Do you have “channel markers” in your life? I’m referring to those people whose deep insights and good example command your attention. Wherever you are in life, you keep half an eye on them (as you would a channel marker when you’re sailing) to see what they’re thinking, writing, or doing. A glance at their words and actions helps you chart a straight course.  

Jim Wallis of Sojourners is one of my channel markers. He’s a born-again Christian with a deep concern for peace and justice issues—so he confounds the conventional wisdom that religious always means conservative (and that liberal always means godless). His prolific writing has found expression in three books, a popular daily blog, and the magazine where he serves as editor-in-chief.

Yesterday, he asked me to sign a civility pledge.

Not just me, of course, but anyone and everyone. Like me (and probably you, since you’re reading this), Wallis is deeply concerned about the climate of polarization that pervades U.S. culture. Like me, he believes people of faith have a unique role to play in nudging us toward dialogue. So he’s asking said people of faith to sign his Covenant of Civility as a critical step.

I’m skeptical of pledge signing in general: it’s too easy to pledge and too hard to deliver. (Think New Year’s resolutions.) But this may be different. According to the site, “church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs” have already signed on. Just as important, Jim Wallis is a “channel marker” for a wide swath of the faith community—including, I believe, people in very high places—so anything he produces has more clout than the average effort.

Civility, as I’ve mentioned before, is only the first step, a precondition for the dialogue that draws us close to one another across all manner of divides. But it is an absolutely necessary first step, because you can’t talk—or, more important, listen—until you’ve stopped shouting. I encourage you to visit the site and sign the pledge.