All faiths see civility problem in U.S. politics
Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service
November 22, 2010

All faiths see civility problem in U.S. politics

All faiths see civility problem in U.S. politics
Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service
November 22, 2010

Whether they rally behind

Fox News’ Glenn Beck to “Restore Honor” or Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart to “Restore

Sanity,” Americans agree on one thing: our political system has a civility


Four out of five Americans,

regardless of party or religious affiliation, think the lack of respectful

discourse in our political system is a serious problem, according to a PRRI/RNS

Religion News Poll released Nov. 11.

The findings echo sentiments

expressed by a range of religious leaders, including Richard J. Mouw, president

of Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Uncommon Decency: Christian

Civility in an Uncivil World, and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish

Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).

Alarmed by the 2010 campaign

season, which four in 10 Americans consider more negative than past elections,

Mouw, Gutow and others are calling for a kinder, gentler tone — even on

hot-button topics like Islamophobia, homosexuality or abortion.

“We’ve had heated public

debates before, but the level of discourse in this campaign and even following

the campaign has been atrocious,” Mouw said, citing as an example Senate

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to prevent President Obama’s

reelection, as opposed to advocating for policy shifts.

“There’s a real hostility

now, and Christians with very strong and more conservative convictions really

don’t seem to be contributing much to a civil discourse and a calming of the

heated discussions in the larger culture,” Mouw said.

In fact, white evangelicals

and Republicans are less likely than other Americans to say the 2010 election’s

tone was more negative than past campaigns, which PRRI research director Daniel

Cox said may reflect their satisfaction with the outcome.

Mouw has another theory:

evangelicals are more accustomed to inflammatory rhetoric from the pulpit, and

therefore don’t see it as a problem in politics.

Other findings from the

poll, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with

Religion News Service, include:

  • One-third of white

    evangelicals report that the election was more positive than past elections, a

    figure that’s significantly higher than among white mainline Protestants (17

    percent), the unaffiliated (17 percent) or Catholics (23 percent).

  • Two-thirds of Americans

    say that people in their local community work well to overcome differences, and

    more than eight in 10 Americans who attend religious services say people in

    their congregation work well to overcome differences.

  • Nearly 6-in-10 Americans

    think the country is more divided over politics today than in the past; more

    than four in 10 Americans said the country is more divided over religion than

    in the past.

  • About half of white

    evangelicals and black Protestants think the country is more divided over

    religion than it was in the past, compared to less than 40 percent of Catholics

    and white mainline Protestants.

  • Young adults (50 percent)

    are less likely than seniors (61 percent) to say Americans are more divided

    over politics, but more likely to say Americans are divided over religion (42

    percent of young adults and 33 percent of older adults, respectively).

Americans are justifiably

afraid and upset about the stagnant economy and terrorism, Gutow said, but he

agreed with Mouw that 24/7 cable news channels and the blogosphere have

encouraged and magnified negative, fear-based rhetoric.

In his organization’s new

Statement on Civility, prompted by polarizing debate over Israel as well as

domestic concerns, Jews agree to “treat others with decency and honor and to

set ourselves as models for civil discourse, even when we disagree with each


The JCPA pledge has

collected more than 1,100 signatures in its first 11 days and will form the

basis for dialogue amongst Jews and with people of other faiths. The pledge was

launched Nov. 1.

“I don’t think this country,

and I don’t think our community, are going to make good decisions if people can’t

talk to each other rationally and pragmatically,” Gutow said. “We need to lean

back, talk to each other, look each other in the eye and respect each other’s humanity.”

Calls for civility have

clear religious roots. In Judaism, Talmudic study encourages back-and-forth

conversation, Gutow noted. In the New Testament, Mouw said, the Apostle Peter

tells Christians to express their convictions “with gentleness and reverence.”

“In the world where our

Savior has not yet returned to make all things right, we’re going to have to

find our way of coping in the present and trying to do as much good as we can

without oppressing other people, without bearing false witness against other

people,” Mouw said.

“We have to defend the faith,

that’s clear, but it says to do it with ‘gentleness and reverence.”’

The PRRI/RNS Religion News

Poll was based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 5-8, after the midterm

elections, with 1,022 U.S. adults. The poll has a margin of error of plus or

minus 3 percentage points.