Is Prayer Washington's only Hope for Civility?

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WASHINGTON -- The Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., that took six lives and critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shocked the political world.

There were moments of silence at the White House and the United States Capitol and tears on the House floor.

"Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said when Congress came back into session after the shooting.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle called for civility, which led to the symbolic gesture of Democrats and Republicans sitting together at the president's State of the Union address.

"We want to change the tone and show the public that we can work together," Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said.

During his address to the nation, President Obama also called for civility.

"What comes of this moment is up to us," he said. "What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight but whether we can work together tomorrow, and I believe we must. That's what the people who sent us here expect of us."

Skeptics: 'Don't Hold Your Breath'

However, some in the media who cover politics are skeptical.

"The tone has been changed as a result of Tucson at least temporarily. But we don't know how long that will last," Dan Balz, with The Washington Post told "The Brody File."

Another Brody File guest, the National Journal's Fred Barnes, noted that the nation's political parties had become more "ideological."

"Remember, there used to be liberal Republicans and there were conservative Democrats in the South," he said. "Now the Republican Party is ideologically uniformly conservative and the Democratic Party is almost uniformly liberal."

"When you have that ideological difference, they're going to clash more than they did in the past," he added.

Reaching Across the Aisle

Meanwhile, the president has promised more cooperation with Republicans. And he has met with the GOP leadership in the House, recently hosting Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., for a lunch at the White House.

The Republican leaders said they had good discussions with the president and vice president. But the differences are obvious.

"I guess the particulars and the details will be where the disagreements may lie," Cantor said after the meeting.

The issues that could prove to be the most difficult to come together on are health care and spending cuts. Political watchers say the current culture in politics could be to blame.

"Political industry, which is a real industry now in a way that it wasn't 20 years ago, is geared only for combat. It is not geared for compromise, cooperation or anything else," Balz said.

Is Prayer the Answer?

However, two congressmen recently told the "The Brody File" that no matter the culture, Republicans and Democrats can come together.

"We shouldn't buy the world's idea that prayer is the last resort - it should be the first resort," Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., said.

He and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., lead the Congressional Prayer Caucus, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers that comes together each week just off the House Floor to pray before votes. They have developed a close friendship, despite their political differences.

"Mike and I may disagree on issues, but you would never find a situation where I would say anything bad about Mike, or I don't think he would say anything bad about me," Forbes said.

The pair believes prayer could be what other members of Congress need to share, in order to come together.

"A lot of times someone will engage me and they can talk for 45 minutes they're so fired up or upset or passionate about an idea," McIntyre shared. "And then I'll say 'Well, would you take five minutes to pray about it? And I've never had anybody say no they wouldn't."

"Usually they kind of pause a minute and say 'really?'" he continued. "And I say, 'Yeah, do you know there is a Prayer Caucus and we do seek wisdom? And obviously if you're that passionate about this country or about us wanting to make the right decision, will you join us in prayer about it?'"

Vital Role of Christians

The Prayer Caucus is growing. It's standing room only with Republicans and Democrats. Prayer may not be the first thing all members of Congress think of, but it's clear they're doing something right.

It could be a model for others in this quest for civility.

Mark DeMoss, an influential figure within evangelical circles, said Christians play a vital role in the process.

"I think as people who identify ourselves as followers of Christ, we have an even greater responsibility to behave a certain way." DeMoss said.

So, what is the role of Christians in the quest for civility in politics? McIntyre said it's important to keep things in perspective.

"You may disagree with them philosophically on the issue, but please remember God also created them," McIntyre said. "And you know, you ultimately hope that their heart and mind will come to a realization that in their faith, they can deal with this issue."

"And whether they come to the same conclusion or not, that's ultimately up to them," he added.

"You can sometimes disagree with someone without really vilifying that person, and we're not perfect at it," Forbes said.

"Mike takes a lot of hits from his party; I take hits from my party because of our relationship," he continued. "But yet we think it's so important that we do that for Congress and hopefully for the country."

Originally published Feb. 17, 2011.

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Dana Ritter and David Brody

Dana Ritter and David Brody

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