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The shootings in Tucson, Arizona

12 January 2011

Peace and Civility

I have just received a mailing about the terrible shooting in Tucson Arizona. 

It gives us much to think about and to pray for.   There are distinctive American features in it, but the essentials are common to our humanity.  

The mailing is from Jim Wallis.  Jim Wallis, long-time leader of the Sojourners, has worked for decades to a radical Christian dealing with practical issues in American life, culture and politics.  (If you want more detail about Jim Wallis, look at the end of this blog). 

An example of what he does is the Peace and Civility Pledge.  It is worth reading and pondering.  It is an example of reading the Bible, in the spirit of Jesus, and with a close engagement with practical issues in life. 

We have just heard preaching reminding us that as Christians, we need to talk.  

This mailing reinforces that message through a powerful and tragic example.   If we need to talk, we need to find how to talk.   When we do not know how to talk or cannot find the strength and grace to talk well, we start using bitter weapons, like cold silence, or violent metaphors or even guns with real bullets. 

The Church is called to be a workshop for learning how to talk grace against all discouragement.  

Peace and Civility is not the whole answer to every problem in life.   Sometimes what we think peace and civility may hold us back from speaking necessary truth.  But peace and civility is a necessary ingredient in any speaking which has a hope of doing good, rather than making things worse.   Every time we open our mouths, we either give a sign of the coming kingdom of God or we darken the vision.  

The mailing

Dear Haddon,

The recent shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman from Arizona, must speak to the soul of this nation. The shooter raised his gun to her head, and then he kept shooting until 13 others were wounded and six people killed, including a district court judge and a 9-year-old girl who was in her church choir. We all mourn the lives lost and hope and pray for the recovery of those who were injured.

I was with Gabby just a week ago, as our families celebrated New Year’s at a retreat in South Carolina. I count her as a friend. We talked about her very tough election this fall, which she won by a few thousand votes in one of the most divided states in the nation, where — much like the rest of the country — the political rhetoric has become more and more poisonous and personal.

What are the situations and environments that allow this kind of hate and violence to grow? How can we not only stop conflict, but also be a part of bringing about a just community that displays the positive presence of peace?

We start with ourselves. Our Peace and Civility Pledge outlines the higher standards that scripture calls us to in how we are to treat one another and act in community. I ask you to sign the Pledge, consider how these teachings are being manifested in your life, and share it with a friend, your church, your family.

Last Spring, we began this important work with over 100 prominent Christian leaders who signed the “Civility Covenant.” Each one committed to modeling civil discourse, even with people they disagree with. In a divided world each one made a commitment to model the peace of Christ in their lives and their communities. They recognized that many of us who would never consider violence of the fist have been guilty of violence in our hearts and with our tongues.

Part of building a better society is relating to others with whom we disagree on important issues without calling them evil. It is out of that work that we recommit ourselves to being peacemakers in our country. It is on that Covenant that we have based this new Pledge.

As the county sheriff in charge of the criminal scene in Tucson said on Saturday, this must be an occasion for national “soul searching.” In the midst of tragedy and violence, I believe this means every Christian must ask: “How am I responsible?”

To that end, we encourage you to reflect with us all, using the Pledge as a starting place for scriptural teaching. Please share your thoughts, prayers, confessions, and hopes on our Facebook page or on the God’s Politics blog.

This horrible tragedy must now become an important American moment. We must honor this tragic event and Gabby’s national service by reflecting deeply on how we speak to and about one another, and how we create environments that help peace grow — or allow violence and hatred to enter. 

Blessings and peace,
Jim Wallis

The Peace and Civility Pledge

How good and pleasant it is when the people of God live together in unity. -Psalm 133:1

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 church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have 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” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

1) We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the Scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

2) We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other. “With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God….this ought not to be so” (James 3:9,10).

3) We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

4) We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs: “Before destruction one’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).

5) We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).

6) We commit to pray for our political leaders – those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made – for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

7) We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed “that they may be one” (John 17:22).

We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world.

Jim Wallis is a bestselling author, public theologian, speaker, and international commentator on ethics and public life. He been named to serve on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. His latest book is Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street — A Moral Compass for the New Economy. His two previous books, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post–Religious Right America and God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It were both New York Times bestsellers. He is President and CEO of Sojourners; where he is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, whose combined print and electronic media have a readership of more than 250,000 people. Wallis frequently speaks in the United States and abroad. His columns appear in major newspapers, including The New York Times, Washington Post,Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe. He frequently appears on radio and television, as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, Fox – on shows such as Meet the Press, Hardball, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the O’Reilly Factor, and on National Public Radio. He has taught a course at Harvard University on “Faith, Politics, and Society.” He has written ten books, which include Faith Works: The Soul of Politics: A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change;Who Speaks for God? A New Politics of Compassion, Community, and Civility; and The Call to Conversion.

Jim Wallis was raised in a Midwest evangelical family. As a teenager, his questioning of the racial segregation in his church and community led him to the black churches and neighborhoods of inner-city Detroit. He spent his student years involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements. While at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, Jim and several other students started a small magazine and community with a Christian commitment to social justice which has now grown into a national faith-based organization. In 1979, Time magazine named Wallis one of the “50 Faces for America’s Future.”

Jim lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Joy Carroll, one of the first women ordained in the Church of England and author of Beneath the Cassock: The Real-life Vicar of Dibley; and their young sons, Luke and Jack. He is a Little League baseball coach.

Visit Jim Wallis and Sojourners at their website www.Sojo.net and read his daily blog at www.GodsPolitics.com

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