- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

In this new era of bipartisanship, the Center for Christian Statesmanship on Capitol Hill is trying to spread the message of civility.

Founded five years ago by the Florida-based Coral Ridge Radio and Television ministry of the Rev. D. James Kennedy, the center also is sponsoring a "100 Days of Prayer" campaign, targeted at garnering prayer support for the first 100 days of the 107th Congress. As of yesterday morning, it had 14,382 commitments to pray from around the country.

Here are excerpts from an interview Bethany Warner of The Washington Times conducted last week with center director Frank Wright.

Q: What do you mean by "Christian statesmanship"?

A: The idea of statesmanship is someone who has a bedrock set of principles. They govern their life by that, they govern their political discourse by that, their efforts in public life by that. And they aren't willing to compromise that for personal or political gain.

There are probably a lot of people out there with some set of principles that they govern their life by, but when it comes to the area of compromise, that's a horse of a different color.

Christian statesmen are those who recognize that, ultimately, they are going to stand before God one day and give an account of their life. And if I read the Scriptures correctly, that will involve an account of our personal conduct and our public conduct as well.

The Founders clearly saw that. They believed that they were serving not just the nation in developing our system of government, and our institutions, but they believed they were serving God.

John Adams particularly talked about how frightful it would be to stand before God one day and to not have done that honorably or to have done that with base motivations. That's the idea we are trying to portray when we are calling for a restoration of Christian statesmanship.

We are calling for people to have the best interests of the nation at heart; who won't compromise for personal or political gain, but more than that, to recognize that their service in this place is something that they'll give an account to God for one day.

Q: Who are good examples of Christian statesmen or women?

A: In my opinion, that would be Sen. John Ashcroft.

Here's a man who didn't hold too tightly to the reins of power. When the Missouri elections were over and done with, there were multiple bases for which he could have challenged that election. Yet, he felt that this had come to him from the hand of God and that he was willing to accept that.

We're all willing to accept good things from God, but we're not always willing to accept things that aren't good.

I have gotten to know him personally over the last 5* years and he is one of the only people that I know that leads his own personal staff in devotions every morning that he is in town.

It's totally optional, but three, sometimes four days a week, he will gather in his office at 8 o'clock and he does what they call RAMP: read, argue, memorize and pray. They read the Scripture, they argue about what it says, they do a little Scriptural memorization and then they pray for one another.

And there are a couple of other guys on the Hill. [Rep.] John Hostettler from Indiana is another man I believe will be a Christian statesman someday. He doesn't take any PAC money, either. He said to me: "I came here to take principled positions as best I'm able and to do what's right as best as I can. And if the people of Indiana want to send me home so I can spend more time with my wife and children, that's just fine with me, thank you very much."

That was his attitude that is God put him here and if God somehow takes him away from here, that's from the hand of God, too.

It's the idea of George Washington, not holding too tightly to the reins of power. Three times in his life, Washington was the most powerful man in America. When he was approached to be named king, the man said, "I don't want to be king and don't ever talk to anybody else about that again." While he was president for the second term, the Constitution did not require term limits at that time. He voluntarily resigned his office so there would be an orderly transfer of power.

Q: What do you mean by civility?

A: There's the dictionary definition that's basically a social discourse or social interaction or conversation. Conversation is not just speaking, it's engagement in a way that respects others and enables disagreements to take place agreeably.

Civility is sort of the oil of social discourse it lubricates our engagement with one another and in the political context, it's more than just an oil. It's a balm that allows people to disagree agreeably.

For a variety of reasons, I think we see a fairly destructive framework these days when it comes to political discourse. There certainly is less civility on the Hill than ever before. There are some shining examples of it in bipartisan civility, but there are some shameful examples as well that are just hurtful to watch.

If your message cannot stand on the value of the ideas, if you've got to be uncivil in the way you present it and the way you deal with other people, I think there's some missing element in your message.

Watching Teddy Kennedy beat up on John Ashcroft and watching Ashcroft's calm and careful response you know that's got to hurt when people say those kinds of things about you. But he didn't respond in kind. He kept and maintained his equanimity in what I think is a very honorable way.

Sometimes we say politics is just a reflection of the culture, but politics is also transformational. It also affects what is going on in the culture. And this whole area of incivility is certainly one where politics has contributed and is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Q: What does your organization do on the Hill?

A: We're here for spiritual purposes and to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ to men and women in positions of influence.

We disciple the Christians who do work here and help them in their role of public service. Thirdly, we try to restore the vision of Christian statesmanship.

I go up on the Hill, personally, and I visit members of Congress. I make appointments, I go see them, I pray with them, I try to share my faith with those who I don't feel have a clear understanding of what Scripture teaches about our relationship with God.

I visit staffers as well, whether chiefs of staff or staff assistants. We don't show any kind of favoritism based on the ranks or privilege up there. And so we do a lot of personal contact, one-on-one, developing relationships, building friendships.

There's that famous quote by Truman, "If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog." So we're Fido to a lot of people on the Hill. We try to be their friend.

Q: How do people become more civil?

A: Civility will breed more civility. If I'm nice to you, you're more inclined to be nice to me. One of the reasons why Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch are friends is because they respect one another in terms of the way that they talk to each other and the way they treat each other.

And over the years, the friendship has been formed out of that respect. And so it's just being careful in your word choices. More than anything else, it's purposing to do it. It, like anything else in life, requires discipline.

One of the realities that we're going to have to deal with is that civility will often go unrewarded. Jesus said that if you love your family and those who love you, what is that? If you love your enemies, that's really something.

If I can be civil with you, who are civil with me, that's great. But the real value takes place if I can be civil and that civility is not returned. Civility will go unrewarded in some cases; but if it's worth doing, it's worth doing whether it's rewarded or not.

Q: Is your "100 Days of Prayer Campaign" going to be strengthened by the fact that President Bush has called the nation to prayer?

A: I do. Of course, the idea of the first 100 days of the administration is an artificial construct. I think, it came from Kennedy's administration, in that what happened in the first 100 days was the measure of how great this president was going to be.

It's a very artificial construct, but it does seem to be a crucial period in which during the very early days of the administration, his relations with Congress are established, his Cabinet appointments are either approved or not; his legislative agenda is presented to the Hill.

And we really believe that is a crucial period in his presidency and we believe that prayer is the appropriate response.

For all my comments about civility, this is going to be a challenging time and most politically divided time in the history of the republic except for maybe the time of the Federalists. I think we're more divided in a political, philosophical standpoint than we've ever been in the life of our country.

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