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Presidential Candidates Should Reject Violent Rhetoric; Embrace Church Call For Civility

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Texas Governor Rick Perry is just into his first week as a presidential candidate and already has suggested the use of violence against a federal official, as Think Progress notes:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered the presidential campaign on Saturday, appeared to suggest a violent response would be warranted should Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke "print more money" between now and the election. Speaking just now in Iowa, Perry said, "If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y'all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion." Treason is a capital offense.

The use of violent rhetoric became particularly common place during the 2008 campaign as vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin crisscrossed the country dividing people into "real" Americans and, well, people who weren't real Americans. The tone of her campaign worried the Secret Service, as Newsweek reported:

The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied. Michelle Obama was shaken by the vituperative crowds and the hot rhetoric from the GOP candidates. "Why would they try to make people hate us?" Michelle asked a top campaign aide.

And it wasn't just Newsweek that noticed. National Public Radio reported in the final weeks of the campaign that:

In the final lap of the U.S. presidential race some believe Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) attacks against Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) character have gone too far and, for some, are even racist. McCain was sharply criticized after the debate between the two candidates at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., for referring to Obama as "that one" -- a reference that many interpreted as racially loaded.

The last thing we need is a repeat of the heated 2008 campaign. As Think Progress reported regarding Perry's remarks, former George W. Bush deputy press secretary Tony Fratto called Perry's remarks "inappropriate and unpresidential." All people, regardless of party, should demand that our political leaders wage campaigns that fully debate the important issues of our time with fervor, even contrast, but without crossing the line into racism and hatred. That will be more difficult than ever as so much of the anger that fuels that Tea Party movement driving the margins of our political discourse is, sadly, influenced by racial animosity. GOP candidates courting the Tea Party vote will have to tame the Tea Party or be held responsible if an atmosphere where violence is permissible is allowed to develop, as Governor Perry allowed to happen today.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said during the midst of the 2008 campaign:

The Golden Rule of Ecumenism has brought vastly different Christian traditions together for conversation and action, and the rule should be applied to American politics.

The rule: "Try to understand others even as you hope to be understood by them."

That simple axiom is a radical critique of an age in which ideological lines are hardening and real dialogue diminishing in the public arena.

Church folks, like most Americans, have strong political views, many of them based on the biblical mandate to bring peace, feed the poor, uphold the downtrodden and speak God's truth and justice in all things. We argue all the time about the best ways to fulfill that mandate, but ecumenically-minded Christians start with the assumption that Christians with different ideas are just as committed to Christ as they are.

Contrast this with the rhetoric of political campaigns, which are often based on divisiveness, hyperbole, half-truths and innuendo. How much can politicians learn about issues or one another if their positions harden into inflexible dogmas and their ears are closed to opposing ideas?

So long as political candidates continue to vie for votes by rendering complex ideas into misleading slogans, demeaning one another in television commercials, attempting non sequitur sound-bytes in a televised debate, or submitting to television interviews aimed at eliciting faux pas or outrageous statements about an opponent, there will be very little dialogue. And without dialogue, the next president of the United States is likely to spend the next four years in an enclave of like-minded polemicists.

Yes, political decisions matter. But our willingness to live trustfully with differences, because we know that God's will is always greater than our grasp of it, is the best testimony ecumenists can make in this political season.

Looking now at the political hardships faced by President Barack Obama put in place by opponents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and radio personality Rush Limbaugh who have argued that their number one goal is not to fix the economy or to move our nation forward but to defeat President Obama, it is easy to see Dr. Kinnamon's 2008 words as prophetic.

Winning, no matter the cost or the damage to the nation, is too often the only strategy considered by politicians. Democrats are not immune.

The American people must reject such tactics this time around and call out candidates, such as Perry, who openly suggest that violence is a way to solve our nation's problems.

Tony Fratto said Perry's comments were unpresidential. More importantly for a candidate who professes that he is called by God to run for the presidency, his comments were un-Christian. He needs to acknowledge his error, apologize, and find ways to communicate his vision for the nation that bring people together instead of tearing the fabric of our society apart.