(RNS) A coalition of more than 50 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders sent an open letter to Congress urging a “time of soul searching” and national dialogue about “violent and vitriolic political rhetoric.”
The letter was released Thursday (Jan. 13), a day after President Obama led a memorial service for the six people killed and nearly two dozen wounded by a gunman at a Tucson meet-and-greet for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.

Some commentators have linked the shooting to America’s heated political climate, though accused shooter Jared Lee Loughner’s motivations remain unclear.

The clergy statement, printed in a full-age ad in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, was signed by megachurch pastors Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Rev. Joel Hunter, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, Nathan J. Diament of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America, and religious leaders from Arizona.

“In our churches, mosques and synagogues, we come together not as members of a certain political ideology or party, but as children of God and citizens called to build a more perfect union,” the letter said. “We pray that you do the same.”

A November poll by Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found that four out of five Americans think the lack of respectful discourse in our political system is a serious problem.

Faith-related calls for civility, however, have met with limited success so far.The Civility Project, a Christian-based effort launched in 2009 and sent to all 585 members of Congress and sitting governors, shut down Jan. 3 after only three lawmakers had signed on.

Several Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, have also put out civility statements in the past year.

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