Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. -- James 3:4-6
The passage from James' letter warns that our words, for better or worse, can turn a ship or light a forest ablaze. At this point in the campaign season, every time I see a political ad I mute my TV or change the station. I know I'm not alone.
But instead of just waiting for November 3, tell the Democrats, Republicans, and the Tea Party that what we want is truth and civility. Instead of name calling, there should be a discussion about ideas and solutions for the greatest challenges of today.
As I watch the degeneration of political rhetoric in campaign ads and cable television, and think about our Truth and Civility Election Watch, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Nonviolence Pledge" reminds me why this is all so important. Here it is:
1. As you prepare to march, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2. Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation -- not victory.
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.
4. Pray daily to be used by God that all men and women might be free.
5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.
6. Observe with friends and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. Perform regular service for others and the world.
8. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.
9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10. Follow the directions of the movement leaders and of the captains on demonstrations.
King clearly connects the violence of the tongue, fist, and heart. Walking and talking in the manner of love is required. Compare King's admonition to seek "justice and reconciliation -- not victory" with the political victory-at-any-cost strategies and methodologies that are heating up just three weeks before the midterm election. The attempt is not just to disagree with one's opponents (a perfectly legitimate and, indeed, healthy activity during the democratic processes of elections), but to demonize them; not to treat them as adversaries but as enemies. MLK's pledge should be a spiritual exercise for all of those on the campaign trail.
I was pleased to see the MLK nonviolence pledge on Glenn Beck's website, and to hear that he learned about the pledge during his preparation for his speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28. But I cringe when I hear him boast about being a "progressive hunter," and when I hear Beck regularly demonize the people he disagrees with.
I read an alarming report last night on a recent interview with Byron Williams, who was arrested after a July 18 shootout with the police. He had a car full of guns and planned to kill people at the Tides Foundation and ACLU in San Francisco. Williams said in this interview that he sees Glenn Beck as his "teacher," and that he was agitated by the virulent things his teacher had to say about the people at Tides. While it is unfair to blame Beck for everything his audience might do, it isn't unfair to ask Beck to make the connection that King did between the violence of the tongue and that of the fist, and to take responsibility for how he speaks about those with whom he disagrees.
On a personal level, I was reminded of that connection in a conversation with my 12-year-old son, Luke. Last summer, I shared the story of how a far-right radio station and some local churches in Wisconsin tried to get me disinvited from speaking at a Christian youth festival there. All of their attack lines were right off of Glenn Beck's blackboard -- that I was a "communist" and that listening to me would put high school students attending the festival in "spiritual peril." Despite their confrontation and intimidation, the festival hosts stood firm with my invitation, and I traveled to Wisconsin. The evening went very well as I talked about Jesus and our commitment to the poor, the response of the kids was very positive, and many parents (even very conservative ones) thanked the festival leaders for standing up against the intense political pressure from the Far Right.
But the day I left, my son Luke asked this question: "Dad, do the people out there who are mad at you have guns?" To be honest, I had to tell him that some of them probably did in Wisconsin, but I was sure that I would be fine. After I spoke on that Friday night, the first call I received was from Luke, just wanting to know if everything had gone all right and that I was okay. The fear in my son's heart was not unjustified, but such things shouldn't be happening in America today -- but they are.
Let's remind national political leadership that their words matter -- and that we are listening.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.