The governing board of the National Council of Churches is calling for "civility in public discourse" in light of the intensity of angry and sometimes violent language coming out of public meetings on health care and other issues.
In a letter issued during a recent meeting, the NCC affirmed the value of "vigorous, principled debate" but insisted that the arguments "be tempered with a profound sense of the dignity and worth of each person."
"Individuals cannot express their best hopes and acknowledge their deepest fears within a climate of intimidation and character assassination, and all too often this climate is the product of racism and xenophobia," the ecumenical church body stated. "Too much is at stake for the good of our society for us to continue down this dangerous path."
In recent weeks, media reports have shown angry demonstrations outside halls where President Obama has defended his proposals for health care reform. Demonstrators have carried posters portraying the president as Adolf Hitler and as a monkey.
"This clash of views demeans the dialogue and ultimately risks subverting the democratic process itself," the NCC stated.
With passions flaring over issues such as health care reform, the NCC is calling upon the members of their churches, political leaders, and all people of good "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 as member churches and brothers and sisters of other living faiths model the civility to which our sacred texts command," concluded the ecumenical partnership of 35 Christian faith groups in the United States that encompass 100,000 local congregations and 45 million adherents. "Let us make clear to ourselves and others those marks of civility that represent the best of our faiths and that can serve as foundational to rigorous, honest public discourse for the common good."
The NCC Governing Board issued its open letter, which was initiated by the NCC Health Task Force, during its Sept. 21-22 meeting in New York.