Culture Ethics Politics

Christian leaders seek to overcome polarization

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) Twenty-five top Christian leaders gathered in the U.S. city with perhaps the worst reputation for civil discourse Wednesday (May 15) and committed themselves to elevating the level of public conversation.

Meeting in a row house three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the group spanned the Christian spectrum, and included officials from liberal churches and the most conservative of interest groups.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she and other council members think such a fund “would encourage coordination and participation of philanthropists, governments and both religious and secular nonprofits to work toward abolishing modern slavery.” RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori speaks during the April 10, 2013 meeting of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“The ground of our spiritual understanding is in treating other people as the image of God, treating people with respect,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

“Faith leaders have a remarkable opportunity to shift the conversation, but it’s very challenging, particularly in a larger society that wants to understand everything as a battle, as engaging the enemy, rather than with someone who might have something to teach us,” she said.

Joining Jefferts Schori at the two-day meeting sponsored by the nonprofit Faith & Politics Institute were Kenda Bartlett, the executive director of Concerned Women for America; the Rev. Jeffery Cooper, general secretary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Sister Marge Clark of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, among others.


The “Faith, Politics and Our Better Angels: A Christian Dialogue to Promote Civility” forum convened for the first time last year.

As religious leaders, they agreed, they are called to move politicians, congregants and Americans in general to understand that mean-spirited debate makes it all the harder to solve the nation’s problems.

Sometimes, they said, that may mean calling out people – including themselves – who debate disrespectfully through name-calling or by questioning the motives of their political opponents.

“Everyone says they’re in favor of civil discourse, but the lack of civility seems to win elections,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources.

“You need some voice to say, ‘OK, we get that it can win elections, but maybe that’s not the best course of action.’ Typically, we think of religious leaders as voices of conscience, calling people to a better way. So therein is the hope,” Stetzer said.

One idea the group is considering, Cooper said, is a national day of civil discourse — perhaps in January, as people are making New Year’s resolutions — when preachers across the country will ask their congregants to make respectful conversation a priority in their lives.


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


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  • I am a Catholic and a family physician. I admire President Obama for the way he keeps focused on the needs of Americans, especially on the reproductive needs of women. I am embarrassed by the Catholic hierarchy who seem to have no shame for their cover-up of widespread sexual abuse of innocent children by Roman Catholic priests and yet have the arrogance to block women from freedom to make their own decisions on their reproductive needs if they are employed by a Catholic institution. President Obama has proven his desire to free the Catholic hierarchy from paying for women’s reproductive needs and the Catholic hierarchy refuse to accept the compromise. Most Catholic women have used or are using contraceptive methods so the Catholic hierarchy are not representing most Catholic women and show a real lack of care for women, in my view.

  • I admire Katharine Jefferts Schori immensely, also Episcopalians for being beyond the illiterate prejudice against ordaining women as priests and bishops, and Jefferts Schori as their presiding bishop.

    She is very right in her observation of the need to elevate–civilize–public discourse, especially in those areas affecting religion and politics, even more, their confluence. All clergy and lay people, all lawyers and all politicians especially, need to set the example of that elevated civility.

    It is plainly a contradiction of all writings about Jesus, canonical and all others, to continue to use religious conversation with anger or rejection. No human enterprise demands civility to be genuine more than religion. The hope and promise for charitable civility should initiate all prayer. “The greatest of these is charity!” I have no doubt that Jesus would put honesty even ahead of charity as a virtue.

  • I see this is s “religion news” site for those who have no real grasp of Christian theology. Who supports this thing, George Soros?

  • “Christianity” with no standards of moral conduct based on God’s word is FALSE CHRISTIANITY.

  • Catholic women are voting with their feet in droves. Our small Church in
    Santa Ana, CA is composed of 23% Catholic transfers (including the priest!). We have been blessed by their intelligence and vigor, they have been blessed by a loving congregation and priesthood.