Clergy unite on message: Thou Shalt Be Civil
    December 17 2009 by Bruce Nolan, Religion News Service

    NEW ORLEANS — It’s gotten ugly out there in the public square — on television, at public meetings, on the Internet.

    Whether it’s health care reform specifically, or politics generally, people seem to demonize each other, shout each other down and gleefully circulate vicious e-mail messages distorting the other side.

    So much so that Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy here recently found common ground about one, clear thing. They’ve decided to give their congregations a message: Get ahold of yourself!

    “The whole atmosphere has been getting just nasty,” said Rabbi Robert Loewy of Congregation Gates of Prayer. “We’re not going to change the world, but we’ve decided we need to raise people’s awareness — that this is just not right. It’s wrong.”

    A standing group of about two dozen New Orleans-area clergy recently drafted and began circulating a “Faith Statement on Public Discourse.” It urges members of their congregations and the public to show basic respect to those with whom they disagree.

    Some of the two dozen or so priests, ministers, rabbis and an imam have agreed to raise the admonition from their pulpits — and some, like Loewy, already have.

    At his congregation’s Yom Kippur service earlier this fall, he pronounced himself “disgusted” with the “obnoxiously partisan” tone of the national debate around health care reform.

    Some clergy have handed it over to their church communication networks, and the civility statement has begun circulating among regional Episcopal and United Church of Christ clergy. Copies are going to local, state and federal politicians urging them, too, to keep a civil tongue.

    The statement is founded on the shared Christian, Jewish and Islamic premise that “since we regard all human beings as God’s children ... we regard an offense against our neighbor as an offense to God.”

    “Violence begets violence,” the statement says, “in speech and in action.”

    It calls on people to display respect for those with whom they disagree; to debate issues, not demonize opponents; to stop misrepresenting opponents’ views; and to stop circulating e-mail messages that “demonize or humiliate persons or groups.”

    The initiative comes from an interfaith group that was born last year in response to hateful intolerance, when somebody burned “KKK” into the lawn of a black couple in a predominantly white neighborhood in suburban Metairie.

    A little more than a year later, the group has taken stock of the general level of anger in the public arena.

    The new effort was triggered when a relatively new member, Ginger Taylor, interim pastor of Good Shepherd United Church of Christ, came to a clergy meeting, having attended a raucous town hall meeting on health care reform sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

    “To say they were a bunch of wing nuts would be absolutely inaccurate. They’re the people who go to church, who mow each others’ lawns when they’re sick, who bring a pot of soup over,” Taylor said.

    But that evening, she said, they were shouting at each other and so distorting each others’ ideas the event amounted to “bumper sticker discourse.”

    Soon after, Omar Suleiman, the imam of a Metairie mosque, Masjid Abu Bakr al Siddiq, told fellow clergy that local Muslims changed venues for a public celebration when they learned that a gun show also was booked into the facility at the same time.

    Coming on the heels of the massacre at Fort Hood — allegedly at the hands of a Muslim gunman, Maj. Nidal Hasan — Suleiman said his community has become wary of public reaction, especially the women.

    “We’re all on edge. We know when something like this happens, there’s usually some kind of backlash,” Suleiman said.

    In that kind of climate, spectators’ passiveness can be seen as implicit consent, so some clergy said the civility resolution was all the more necessary.

    “Silence allows more and more incivility to develop. It allows people to develop a culture of incivility, and as clergy people we should make some kind of statement,” said Episcopal Deacon Priscilla Maumus, who drafted the one-page document. “What we’re hoping is it’ll get conversations started. “Not about what your opinion is, or what mine is, but that we both have an opinion, and if we disagree we’ll be civil. Not because we’re polite, but because as people of faith, we’re called on to do that.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Nolan writes for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)  
     
    12/17/2009 11:07:00 AM by Bruce Nolan, Religion News Service | with 2 comments




Comments
Dr. James Willingham
Courtesy is a mark of Agape love, I Cors.13:5. Love that does not behave itself unseemly is a the negative of "Love is courteous." Disagreemen is a part and parcel of life in every realm. Even in the NT we find Paul and Barnabas conflicted over John Mark. The Bible says the contention was so sharp between them that they parted asunder. Love comes neither cheaply nor easily. One has to work at it, practice it in the nitty gritty, in the grime of life's displeasing events. One cannot opt out just because others do not conduct themselves as they are supposed to. Participants in any conflict are to conduct themselves in a way that is honoring to the Lord. Unfortunately, under the best of circumstances many fall short. Judas betrayed the Lord, Peter cursed and denied him, and all of the other disciples forsook him. Thus, the whole of the practicing Christians at that time failed to do right. Eventually they would develop to the point where they willingly yielded up their lives for their Lord and Savior. all of us can learn from the examples they left. One thing we can learn is that failures can be transformed into success. Today's failure might well be tomorrow's greatest success.
12/19/2009 3:54:22 PM

Joe Babb
This is old hat! Some of those attending the SBC at Dallas and Atlanta in the '80's while surely not the first to do things like this; kept the practice going!I was there! And, haven't been back. And, from reports I've read, only until the purging was done, did things get somewhat quite. Moreover, the same for many state conventions. After some of those Baptist brawls, I've been rather ashamed to admit I was a Southern Baptist. So, I now just say, I'm Baptist! But more than that, I try to be a Christian in my relations with others, even when they don't appreciate it. Maybe, just maybe, it's not too late for some to learn about what Jesus had to say about such things.
12/18/2009 11:17:49 AM

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