Adopted by the Governing Board, NC Council of Churches, March 6, 2012
In 1998, the NC Council of Churches issued a statement entitled With All Due Respect. It decried the “scarcity of decency and respect” seen most clearly in political campaigns. “Political rhetoric appears to be less courteous and more coarse; personal attacks are uglier.” It concluded “Without civility, political discourse becomes hostile and polarized.
In the intervening years, we have, to say the least, seen no improvement in the tenor of political discourse. In fact we have seen an increase in challenges to the personal faith of candidates as a prominent component of campaign content. And so we renew our call for discussion, debate, and campaigning that are respectful, honest, and civil. We do so for three reasons.
The first is constitutional. The US Constitution, prior even to the adoption of the First Amendment, proclaimed that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office . . .” The English colonists who created our country and our Constitution came from a history in which Catholics and Nonconformist Protestants were excluded from elected office based solely on their faith. Those who today ask voters to make decisions either for or against candidates based on the faith of those candidates are asking voters to impose the same religious tests prohibited by the Constitution.
The second reason, and more important for people of faith, is biblical. Jesus proclaimed powerfully in the Sermon on the Mount that his followers should “judge not” in order that we not be judged. He went on to point out the hypocrisy of those who would cast out “a speck from your brother’s eye without noticing the log in your own eye.” Those who today ask voters to make decisions based on the faith of candidates are making judgments themselves and asking voters to do the same.
The third reason is practical. In a country like ours, with people of great religious fervor and people of diverse faiths and differing beliefs within those faiths, efforts to inject that fervor into election politics threaten to divide our country in powerful and long-lasting ways. Those who would pit Christian candidates against non-Christians or one kind of Christian against another are threatening to create the kind of religious strife we deplore in other countries.
Therefore, we call on candidates and on their surrogates and campaigns to refrain from challenging their opponents’ faith. We ask religious leaders of all faiths to refuse to be drawn into these debates. We invite leaders of the Council’s member bodies and the pastors of affiliated congregations to join us in speaking out. And we call on all voters of good will to refuse to make their electoral decisions based on challenges raised by a candidate to the faith of an opponent.