In the wake of the tragic Arizona shooting, Christian leaders acknowledge the harsh tone permeating through the political sphere and urge politicians to end the finger pointing and begin modeling civility in their personal conduct.
While evidence suggests that Jared Loughner was not motivated by partisan debate when he entered a Tucson Safeway and shot 20 people, including U.S Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), many political figures have now pointed to the political tone as the trigger for such an attack.
Evangelical leader Chuck Colson agrees that politics has become embittered by partisan debate.
“It’s gotten really bad,” he conceded.
Colson, former special counsel to President Richard Nixon, recalled that political foes once debated each other on Capitol Hill and met for drinks afterwards. Now, he said attack ads and divisive bickering has transformed today’s political scene into “savage warfare.”
Colson blames campaign finance for fueling vitriolic debate among the parties. With money pouring in from special interest groups, he said lawmakers suddenly have more to lose.
However, politicians are blaming the words of their political opponents. Several Democrats have come out to the press condemning the rhetoric of Tea Partiers and their leaders. Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman said on the NBC Sunday television show “Meet the Press” that a Tea Party candidate used the statement, “We will use bullets if ballots don’t work” at a rally in her district.
On the same show, Tea Party leader Sarah Palin was made an example of for oftentimes encouraging rally attendees with the words “Don’t retreat, reload.” The former Alaska governor also featured a 2010 list on her website of national Democratic districts within a gun sight.
The map sparked outrage from many Democrats including Giffords. Months before the shooting, she spoke on an MNBC broadcast about the list, crediting it with her vandalized office.
The comments sparked outrage among conservatives who said the same tactics had been used against Republicans. Fox News President Roger Ailes railed in a Global Grind interview that he had copies of Democratic lists and pictures of him that featured plenty of gun sights and crosshairs.
Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals said both political parties need to stop pointing their fingers at each other. According to Carey, civility must be lived out, not just talked about.
“The most important thing is model the kind of behavior we are seeking from others. If we want others to be civil, we should be civil in the way we approach them,” shared Carey, NAE’s Governmental Affairs director.
Politicians need to criticize policies, not policymakers, he stressed. In the instance that neither side is willing comprise on an issue, Carey urged lawmakers to simply agree to disagree.
As a Christian organization, Carey said the NAE tries to model civility and encourages other Christians to do the same. Just last year, the NAE created the Covenant for Civility to create safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion within the church. Over 100 churches and religious organizations have since signed the covenant.
The thought is for the church to model civility in a way that politicians would be likely to copy. Mark DeMoss, president of communications firm the DeMoss group, has tried since 2009 to bring a similar covenant to lawmakers.
However, DeMoss announced in a letter Tuesday that he is dissolving the project for a lack of interest. In the letter he praises Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Sue Myrick (R-NC) for being the only ones to participate in the project.
“Lanny Davis [previously the special counsel to President Bill Clinton] and I sent a personal letter and pledge certificate to every member of Congress and sitting governor – 585 letters – inviting them to sign this pledge as we headed into mid-term elections. You three were alone in pledging to be civil,” DeMoss wrote.
The project urged participants to pledge to be civil in public discourse, respect those with whom they disagree, and to stand against incivility.
This doesn’t surprise Colson by the lack of consensus among lawmakers. He said the lack of civility is a symptom of society’s deep philosophical divide. Society, Colson said, is rejecting truth, especially that of the church.
Colson continues to encourage Christians to set the example.
“It is a critical thing for Christians not to engage in name-calling,” he said. Instead, he urged believers to be civil and use well-reasoned arguments.