“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul
and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24 NRSV)
The National Council of Churches calls on all candidates for office to refrain from utilizing speech that reflects hatred of others and results in the division of society as a way to promote their candidacies. We similarly call on media outlets covering the candidates and their campaigns, debates, and addresses to exercise care not to sensationalize such rhetoric at a time when we should be lifting up our best values, living out the democratic process.
Our democracy has many building blocks. It is not perfect, but these blocks together define the national effort to form a “more perfect Union” (preamble, U.S. Constitution). The preeminent witness to this national effort is the democratic election process that provides opportunity to anyone to seek office, including the presidency.
Among the current candidates for president are corporate leaders and government leaders; children of immigrants; men and women; rich and poor; and people of different ethnicities and races. This diversity reflects the heterogeneity of America and the value we place on it.
And yet we have also heard hostile rhetoric, most unfortunately by some of the candidates themselves, aimed at undermining the rich complexity of our society. Immigrants have repeatedly been denigrated and even threatened with expulsion. Suspicions have been cast upon religious minorities. Racially bigoted statements have been made by candidates even as we struggle to confront the wave of violence against unarmed black men, women, and children in our communities.
We express our deep concern about language of requiring a religious test for public office as deeply prejudicial and contrary to the founding principles of our Republic. We also ask for an end to anti-immigrant rhetoric that dehumanizes some members of our human family.
In recent weeks, candidates for office were called upon to “pledge and commit to the American people that [they] will uphold and defend the freedom of conscience and religion of all individuals by rejecting and speaking out, without reservation, against bigotry, discrimination, harassment, and violence based on religion or belief.” (The Pledge: A Commitment to Religious Freedom, October 23, Washington National Cathedral). We support this pledge and encourage candidates to do so as well.
We call for an end to hostile and demeaning rhetoric based on race and gender. In the 21st century, such rhetoric should be a thing of the past, read about in history books and not part of the history we make today.
We, the member communions of the National Council of Churches, admit we have much to confess about our own hostile actions and demeaning language about race and gender. We have become critically aware of how our own language has contributed to the divisions in this country. We ask the candidates to engage in the same kind of self-reflection, to speak to our highest common ideals, and to work together with those who elect them to form a more just society.