W. Mark Clark, associate general minister for the United Church of Christ, is one of several Christian leaders working to change the tone of politics in this country by "stopping the angry rhetoric and trying to come together." Clark, one of two dozen clergy and lay leaders participating in the Better Angels Summit May 14-15, is in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of the Faith & Politics Institute, a leadership organization that aims to bridge gaps in people working for democracy.
"We're gathered here with a group of leaders — people from national faith groups, denominations and other faith groups — across a theological and political perspective," Clark said of the event," and we're talking about how to introduce a sense of stability in public discourse."
The UCC's presence at the event among other religious denominations is a recognition of the UCC's role in helping shape constructive dialogue from a faith-based perspective. Joining Clark in Washington are representatives from the Episcopal, Catholic, Evangelical, Presbyterian and Baptist faiths, as well as social justice groups. The goal of the summit is to have the Christian leaders work on a common goal, to change the tone of the political climate in the U.S., hopefully restoring the American public's confidence among elected officials.
"We're hearing that the American people tell pollsters that they are ashamed [of] their Congress," Clark said. "We are hoping as faith leaders to work with members of Congress to begin to change that by asking them to put the American public and their constituents ahead of party lines."
The Better Angels Summit builds on a meeting that took place in June 2012 by encouraging more stability from government leaders and minimizing the divisive effects between opposing parties in Congress. Last year, the gathering produced the Better Angels Statement. "While we do not agree on some issues, we are concerned that excessive polarization in politics is harming America," the statement reads.
"This summit is going to take a big step in the right direction," said Liz McCloskey, president of Faith & Politics. "We have brought together some of our nation's Christian leaders and created a space for them to discuss and come to their own collective set of priorities for taking a leadership role in bringing us to common ground."
The event began on Tuesday, May 14, with participants setting the stage for civic dialogue during the summit, and outlining some of the challenges constructive communication. On Wednesday, the leaders met with Congressional representatives and senators and discussed ways they could collaborate in their work.
"We just heard from a few members who seek to work across the aisle, in a bipartisan effort, to bring stability back to the halls of Congress — which is a positive start to this process — and we prayed for them and with them," Clark said.
"I'm honored to be here to represent the UCC in these dialogues," he added. "We weren't able to be here for the first conversation, but I'm glad they reached out to us."