“Four out of five Americans, regardless of party or religious affiliation, think the lack of respectful discourse in our political system is a serious problem.” This is from a report by the Public Religion Research Institute released on November 11, 2010.  Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, is quoted in The Christian Century about the findings. ”We’ve had heated public debates before, but the level of discourse in this campaign and even following the campaign is atrocious.”

            “There’s a real hostility now and Christians with very strong and more conservative convictions really don’t seem to be contributing much to a civil discourse and a calming of the heated discussions in the larger culture,” Mouw thinks. “Evangelicals are more accustomed to inflammatory rhetoric from the pulpit and therefore don’t see it as a problem in politics.”  A third of white evangelicals think the past election was more positive than those of recent years. This is a significantly higher percentage than with white mainline Protestants and Catholics.

            If Dr. Mouw is correct in his assessment of the situation, what does this say about white evangelicals and their relationship to the Sermon on the Mount? What about, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God?”(Matthew 5:9) Are we as Christians free to commit verbal terrorism on our brothers and sisters who do not agree with us? Are pastors who indulge in hyperbolic language consciously or unconsciously giving permission to their hearers to verbally savage their opponents?

            According to the report, white evangelicals and Republicans are less likely than other Americans to say that the 2010 election’s tone was more negative than past campaigns.

            Rabbi Steve Gutow,  president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said, “I don’t think this country, and I don’t think our community are going to make good decisions if people can’t talk to each other rationally and pragmatically. We need to lean back, talk to each other, look each other in the eye and respect each other’s humanity. Calls for civility have clear religious roots. In Judaism, Talmudic study encourages back and forth conversation.”

            The Apostle Peter tells Christians to express their convictions “With gentleness and reverence.” Mouw noted. “In the world where our Savior has not yet returned to make all things right, we’re going to have to find our way of coping in the present and trying to do as much good as we can without oppressing other people, and without bearing false wittiness against other people.”

            In its new Statement on Civility the JCPA states that Jews pledge to “Treat others with decency and honor and to set ourselves as models for civil discourse, even when we disagree with each other.”  We could all benefit from following that pledge.

Tags: , , ,