Christian leaders promise to be civil

There have been a lot of calls for “civility” in recent months, as our public discourse sounds less and less civil.

When it comes to the left vs. right divide in this country (pick your own code words for the two sides), each side only blames the other for the lack of civility.

So, for what it’s worth, I bring to your attention a Convenant for Civility signed by several dozen Christian leaders, mostly liberals, but conservatives, too.

The covenant opens with this:

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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).

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Fair enough.

The covenant then commits its signers to: have dialogue that reflects the spirit of the Scriptures; treat everyone with a respect that reflects their creation in the image of God; disagree respectfully; be mindful of language; recognize the need for civility in the community; pray for political leaders; and pray for adversaries.

The covenant concludes with this:

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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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ADD: Speaking of the need for civility…

Religious leaders in Cincinnati have signed an open letter denouncing the “mistreatment” of Rep. Steve Driehaus. He is, of course, the formerly anonymous anti-abortion Democrat who decided to vote for health-care reform when Obama promised to sign his executive order restricting the funding of abortion.

Apparently, a protest is planned outside his home Sunday.

The open letter, signed by more than 30 clergy, reads like this:

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As religious and community leaders, we call on our politicians, fellow religious leaders and citizens to publicly denounce the recent mistreatment of Rep. Steve Driehaus, his wife, and his children as unacceptable.

Rigorous and sometimes heated exchanges are to be expected in the midst of public policy debates, but recent and planned attacks on Rep. Steve Driehaus and his family have gone far beyond the bounds of what a civil society should tolerate.  Hostile out-of-town protestors have picketed his home while his wife and children were present and he was in Washington.  Anti-health care reform groups have placed pictures of his young daughters in newspaper ads.  House Minority Leader John Boehner suggested that Rep. Driehaus is a “dead man” in his district because of his vote on health care.  National news reports indicate that more protests are planned for this weekend at Rep. Driehaus’s home.

These actions fly in the face of our shared values.  They are not pro-life.  They are certainly not patriotic.
People of good will can disagree about policy, but disagreement does not grant us license to violate the Golden Rule.

We call on our politicians, fellow religious leaders and citizens who claim a “pro-family” label to join us in calling for restraint and for treating the Driehaus family with the same civility, respect and basic decency we would demand for our own families.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.