Not long ago, David French, the political commentator, author and veteran — he's probably my favorite conservative writer — wrote a stirring essay that reminded us of the importance of the Ninth Commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
"That's not just a command," he wrote. "It's a way of living."
As we splinter into us-vs.-them America, French quoted the Westminster Catechism, which describes the Ninth Commandment as:
" ... the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth ... a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers and slanderers ..."
I am awestruck by such a vision and ashamed at how often we trample over God's instructions.
But what if we didn't? What if we tried to take the Ninth Commandment seriously?
Here is the story of one political party attempting to do just that.
Several years ago, Democrats in Walker County, Georgia, were adrift; leadership was missing, a new anger was arising in politics, so a group of concerned citizens — don't all good stories start here? — began meeting with a new vision in mind.
"We determined to be a voice of reason, calmness and respect in the community, regardless of how others were speaking or behaving," said David Boyle, party chair, through email.
Over time, they reformed officially as the Walker County Democratic Party, not tied to a state or national party, but remaining a group committed to following a new political Golden Rule.
"We all agreed that, as citizens who care about our community, we needed to model kindness and civil behavior," Boyle said. "Our commitment came as a clear contrast to what seemed to be becoming a new norm of hateful sound bytes and vilification of those who have different views."
The intention later crystallized as a breathtaking mission statement:
"We embraced the principle of respectful communication with all people. We can disagree without being disrespectful or hateful or mean-spirited. Thus, our founding principle is: Respect for all people and respectful communication in every situation, regardless of what others may do or say."
They still advocate for policies and candidates, but they don't view other parties as enemies. Not on social media. Not in person.
"They are my friends and neighbors and that I will see them at the grocery store and the four-way stop in town," said Boyle.
On Saturday, March 26, Democrats from Walker, Dade, Cattoosa and Chattooga will lead a rally for "Kindness and Civility."
"A time of fellowship and encouragement, and to attempt a reset of discussions of politics toward kindness and respect," the news release proclaims.
The evening starts at 7 p.m. at the Walker Civic Center in Rock Spring, Georgia. Dessert, soft drinks, music, fellowship and a main speaker, the remarkable Joe Jenkins, founder of the Brave Effect, which helps inmates successfully re-enter society.
For more info, visit walkercogadems.com or call 706-764-2801
Boyle, who says he's "older than Newt Gingrinch," first voted for Barry Goldwater, but, in college began seeing clearly a rising predominant force in politics.
"Fearmongers all around," he said.
Boyle grew up on a farm in Noble, Georgia; he and his siblings could have attended all-white schools, but he remembers his family committing to integration in the name of Christ.
"We follow Jesus, not fear and hatred," Boyle recalls his parents saying.
After careers in ministry, social work and education, Boyle now leads the Walker County Democrats, whose membership totals around 120.
The work is both spiritual and political.
"If I respond with meanness, I feel that I have failed at a spiritual level," he said.
Both the conservative French and Walker County Democrats are saying the same thing: They remind us of the cause-and-effect phenomenon of our actions, particularly our speech. Doing this leads to that.
"Such speech can lead someone else to violence. I try not to respond with matching rhetoric, but to point out to those who will listen some fact-based logic and some indicators that such words damage our common good," Boyle said.
With a renewed vow to follow the Ninth Commandment, we can begin to alter, little by little, our approach to speech, social media, politics and neighbors.
"Why not discuss issues with civility and work for the common good?" Boyle said. "This approach involves trust, which is in short supply."
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at email@example.com.