Jim Daly, Russ Moore, and Sam Rodriguez have a jointly authored piece, and I’ve clipped a bit of it below, about how we speak of and to one another. I say this is the place to begin, but does it do justice to the biblical rhetoric where we find Jesus willing to refer to some people as dogs and swine, or to his brother, James, who is vigilant about the tongue but not afraid to call some folks adulterers for their moral failures?
What’s your wisdom on this piece? A place to begin or a place to stay?
(CNN) – We’ve all heard it, since we were schoolkids knocking about on the playground: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” A saying with good intent, to be sure, designed to steel young minds, and hearts, against the inevitable bruises that come with sharing childhood and adolescence with other children and adolescents.
But did any of us ever believe it was true? Even today – now that we’re older, hopefully wiser, having experienced the heartaches of everyday life more fully than we may have as kids – is it a statement we can stand behind?
We don’t think so.
Just about every day, a quick scan of the news headlines or a couple of keystrokes for a Google search serve up stories proving this old adage false. The evidence can come from picket signs, talk-show sound bites or something as short and simple as a 140-character tweet.
Clashes in Arizona over immigration policy. Public arguments over homosexuality in California. Christians and atheists lobbing verbal firebombs at each other in Washington, D.C. Sometimes, those at the center of the name-calling are famous. Most of the time, they aren’t. Well-known or not, their actions prove a singular truth: Names do hurt – and not just those on the receiving end of them.
To borrow the point of another, more accurate old aphorism: What we say about others reveals more about ourselves than the people we’re talking about. This is especially true for Christians, who encounter any number of verses in the Bible that point to how “sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness,” as the English Standard Version translation of Proverbs 16:21 puts it.
Jesus, as tended to be his way, was a bit more direct: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken,” he said in Matthew 12:36, adding: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
So, no, it is not news to any of us that we live in an electrocharged public square.
But it should be convicting to all Christians when we find ourselves contributing to this maelstrom. Derogatory terms for other human beings – regardless of how widely their views differ from ours or, more importantly, from the truths of Scripture – should never pass our lips. To call it rhetorical pornography, for the debasement it engenders, is not an overstatement.