Although I am quite sure the readers of the Delaware Gazette represent a wide variety of religious and political perspectives, I also know many of us also share a deep concern about divisive incivility of our current political campaign(s) and what this may imply for our society and political system at all levels.
In response to this shared concern, a group of Delaware clergy — representing the variety of religious and political perspectives of our community — are calling for a Community Prayer Service on Monday evening, Nov. 7, the night before Election Day. It is to be held beginning at 7 p.m. at the William Street United Methodist Church, 28 W. William St., Delaware.
The purpose of the 45-minute prayer service is not to seek to influence the election(s) in any way. The aim to rise above the political discourse of name calling and denigration of recent months — to help all of us to begin the healing process that our nation surely will need after the ugliness and malice of this political season.
Although our election campaign is drawing to a close, I and maybe you as well are asking the question “What the heck happened to civility?” American discourse, politics and campaigns in particular, seem to have been on a path to whatever the direct opposite of civil discourse is. Extremist rhetoric and demagoguery, half-truths and outright lies, and the politics of personal destruction permeate every level, from national debates to traditional media to the internet. This lack of civility seems to threaten central features of our society, our belief systems and is causing increasing alarm across the board.
Civility is foundational to all the world’s great religions. All religions hold dear some form of the Golden Rule, “that we should do unto others as we would wish done unto us”. But where are we as religious communities positioned regarding this sad state of affairs in the public dialogues of America?
Do we even hear the prophet Micah telling us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”? Are we guilty of allowing humility and decency to go completely AWOL?
I realize that political differences are very real and political debates will not sound like polite Sunday school discussions, they will and should have an edge. I realize that our country has complex and challenging problems and that we have widely ranging opinions on issues and policies.
There is plenty to be legitimately frustrated and anxious about. I think we all share concern about what the economic, social, and other current forces are doing to our lives and what kind of future that predicts for our kids and grand kids.
But does our culture and our political system have to reward meanness, division and incivility. I think not.
In a former church, we had a pledge to be “a fellowship of differing but kindred minds.” It’s certainly possible to have fierce disagreements with civility and decency. That’s what we teach our children, and it seems our political leaders should be held to at least that standard.
In my view, the loss of civility is not a political party issue, it is a true loss for every American, independent of any party affiliation. According to Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, the best thing you can do to encourage civil discourse is to “reach out to people just to understand their differences.” As we learn and share ideas within our communities, Dr. Lukensmeyer’s advice is to speak to what you believe, but hold the same commitment to listen to others’ beliefs.
Come pray with us Monday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., William Street Methodist Church.
Robert J. Gustafson is pastor, West Berlin Presbyterian Church, 2911 Berlin Station Road.