstand the Christian teaching of social justice and is indeed insulting us.”
Wallis’ organization helped facilitate the covenant's creation. Signers included conservative leaders such as evangelical activist Chuck Colson and National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson as well as pastors, professors and denominational executives from many Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant groups.
Besides George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., Baptists who signed included sociologist and anti-poverty activist Tony Campolo, Paula Clayton Dempsey of the Alliance of Baptists; David Gushee of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology; Derrick Harkins of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington; Roy Medley of American Baptist Churches USA and Glen Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary.
Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.