The Wisconsin Council of Churches: A Colossal Waste of Time.

God love the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and the National and World bodies of the same  name. I have been critical of them in the past for holding their programs in places that pastors from urban congregations cannot afford to go, thereby instituting a kind of racist caste system all under the guise of pastors needing to get away to lovely locations – wait, isn’t that what vacations are for?

For some time now the WCC has been calling for “A Season of Civility” and circulating a public statement they are encouraging religious leaders to sign. Here’s the text:

Call for a Season of Civility in Wisconsin

From our State’s Religious Leaders

 We, the undersigned leaders in Wisconsin’s faith communities, know that democracy thrives on open and vigorous debate about public policies.  However, as Wisconsin struggles through another year of divisive campaigning and elections, we are concerned that hostile political rhetoric is overstepping the bounds of civility and even decency in our congregations and society at large.

By nature, religious congregations include people from all walks of life who hold differing views on political and social issues.   The teachings of our religious traditions compel us to be concerned about the common good and the well-being of our neighbors.  But we do not all agree on the means to achieve these ends.

Virtually every religious tradition includes some version of “the Golden Rule” – to treat others as we would like to be treated.  Likewise, the idea of democracy is based on regard for the value of each and every individual. 

Yet, as a result of the extreme political polarization in Wisconsin, many in our congregations and communities feel marginalized or demonized by their neighbors on account of their economic status, occupation or political beliefs.  Politics in a democracy is not a zero-sum game or a winner-take-all contest.  Rather, it is a joint effort to reach a workable consensus on how to advance the common good.  But our ability to cooperate to solve common problems and achieve shared goals is now undermined by rampant disrespect, disinformation, distrust, and disregard for the interests and ideas of others.

Because we believe that this situation is unacceptable in our public life, we commit ourselves to a Season of Civility:

  • We will seek to model and support respectful and honest conversations on public issues within our congregations, assemblies, and other forums. 
  • We will make a genuine effort to understand the reasons for the views of those with whom we disagree and try to explain the grounds for our own positions clearly and without arrogance.  Our goal will be to identify shared values and concerns, rather than to “win” arguments. 
  • We will be mindful of our own fallibility and keep our views open to correction and reconsideration without betraying our deepest convictions.

We encourage all of our fellow citizens, to likewise commit themselves to a Season of Civility:

  • Our congregations should be places where civility is taught and practiced as together we seek to learn what our faith calls us to do and be in the world.
  • Candidates should strive to adhere to high standards of civility, integrity and truthfulness and insist that the advertisements produced by their own campaigns, and those of third parties, do the same.
  • In their campaign reporting and commentary, media should subject all claims and counterclaims to rigorous but fair scrutiny, checking facts, critiquing logic, evaluating sources, and providing context.
  • As citizens we should all be critical consumers of media and advertising, questioning claims and resisting attempts to manipulate our emotions.

We offer this statement in the confidence that, if we embrace our faith traditions’ highest values of compassion and mutual respect, we will find ways to work with our differences and cooperate to fashion a healthier, livelier and more enduring democracy. 

It all sounds so lovely, and it’s all such liberal bullshit for more than one reason.

The first reason it’s bullshit is that nobody in the political arena is going to listen to them because the WCC has no clout. Its actions are predictable, its statements are couched in that unwritten religious liberal imperative to be nice at all costs – which means they lack prophetic voice and therefore power. If you want people to listen, you are going to have to give them a reason.

The second reason it’s bullshit is that it conflates two very different issues. The first issue is that we all should treat each other with dignity and respect as we try to understand one another’s beliefs and perspectives. Any idiot with a hint of ethical understanding knows that. The second issue is the so-called golden rule. It’s great to say that we should all treat others as we with to be treated. The reality in our world, however, is that either there are a fair number of people who would like to be treated pretty poorly and are trying to ensure that by treating others in a sub-human fashion or else not everyone subscribes to the golden rule. Yes, every tradition has some version of it, but it is a mistaken notion to believe that all or even most of society cares about it.

The third reason it’s bullshit is that there quite simply are times when we need to speak forcefully and loudly when we speak the truth to power because unless we do so we will not be heard. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is called prophetic voice, something that is all but lost to the religious left because of its obsession with kindness – but is it really kind to the disadvantaged and oppressed to worry more about hurting the little feelings of their oppressors than about removing the chains of those who have had them forcefully placed upon them?

As I have said before, I have nothing against masturbatory rituals. I’m just not very fond of putting mine on paper and circulating them for signatures.

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