Civility Covenant

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9

Yesterday I read a surprising piece of news from the world of politics. Christians from the political left and right came together to sign a “Civility Covenant.” I was impressed and heartened by this.

Let’s backtrack to the year 2000, when George W. Bush was first elected President of the United States. What arguably secured his victory was his campaign’s bringing together the evangelical community – conservative Christians – in nearly unanimous support of not only Bush as a candidate but the Republican Party as the sole champion of Christian values in this country. Over the course of that campaign and the eight years of his presidency, we saw the melding of the GOP and the Church into what almost amounted to a single entity.

Maybe this is a subject for another blog, but we just can’t let go of Christendom, can we? The Church was persecuted off and on throughout ancient Rome until Emperor Constantine “converted” and named Christianity the official religion of the Empire. Some of the greatest theologians of the day believed that God’s plan for spreading the Gospel to the world would be carried out by the expansion of the Empire.

But then, Rome fell. Life stank. Church leaders pined for the days of Rome as the world around them was completely altered. But then on Christmas Day in A.D. 800, the Pope crowned Charlemagne to lead the “Holy Roman Empire.” As the joke among historians goes, it was neither holy nor Roman. It wasn’t much of an empire either. But this was bald-faced attempt to regain the glory days of Christendom under Constantine, when the Church held power.

Despite the separation of church and state that is one of the hallmarks of American democracy, somehow we still expect to have a form of Christendom in this country. We wanted George W. Bush to be our Constantine, but he was just our Charlemagne.

American Christians grabbed hold of our new-found political power and clung to it for dear life. We assimilated ourselves into Republican political culture, bought into every bit of it hook, line, and sinker – including the arrogant vitriol of its most respected pundits and radio hosts. So, when the presidency changed hands, we got angry. Some will blame the anger on our Republican congressmen and senators. Some will blame it on the “tea-partiers.” I personally think it’s a symbiotic relationship. The angrier the constituents get, the angrier the representatives get, the angrier the constituents get.

And finally, here we are. American politics has devolved to the point of name-calling and death threats. The smallest detail of the smallest legislation is treated as either God’s Gospel or the vilest heresy – depending on your politico-religious point of view.

It’s not surprising to me that American politics would turn into a stalemated shouting match. What it does is sadden me because so many of the people involved call themselves Christians. That’s why this Civility Covenant gives me a glimmer of hope.

Perhaps we can be the church. Perhaps we can stop judging those who don’t know Christ and stop trying to change hearts with legislation. Perhaps we can make peace.

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