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In our opinion: What America can learn from the National Cathedral's call for character

That call for character should not be a rallying cry for sameness; America will always have room enough for a rich diversity of thought, opinion and persuasions.

A view of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
A view of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Siubo11A via Wikimedia Commons

Places of worship stand as beacons of hope and renewal, offering all who pass through their doors a chance to recalibrate their frame of mind and consider higher, holier ways of living. That legacy gives Americans all the more reason to ingest the call for character from the National Cathedral and reconsider their motivations in today’s tense political world.

Faith leaders at Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital penned a letter on Tuesday centered on one simple question: “Have we no decency?”

Most headlines billed the letter as an indictment of the president, as much of it was aimed at the words and rhetoric emanating from the White House. But dig a little deeper and there’s no question the authors are more concerned with the heart and soul of every American.

“We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God,” they write. “What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.”

They speak to an endangered principle that’s headed for extinction if the U.S. stays firm on its present course — the truth that, as human beings, every man and woman in this country has power within themselves to reframe their thoughts, check their attitudes and change their behaviors.

Put another way, the authors are admonishing Americans to follow the well-worn adage of being part of the solution, not part of the problem. What those at the National Cathedral understand — indeed, what their Christian faith teaches — is that before pointing fingers, individuals ought to first ask themselves, “Is it I?” Do I accept hate-filled speech? Do I spread false narratives or exaggerated perceptions? Do I stand for truth and do so with kindness?

Honest answers to those questions will do more for the political and spiritual health of the country than any amount of social media furor or impeachment inquiries. We support the wisdom of author and evangelical Michael Gerson when he affirmed, “A democratic country is generally not saved by the virtues of a single man but by the composite character of millions of principled citizens.”

America needs a call to character, a moment of recalibration. The data makes clear the country is discontented with the status quo: A full 85% of Americans believe the political discourse has taken a turn for the worse in the past few years, according to Pew Research Center.

That call for character should not be a rallying cry for sameness; America will always have room enough for a rich diversity of thought, opinion and persuasions. But sound individual character ought to maintain that diversity while operating in a sphere of civility, kindness and tact. It begins by committing one’s self to abide by those principles and simply encouraging others to do the same.

For help starting, look to faith leaders at the National Cathedral who put those traits on display, choosing to end their letter not with a protest but with a prayer.

“(On inauguration day) we prayed for the President and his young Administration to have ‘wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.’

“That remains our prayer today for us all.”

To that we add our amen.