Can civil discourse exist admidst ‘negative and accusatory’ dialogue?

Meredith Flynn —  August 28, 2012

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

When Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca., announced his church will not host a forum featuring presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, he cited uncivil political discourse as a main reason why.

“The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling. But that is not the climate of today’s campaign,” Warren told The Orange County Register.

Saddleback Church hosted a 2008 Civil Forum with then-candidate Obama and Sen. John McCain, and Warren had announced his hopes to have a similar meeting this year, although no officials plans had been made. In a Q&A posted on the church’s website, Warren called the current campaign climate “the exact opposite” of the purpose of the church’s Civil Forums.

Much of the negative talk is in the political advertising that will inundate American households – those with a TV, at least – from now until the November 6 election.

“I haven’t watched any of the debates, but I’m struck by the negative, accusatory campaign commercials that I’m hearing about,” said Curt Starner, pastor of Erven Avenue Baptist Church in Streator, Ill. “They say to me that the attitude of the writers is, ‘He can’t win on his record, so let’s destroy his opponent’s reputation and character. Maybe he can win that way.’”

While it’s clear the country is in for its share of negative campaigning in the months to come, Warren and Saddleback Church are shifting their focus to religious freedom, an issue he said is “more significant and has far greater implications for America’s future.” The church will host a Civil Forum on the topic in September. Read more about the event, and Warren’s response to the political climate at saddleback.com/blogs/newsandviews.

Other news:

Huckabee joins Missouri Baptists in support of embattled Akin
The Christian Post reports former Arkansas Governor and prominent conservative pundit Mike Huckabee participated in a conference call with hundreds of Baptist pastors August 24 in support of Todd Akin, the U.S. Senate candidate currently under fire for his controversial remarks about rape. (Speaking against abortion in cases of rape, Akin said medical science supports that contraception is rare in that context because women’s bodies can prevent such pregnancies. He has since backed away from that claim). The conference call was convened by Don Hinkle, who edits the Missouri Baptist Convention’s newspaper The Pathway.

John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, was also on the call. Politico.com quoted him as saying, “One of the things we have to remind ourselves of and remind our people of is that Congressman Akin represents the mainstream of our values. He is the mainstream of our values.” Read more at politico.com.

Slow economy continues to weigh on pastors
Giving in their churches may have stabilized, but nearly two-thirds of pastors say the economy is still negatively impacting their churches, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. That’s the bad news, but the good news includes fewer churches with declines in giving, and fewer falling below budget. Get the full survey results at LifeWay.com.

‘American Bible Challenge’ a success for Game Show Network
Nearly two million viewers tuned in for the debut of “The American Bible Challenge” on the Game Show Network on August 23, according to the marketing website broadcastingcable.com. The game show, which asks Bible trivia questions of three teams playing for charity, drew 1.7 million viewers, the network’s largest ratings to date. For more on the show, go to ChristianPost.com, or tune in Thursdays at 7 p.m. (CT).

Women report more ‘modern’ struggles than ‘traditional’ sins
An extensive study by Barna Research on the state of the Christian woman found more women report to struggling with flaws like disorganization and inefficiency than more “traditional” sins like envy and lust. Half of the women surveyed admitted disorganization is a struggle, making it the most frequently reported problem, followed by inefficiency (42%), anger (36%), selfishness (25%), excessive arguing (19%), arrogance (16%), envy (13%) and lust (8%). Read more findings at barna.org.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.