Prayer Breakfast Urges “Cultured Humility”

By Neil Earle

On February 27 the Glendora Ministerial Association arranged for Mayor Gene Murabito to invite civic leaders and service groups to the regular city Prayer Breakfast. Reverend Karen Davis of First Christian Church, who heads up the local ministerial association, and Mayor Gene Murabito welcomed more than 200 attendees to the Glendora Country Club to participate in prayers and music reflecting what the Mayor praised as “a strong faith community” in the San Gabriel Valley. The mayors of neighboring Azusa and other cities were also in attendance.

Reverend Susan Scranton of the Planning Team had arranged for the Sounds of Grace hand bells group from Grace Episcopal Church to play selected pieces both to begin the meeting and weave though the program. Directed Prayers were offered for the nation, the community and Glendora families and schools.

This year’s keynote message, “Walking Humbly in the Public Square,” was presented by Dr. Richard Mouw (pictured, left) of Fuller Theological Seminary. “We are gathered here to ask an authority beyond debates and politics for help in our daily affairs,” Dr. Mouw said. The Christian call to work together before “the Ruler of all” can only help to serve the common good, he added. He quoted Jeremiah 29:7 where the prophets urged the Jewish exiles in Babylon to seek the peace of their new city. That is an excellent model for Christians to follow – “to feel a common bond of kinship among those with whom we live and work.”

Shock Jocks and Viral Media

In his talk Dr. Mouw alluded to the book he published in 1992 when religion seemed to be at the center of so much discontent in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Israel and other places. He reissued the book under the title Uncommon Civility: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World after the United States’ own Congressional election of 2010 when the social fabric of the nation appeared badly unraveled. One could hear all manner of charges and counter-charges amplified now by what are called the social or “viral” media” – the blogs, cable TV, i-phones, talk shows, twitters and tweets. At the time it was not uncommon today to hear radio hosts either asserting that President Obama is a secret terrorist or tune to a “shock jock” claiming that Vice President Dick Cheney helped plan the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

In such an atmosphere President Mouw, a Christian philosopher by calling, sought to define civility. “Civility,” he wrote, “is public politeness. It means that we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners toward people who are different from us.” He might have also added that the word is related to “civilize” or “civics,” not to mention “civilization” itself. Mouw sees Christian civility and gentleness undermined by the crusading spirit. “Crusaders are people who think the cause they are fighting for is so important that they must use all means at their disposal to win.” He added: “Some Christians seem to be unmoved by a plea for honest understanding. They don’t appear to care whether they are fair in characterizing the view of their opponents.”

“Uncommon Decency”

As Dr. Mouw knows from his Reformed perspective there is something in human nature that is bent toward the negative. Hence the constant need for real Christianity to shine through the depressing storm-clouds threatening to engulf orderly society. Mouw is not reluctant to be a public pastor. He cites Titus 3:2 in his book which says “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show courtesy to everyone,” to honor everyone (1 Peter 2:17). The author documents how the church has often harbored the diametric opposite of such incivility. He does oppose “conviction-less civility.” All active Christians will have convictions, Mouw knows, but the trick is to temper them with Biblical standards of “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Uncommon Decency cites cases. The author reports on one lady who was an outspoken anti-abortion advocate until her own daughter was pregnant as the result of a brutal rape. “Her all-or-nothing rhetoric had been a substitute for an honest wrestling with the issues.” Nor is Mouw overly warm to the idea of super-patriotism. Patriotism is one thing but “no country should ever be encouraged to actually think of itself in Best Nation terms. Nationalism and super-patriotism are forms of idolatry.”

This was a hard-hitting little book. Those at the Glendora Prayer Breakfast listened attentively as this respected Christian voice touched on these themes and reemphasized the word “reverence” in dealing with one another – “respect for human dignity and differences grounded in humility before the Living God” he said, referencing Psalm 139:23-24.

In 1992 he had written “Reverence toward others is not an attitude that has been highly prized in the Christian community.” Richard Mouw is himself a respected voice for moderation in the Christian community which made him a timely speaker on February 27. Some at the breakfast agreed that the theme of civility is never out of date. Thanks were given to Prayer Breakfast sponsors who included 20-30 Kiwanians in attendance and ranged from America’s Christian Credit Union to Southern California Gas Company. Cyndy Tessitor, Kandy Nunnn, Pat Luokota and United Methodist pastor Doug Hodson of the Prayer Breakfast Planning Team once again provided a very unifying and ecumenical event these last several years. Long may it continue.