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A Covenant for Civility

A New Order of the Third Way

“The promised land, of course, suggests the third dimension of the biblical narrative: the peace-making kingdom celebrated by all the prophets, especially Isaiah. As we considered earlier, the narrative begins with the longing for a literal homeland—first, for Abraham, a home outside the Sumerian Empire, and later, under Moses, a place of freedom outside the Egyptian Empire, and later still, for the exiles, a return to their homeland, liberated from the Babylonian/Medo-Persian Empire. Gradually, the idea of a promised land morphs from a geographic reality into a social one; “a land flowing with milk and honey” becomes a society in which justice flows like water. This new society or kingdom is also described as a new era—a new time of shalom, harmony, social equity, prosperity, and safety.”

-Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, p. 132-33.

Part 4: The New Global Civility*

This is getting to be a regular event! Yet another broad ecumenical coalition has gathered together to sign yet another “covenant” for “common ground” and “civility.” The Discernment Research Group warned over a year ago that this tactic would be increasing :

Be prepared for an onslaught of global “common ground” and global “civility” documents in the days to come. These carefully-worded manifestos always cite pressing crises, or a “momentous challenge” or a critical opportunity that requires a “clarification” or “unity” statement about “where we stand” on carefully delineated issues. This strategy of issuing declarations achieves several key aims: 1) it is always accompanied by an orchestrated public relations and media campaign to bring about public awareness; 2) it redefines issues, often creating or seizing upon a crisis; 3) it posits a pre-manufactured solution and calls for a new broad consensus to achieve its aims; and 4) it becomes a watershed event historically, collecting runoff from all of the nearby slippery slopes of compromise, so that thereafter the document is viewed as the definitive statement.[1]

These “civility” documents are rife with the phrases “common ground,” “good will,” or “common good,” which are the new mantras for the much-anticipated national and global era of peace and reconciliation. The latest one is called “A Covenant for Civility: Come Let Us Reason Together,” by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and described as:

A group of more than 100 prominent Christians ranging from evangelical minister Jim Wallis on the political left to Nixon White House aide Chuck Colson on the right released a document Thursday calling for an end to the fight club tone of the national political discourse.[2]

Like other “covenants” of this ilk, the signers pledge that “we’re not going to challenge each other’s motives or engage in ad hominem attacks.”[3] It is claimed that this covenant “is the latest in a series of faith-based efforts to soften the public discourse.”[4] Evangelicals will recognize their high-profile leaders who have signed onto the document, including Leith Anderson, Tony Campolo, Paul Cedar, Lynne Hybels (Bill Hybels’ wife), Brian McLaren, and Ron Sider.

The Covenant itself is a fascinating look at semantics. Each point is made with a corresponding Bible verse, a clever bait and switch method which ensures that the Christian reader will agree with at least part of what is being said. However, looking at the document text, apart from the Bible verses, we note some disturbing aspects. For example, what do these bolded words from “A Covenant of Civility” mean?

  • contribute to a more civil national discourse…
  • …our dialogue with each other…
  • …honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other…
  • …when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith…
  • We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements…
  • …we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good in the common life…
  • …we will lead by examplemodel a better way in how we treat each other…
  • We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion…

These terms have meanings. They mean one thing to those who authored the document and signed it. They may mean something entirely different to you. The signers of this document have another worldview, that of global “peace” and “reconciliation,” and they have incorporated it into their emerging theology that has more to do with social justice and building the Kingdom of God on Earth than spreading the message of the Gospel of Salvation. Berit Kjos, writing on the issue of “Common Good,” defined this agenda as:

This “common good” must be negotiated in a “Public Square” — a global arena where people share their views. To keep their debates “civil,” they must learn to appreciate pluralism and seek a “common life” compatible with all beliefs and lifestyles. Peace and unity must be forged through a collective “framework” that provides the social rules for “living together with our deepest differences.”[4]

While we could digress into an extended discussion about our theological or political differences with these signers, that is not really the point. And it isn’t the point of this “A Covenant of Civility” either. Don’t be fooled! This isn’t a political Right vs. political Left document! It conveniently comes at a time when the nation appears to be politically polarized. However, that is just the “crisis” warranting a “common ground” solution. Notice what “A Covenant for Civility” is really all about. It has the intent of quieting rhetoric, shutting down true debate about Scripture.[5] Yes, these leaders say they are open to “dialogue,” but dialogue isn’t the same method of speech as debate:

A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position. A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position.[6]

Those who have biblical beliefs grounded in the Word of God will not find basic agreement with signing “A Covenant for Civility” in the first place. Why? Do they disagree with the Scriptures used? No. Do they disagree with the applications? Not necessarily. Will they refuse to sign it because they just want to be contentious, argumentative, and abusive? No, that’s not it either. Rather, by these leaders’ own ground rules, biblical believers are the real threat. This is because “common ground for the common good” covenants, declarations and manifestos are a tactic, a method to shut down critics and marginalize those who have opposition to their causes.

This particular document is laden with implications of politically correct speech, especially for those involved in Christian discernment or apologetics ministries. For example, at what point will challenging Brian McLaren on his heretical ideas in his new book A New Kind of Christianity be considered hate speech? Will merely calling into question his widely published aberrant beliefs constitute “impugning,” “attacking” or “questioning” him? As we warned previously on this blog:

These “civility” documents are rife with the terms like “people of good will,” “conscience,” “ethics,” “justice” and “morality.” But how are these terms defined? These terms can be so redefined as to EXCLUDE those who cannot or will not, for whatever reason, conform. Depending on how these terms are defined, they can actually exclude biblical Christians, particularly those who practice biblical separation.

Those who believe they have a biblical mandate to “contend for the faith,” should never do so “contentiously.”[7] However, this “A Covenant for Civility” document implies that simply contending for the faith may be construed as an act of incivility, arrogance and hate.

Common Ground Dominionism

All of this activity is part of an emerging convergence of politics and theology, which is why you will not find this document taking a stand against the extremes of Dominionism.[8] Rather it promotes a “third way,” a “common ground” broad way where the Gospel of Salvation becomes passe and a new order of spirituality and governance is ushered in.

Make no mistake about it! Both the Left and the Right want to build a Kingdom of God on Earth.[9] Ultimately Left and Right will work together in this new order of the third way, and we are already seeing it happening before our very eyes. Beware of the dialectic dance that always accompanies these types of documents, pitting one group against another, creating superficial differences, while at the same time working together behind the scenes to build the kingdom.

The Truth:

We can agree with the document when it urges us to “pray for our political leaders” and when it urges us to “pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree.” Lord willing, we will continue to stand and warn against the heresies of these leaders, and we will indeed endeavor to do so with meekness (Titus 3:2), humility (Proverbs 22:4) and love ( 1 John 3:18), remembering to pray for them (Luke 6:28). Our way is the Gospel way (Hebrews 10:20), not the third way.

“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.” ( Philippians 1:27)

1. “The New Global Civility: Part 2: Manifestos, Declarations and Covenants,” https://herescope.net/2009/02/manifestos-declarations-and-covenants.html
2. The actual covenant is located here: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=action.display&item=100308-civility-covenant The article about it is “Christians from political left and right sign ‘Civility Covenant’,” by Dan Gilgoff, CNN, March 26, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/03/26/christian.civility.covenant/
3. Ibid.
4. “An Evangelical Manifesto for an Interfaith World: Uncompromising Christians are not welcome!” by Berit Kjos, June 3, 2008, http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/08/evangelical-manifesto.htm
5. Listen to this radio interview for evidence that this document is “an attempt to silence orthodox Christians.” http://www.crosstalkamerica.com/shows/2010/03/emergent_leaders_evangelicals.php
6. This quote comes from Pastor John Ashbrook in his book New Neutralism II: Exposing the Gray of Compromise (Here I Stand Books, 1992), p. 7. http://www.hereistand.com/books.cfm
7. Contending for the faith is never an excuse for bad behavior. “Contentiously Contending” by Pastor Anton Bosch was an 8-part series that we ran on Herescope beginning June 1, 2007 at https://herescope.net/2007/06/contentiously-contending.html . This excellent series is being printed into booklet and we will notify our readers when it becomes available.
8. For example, Chuck Colson is once again the chief instigator of yet another “covenant” ecumenical document, an activity he has been doing for several decades. If one examines his beliefs, there is abundant evidence for Dominionism. Which then raises many questions about what precisely he has in “common” with Jim Wallis! See footnote 9 of our post “The Manhattan Declaration: Another Dominionist Covenant” for extensive documentation on Chuck Colson’s Dominionism: https://herescope.net/2009/12/manhattan-declaration.html
9. We have written extensively on this topic at the Herescope blog. See key posts such as https://herescope.net/2008/02/creating-heaven-on-earth.html, https://herescope.net/2007/06/neo-kuyperian-spheres.html, herescope.blogspot.com/2007/10/rethinking-culture.html, and https://herescope.net/2008/02/dread-champion-army.html

*This is an ongoing series as new covenant-type documents like this come out.
Part 1 “The New Global Civility” HERE.
Part 2 “Manifestos, Declarations and Covenants” HERE.
Part 3 “The Manhattan Declaration: Another Dominionist Covenant” HERE.