Civility Only Works When Everybody Stays In The Same Room

This “covenant for civility,” signed by over 100 “faith leaders” and publicized by Jim Wallis and Sojourners, practically begs for a contrarian response devoid of all ruth and sugar. From the smarmy (not to mention insider-y) centrism of the subtitle (“Come, let us reason together,” a misapplication of Isaiah if there ever was one), to the more-in-sadness-than-in-anger ahistorical fretting about what has happened to American political discourse, the project fairly cries out for a sound thumping by the very contemptuous churls it seeks to corral.

Fortunately, while it is true generally that I refuse to go along with any attempt to transcend the partisanship of, well, partisan politics, in this case somebody has done my dirty work for me:

Dr. George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, asked that his name be removed from “A Covenant for Civility,” which was released in March.

“I do not want my name or the Assemblies of God to be associated with persons who claim to be in the Body of Christ yet reject the moral teachings of Scripture,” Wood told freelance writer and conservative Christian blogger John Lanagan.

Lanagan expects others to follow suit.

The offense that led Wood to withdraw from such a high-minded pursuit? Why, Christians who might accept gays and lesbians as certified human beings:

“The problem is the tent that has grown so large on the signatures of this that are including people who are supportive of gay marriage and abortion rights,” Juleen Turnage, spokeswoman for the Assemblies of God told Religion News Service.

“He (Wood) just felt that he could not become a part of a large tent.”

I had thought some of the usual suspects (Mohler, Dobson, Donohue et. al.,) would have come out against it first. But since Rick Warren didn’t bother to sign on in the first place, apparently Wood sensed an opportunity to earn some brownie points with the conservative evangelical movement by selling out the covenant from within. I’ll bet he’s more sad than angry, too.

The kicker is one of the examples the Christian Post cites as an unacceptable sandal-wearing hippie no-goodnik:

Lillian Daniel, senior minister of a First Congregational Church which is pro-gay. . . .

When a reporter can’t even bother to track down the city your congregation serves, much less attack its denominational affiliation, both of which are specified prominently in its Who We Are page, you have to know they just don’t care.

On the other hand, First Congregational United Church of Christ of Glen Ellyn Illinois should wear the “pro-gay” label like a badge of honor.

The long and the short of it is this: the Christian Century-mainline church crowd should really think twice before signing on to one of these wild goose chases. They always promise more than they can deliver. The fact of the matter is that the American right wing, religious or otherwise, is only interested in meeting you halfway insofar as “halfway” is defined as you changing all your positions to match their own. It’s all very nice for them to be civil—as long as you give up on gays, lesbians, reproductive rights, and probably a whole laundry list of other positions.

If you want to be civil, be civil. Don’t bother signing a covenant that’s not worth the pixels it takes up on your laptop screen. The public square is not a church, and attempts to make it one, no matter how well intentioned, are destined to fail. Is that tart and contrary and to the point enough?

Read Fred Clarkson’s take at Talk to Action here — ed.

pastordanschultz@gmail.com'

Daniel Schultz, a.k.a. pastordan, is a minister in the United Church of Christ. He serves a small and very patient church in rural Wisconsin. He is the author of Changing the Script: An Authentically Faithful and Authentically Progressive Political Theology for the 21st Century, forthcoming from Ig Press.