Shame on U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for his outburst during President Obama’s address on health care to a joint session of Congress.

Multiple media channels are reporting that Joe Wilson is the person who yelled, “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech on Sept. 9. Regardless of ideology or opinion, the president of the United States, whoever he or she may be, deserves the respect of the American people and certainly deserves a civil reception in the halls of Congress.

The battle over ideas in this country has degenerated into a name-calling, fear-mongering contest. There was a time in America when elected leaders debated with civility and respect, staking out their positions with compelling arguments.

But today’s political climate fosters a battle to the death with rational thought cast aside for the 30-second sound bite. We can do better than this. In that spirit, John McCain called on Wilson that same night to apologize to the president of the United States. (In an amazingly quick turn-around, and after blistering condemnation from Republicans and Democrats, Wilson issued an apology to the president, according to

As pastors and church leaders, as Christians in an increasing post-Christian culture, we have the opportunity to model respect, civility and good citizenship for our congregation and community. Let’s have a healthy debate on all the issues. Let’s be firm and frank. Let’s challenge each other’s positions with facts and passion.

But let us also make sure that in the end we emerge from any debate with our character strengthened, our insights broadened and our heritage enriched.

Southern Baptists have been embarrassed by the likes of Wiley Drake, who brazenly bragged about praying an “imprecatory prayer” that President Obama would die. Another irrational pastor, Steven Anderson, is featured on YouTube advocating the death of the president. This must end in America and most certainly in America’s churches. Freedom of speech and religion are predicated on responsibility, not rancor.

The sorry display of disrespect we witnessed on Sept. 9 could be a turning point for us all. Join me in condemning the Joe Wilsons of the world who would rather inflame than inform, who would rather destroy than discuss, who would rather tear down than build up.

Paul admonished young Timothy with these words, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3)

Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va. He blogs at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.

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