Religious Leaders Covenant for Civility in Politics

In the midst of violent fallout following Sunday's health care vote, faith leaders across the country are calling for a restoration of a civil and moral tone in the nation's political discourse, pledging to begin the movement in their own churches.

Over 114 conservative and liberal Christian leaders released a "Covenant For Civility" on Thursday, pledging to "God and to each other" to "lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down."

"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 group's statement reads.

Noting that churches can "offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences," the leaders also admit that their churches have "too often…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,'" they said.

Since the passage of the health care bill on Sunday, racial slurs, acts of vandalism, and death threats have been hurled at congressional supporters of the legislation. Some of the acts have been attributed to members of the outspoken tea party movements across the nation.

Angry protestors shouted words like "fa--ot" and "ni--er" at representatives Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) during their public appearances over the weekend.

Clyburn, a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960's told the Huffington Post that the comments were "absolutely shocking" to him, and that he "heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."

Democratic offices in New York have had their windows shattered by bricks while House Minority Whip Eric Cantor's campaign office in Virginia was shot at.

Virginia Representative Tom Perriello's brother had his gas lines cut after his address was mistakenly posted online in place of the congressman's.

Several representatives have also received threatening phone calls, including Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who compromised his stance on the health bill's abortion clause after President Obama promised to sign an executive order banning federal funding from abortion clinics.

Some tea party organizers, meanwhile, have stood out against the violence, maintaining that they are part of a "peaceful movement" that denounces "all forms of violence."

An open letter to President Obama and Congress from tea party groups in Florida declared that the group stands in "stark opposition to any person using derogatory characterizations, threats of violence, or disparaging terms toward members of Congress or the President."

A statement from tea party organizer Brendan Steinhauser noted, "Political violence is both immoral and ineffective, and will only set the movement back."

Steinhauser added that he wishes to remind "all grassroots leaders that it's important to focus our efforts on peaceful, political efforts like protests, office visits, letters, petitions and of course, voting."

Meanwhile, a petition calling on representatives who have stood with the tea party protestors to speak out against the violence has been launched by online progressive community Faithful America.

"As a person of faith, I am deeply saddened by the outpouring of hatred and violence in the wake of the health care vote. I am standing with faith leaders across the country praying for peace, unity and civility as Members of Congress return to their home districts," the petition reads.

"I call on leaders of all parties, but especially those like Reps. Michele Bachmann, Steve King and Mike Pence who have stood with the Tea Party protesters to unequivocally condemn violent words and deeds and join the faith community in working for peace."

The call for civility in national politics has been echoed over the past months by leaders in the faith community and even President Obama, who spoke in February against the "erosion of civility" in national politics.

Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Obama said that such divisiveness "makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on truth."

"Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility," he added

In September, following Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) infamous outburst during Obama's speech on health reform, the National Council of Churches (NCC) released a letter saying the debate had grown "rancorous and acrimonious" and called political and church leaders to "somber reflection on the ways we might restore dignity and civility to our national discourse both as a matter of social ethics and to bolster the highest traditions of democratic process."

"Let us then, as a people, draw from our deepest traditions of faith and heritage to gain a renewed sense of community marked by honesty and mutual respect," the group's letter said. "Let our moments of rigorous debate be tempered with a profound sense of the dignity and worth of each person. Let us debate ideas on their merits and exercise restraint in expression of our own best conceptions."

"Such a disciplined dialogue holds great promise, honoring our differences and confirming our perception that we are a people joined in our mutual aspiration to live the lives for which we were created," it says.

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