Report From Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Seeks to Promote Civility

A report examining how evangelical Christians might help in healing America’s political and cultural divides was issued Thursday (Sept. 26) by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“Faith and Healthy Democracy” is an account of what an ERLC-led research team learned from interviews with nearly 50 evangelical thought leaders and a LifeWay Research survey of more than 1,300 evangelicals. See related Baptist Press story.

The ERLC plans on it being the first of many steps in the next year to help foster civility among Americans.

The report assesses the condition of public discourse in the United States, analyzes evangelical positions on various issues and offers some initial recommendations for strengthening civility.

ERLC President Russell Moore said he prays the LifeWay survey and ERLC report would be “among many initiatives that can help show us the way forward and help us learn to love one another and stand with courage in the public square.”

The 49 evangelical leaders interviewed for the report agreed unanimously that American public discourse is dead. They used such words as corrosive, demoralizing, dysfunctional, hostile, inflammatory and polarized to describe the state of the public conversation, according to the report written by lead researcher Paul Miller, professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University, a Southern Baptist and an ERLC Research Institute fellow.

“Tellingly, the single most common adjective our interviewees used was ‘toxic’: something that is actively poisonous and unhealthy even to be near,” the report says. “Such a situation is dangerous because we should engage in the public square. If the public square is toxic and unhealthy, fewer will participate than should while those who do will be sickened by it. In nearly 50 interviews with evangelical leaders, we did not hear a single positive estimation of the state of public discourse today (though some allowed that there were pockets of civility at local levels, offline, and in face-to-face relationships).”

The LifeWay survey of evangelicals also showed the divisiveness:

— More than 20 percent of all respondents — nearly half of those age 18 to 34 — believe public civility is unproductive.

— A majority believes their political foes think the worst of them.

— Only 42 percent say they have publicly disapproved of political allies for using what they consider inappropriate words or taking unacceptable actions.

— One in three acknowledges they reply by pointing to examples of wrongdoing by the other side when a person who holds their political beliefs is accused of wrongdoing.

— More than one-fourth (26 percent) admits they tend to believe that insulting personal comments from political leaders who share their beliefs are justified when made against opponents.

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Source: Baptist Press