Faith leaders call for higher standard of public discourse

As fall campaign heats up, group recalls Lincoln’s admonition to find the “Better Angels of Our Nature”

September 25, 2012

LOUISVILLE

With the fall election campaign heating up, a group of religious leaders has released a “Better Angels Statement,” pledging their commitment to a ministry of reconciliation in a shared effort to promote civility and peaceful conversation, according to a press release from The Faith & Politics Institute (FPI).

Included in the signers of the statement is the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.

“Faith leaders agree to model respectful behavior and help our nation move beyond the vitriol, name calling and stalemates that currently define the American public square,” the statement says.

The statement grew out of a two-day “Better Angels Summit” hosted by FPI. At the summit, John C. Danforth exhorted the group: “All of you, no matter where you are on the religious spectrum or where you are on the political spectrum, must take seriously what St. Paul said, that while we hate evil, we’re supposed to love one another with mutual affection and live in harmony.” Danforth concluded, “You have the ability to affect the tone and the substance of American politics."

The full text of the statement ― named for a remark then-President Abraham Lincoln made during the height of the Civil War:

‘BETTER ANGELS’ STATEMENT

I. As people of faith in leadership positions, we will seek to model civility and achieve the   following goals in our personal spheres of influence:

  1. 1.      Lead by example, modeling civil discourse with and respect for those with whom we disagree.
  2. 2.      Lead by recognizing that our deeply held beliefs, values and principles will not         be compromised by courteous, respectful and civil disagreement when we interact with those with who whom we disagree
  3. 3.      Lead by tackling the controversial issues of our time without resorting to clichés, resorting to stereotypes or putting people into preconceived boxes
  4. 4.      Lead by establishing relationships that will allow each of us to express our convictions openly in our interactions with each other knowing that we will be heard and respected.

 II. We agree to the following “Commitment to Reconciliation.”

We are faith leaders from various Christian traditions and have different, sometimes opposite, opinions on important subjects of religion and politics. While we do not agree on some issues, we are concerned that excessive polarization in politics is harming America. We affirm that differences on some matters should not create polarization on all issues. We believe that where we disagree, we should do so in a spirit of mutual affection, showing honor to one another. We believe we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. We shall make our best effort to seek understanding of and respect for our differences and identifying areas where we can work together with mutual respect.

III.  We agree to begin working toward a broad initiative that will influence church members, media, and all of society toward greater civility.

IV. We agree to pray for each other and for our leaders of all different political views.

  1. As an elder in the Downtown PCUSA Rochester, NY and director of the Faith in Action Network of Rochester, I commend you on this important statement and will encourage local religious leaders to follow its direction. Thank you -- Peace be with you.

    by Marie E. Gibson

    September 27, 2012

  2. Thank you, Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson for participating in this "Better Angels" summit and calling for these higher standards of public discourse. I wholeheartedly support this call and these standards. Civil, respectful discourse in both church and society is imperative. We are all God's children and one human family.

    by Dr. Michael J. Adee

    September 26, 2012

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