A call for dignity and respect in politics

Golden Rule 2020

By Tammy Warren | Presbyterians Today

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, joined with other faith leaders to create “Golden Rule 2020.” Launched in November 2019, the initiative invites individuals and congregations to engage in political discussions with grace and civility. Courtesy of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

It’s a saying that can be found hanging on walls or embroidered on pillows fluffed up on sofas across the country — In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. Church school children are often taught it early in their lives, but the precept for the “Golden Rule,” which is rooted in the words of Matthew 7:12, is a call for just living that can be found in all cultures — and religions. And now, the Golden Rule is going from kitschy home décor to becoming a guiding principle in how to get along with one another, especially when it comes to political discussions.

Last November, exactly a year before the national elections, the “Golden Rule 2020: A Call for Dignity and Respect in Politics” was launched. The initiative, coordinated by the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, which promotes healthy political debate, invites individuals and congregations to commit to engaging in difficult conversations by taking a pledge to listen with love and seek to find the courage and resolve to build bridges of respect with others.

“We are united by faith and our common humanity, which overcome any divisions between us. This is the time when we must put forth our better selves and endeavor to make the world a better place for the children of the world,” said the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness. “It is our hope that Golden Rule 2020 will enable people of faith around the world to apply tolerance, love and acceptance in our political engagements.”

A website — goldenrule2020.org — was created, complete with resources for active listening, navigating conflict and resolving differences. Congregations will also find special readings and prayers, Sunday school lessons, use of a short liturgy, information about Golden Rule 2020 to use in bulletins, sermons on the need for dignity and respect, and suggestions about how church members can apply the Golden Rule to political discussions.

The idea for Golden Rule 2020 grew from a May 2019 meeting hosted by the National Institute for Civil Discourse at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. At this gathering, Hawkins and 20 other Christian leaders came together for two days to discuss how people of faith can work together to combat the incivility and division in the U.S.

“We have so much to offer when we stand for that which is greater than ourselves: the love of God within,” said Hawkins.

Gearing up again

Golden Rule 2020 was gaining traction as 2019 came to a close, but when the calendar page turned to 2020, a pandemic soon stepped into the news spotlight, only to be followed by an outbreak of protests for racial justice. By July 25, though, as social media feeds began posting “100 Days” — beginning the countdown to the Nov. 3 national elections — the organizers of Golden Rule 2020 knew it was time to step up its call for civil political discourse.

“After a few months of inactivity, we are once again gearing up and reaching out to the denominations and national organizations involved,” said Theo Brown, director of faith-based programs at the National Institute for Civil Discourse. New resource materials are also being added to the Golden Rule 2020 website.

Brown, a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, which is just blocks away from the White House, said it saddens him to watch the political news, both because of specific events taking place and because of how he sees people on different sides of issues talking past each other. “I also feel worried about the future and feel that we are headed for some very difficult times if we can’t heal the divisions we face now in our country,” he said. “We will never be able to solve our common problems if people of different political views are filled with anger and contempt for each other. The message of Golden Rule 2020 is that the teachings of Jesus offer us a way out. If we follow the Golden Rule and treat our political opponents with more dignity and respect, then we can begin to de-escalate the hostility and look for ways to work together.”

The leaders who created Golden Rule 2020 believe a large nationwide activity involving many different denominations will call attention to the fact that how we treat our political opponents is a moral issue.

“Churches have an important role to play in helping to heal America,” Brown said. “We hope and pray that local congregations will be active in efforts to increase understanding and bridge divisions in our country.”

Christian leaders say they’re certain that reviving civility will “take a village.” Those who helped create “Golden Rule 2020: A Call for Dignity and Respect in Politics” represent a range of denominational and organizational partners, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the American Baptist Churches USA, National Association of Evangelicals, the Episcopal Church, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Churches.

“Our main goal is to remind Christians that Jesus’ command that we ‘treat others as we want to be treated’ is relevant to political discussions … we are urging Christians to take the pledge on our website saying they will do their best to practice applying this principle in the days leading up to the Nov. 3 election,” said Brown.

Tammy Warren is a communications associate with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson, editor of Presbyterians Today, contributed to this article.


Some excerpts from Golden Rule 2020

Engaging in difficult conversations

  • Be curious and listen to understand.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment.
  • Note any common ground as well as any differences.
  • Be authentic and welcome that from others.
  • Be purposeful and to the point.
  • Own and guide the conversation.

Getting to know one another

The following is a list of Golden Rule 2020 questions designed to help people engage in healthy political conversations.

  • What are your hopes and concerns for your family, community and/or the country?
  • What would your best friend say about who you are?
  • What sense of purpose, mission or duty guides you in your life?
  • What does the Golden Rule mean to you?
  • Do you personally apply the Golden Rule in your interactions with others? If you don’t, what holds you back from doing so?
  • Do you assume good intent in those with whom you disagree, or do you find yourself skeptical? What experience brings you to this assumption?
  • How do the political divisions in our country impact your life at this time?
  • What do you think people can do to help bridge those divides?
  • What comes to mind when you consider applying the Golden Rule to your interactions over politics?
  • What would be the best first step for you?

A ‘Golden Rule’ prayer

We come together today to pray for our country and also for ourselves. We are thankful for the blessings of living in the United States, but increasingly fearful for our future because of the enmity and bitterness we see between our fellow citizens. Help us to be more mindful of your teachings and to act in love to help heal the deep divisions in our country. We pray that you will keep us mindful of your great command to “treat others as we want to be treated” and that you will help us find ways to apply that principle in our daily lives. We believe that your way of love and kindness can transform our country and ask your assistance as we seek to show that love to others — especially those who hold views very different than our own. Amen.


Learn more

Go to goldenrule2020.org to receive additional information to promote civility in your congregation and community.

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