November 3rd, 2011
10:47 AM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – The faith community needs to be a check against political vitriol in the 2012 election, which two religious leaders say has the potential to be the "ugliest campaign" in decades.
Jim Wallis, the progressive CEO of Sojourners, and Richard Land, the conservative head of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, are two religious scholars with opposing political views. But at their joint event at the National Press Club in Washington Wednesday, they agreed on some issues as they discussed and debated faith and the 2012 election.
According to Wallis, while he disagrees with Land on most political issues, they were able to have a civil debate - something Wallis hopes politicians can learn from.
"Richard Land and I are friends and we agree and disagree about policy matters. But the way we talk about it is in a civil manner," Wallis said.
The discussion, moderated by Amy Sullivan of TIME Magazine, ranged from income inequality to energy policy. While Wallis and Land disagreed at times, they did so "without questioning the other's character," Wallis said.
He said the faith community must not be in the pocket of only one party, but must hold both parties to the same standard.
"Our moral values and commitments don't fall along left, right, liberal and conservative lines," Wallis said. "I think that truth does matter and holding both sides accountable when they are not telling the truth, that is a good thing we can do."
Land agreed, saying that the faith community in America must lead by example.
"Instead of attacking the person, we deal with issues and we call people when they start straying from that," Land explained. "We are going to have to be very watchful. I think the temptation for this one to get down and dirty is going to be overwhelming."
Both men, speaking from their respective ideological viewpoints, said there was cause for concern about the path this election could take.
Land said he worried that when President Barack Obama's re-election campaign looks at the polling numbers, they will realize that Obama "has got no choice if he wants to get re-elected but to take the focus off of issues and start saying, 'Well, my opponent's worse than I would be.'"
Wallis noted that the bar was set for a vitriolic campaign when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his top priority was to make Obama a one-term president.
Though it may be to difficult to stop, said Land, the key is being able to debate sensitive, moral issues without attacking someone's personal character.
"I can disagree with everything that Obama does and still not attack his character or his personality and his patriotism," Land said. "I think he is generally doing what he thinks is right for the country."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.