It seems like political and cultural discourse in this country has come down to restoring to attack as the default position. Left vs. Right, Conservative vs. Establishment, Traditional Marriage vs. Marriage Equality – no matter the debate, the rhetoric is nastier than ever. While some chalk the nastiness of today’s speech up to the advent of Donald Trump as a Republican presidential candidate, I believe the seeds of this kind of discourse have been sown for years.
Can this trend stop? I believe it can, and I believe that it’s up to Christians and Jews, the followers of the God of the Bible, to lead the way.
The past Sunday, the pastors at both campuses of my church spoke about the power of our words. James, the brother of Jesus, reminded his readers how powerful the tongue can be.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
James 3:3-5 (NIV)
After church, I couldn’t help but think about how we believers can apply these principles when it comes to our cultural and political dialogue.
First of all, we should watch out when we feel the urge to insult or say something negative. Mama was right: if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all. No matter how right you think you are, no matter how clever or witty your retort may seem, to disparage or call names weakens your position.
The apostle Paul encouraged the church in Ephesus to be careful with the words they used:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (other than Jesus), made a similar point in the Old Testament:
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18 (NIV)
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
Proverbs 15:4 (NIV)
We want people to hear our opinions and convictions for their benefit, not merely so we can hear ourselves talk. Neutralizing our arguments with negative talk and words that tear down doesn’t advance the debate.
(And for crying out loud, stop using all caps on social media! This is one of the most annoying ways to get a point across, and, sorry, but I see Trump supporters doing it more than anyone else. If you post or comment in all caps, you can pretty much guarantee that I’ll scroll past what you have to say twice as fast.)
In addition to watching out for negative talk, we need to be positive in what we say. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Here’s the thing: many people hate the Right because they know its members by what they’re against. We should make ourselves known by what we’re for.
Take a look at both sides of the abortion debate, for example. It’s no accident that proponents of abortion choose the moniker pro-choice, while abortion foes opt to use the term pro-life. The same principle should go toward other issues. The world needs to know that the members of the Right are pro-family, that we’re in favor of everyone rising to the level that their hard work can take them, that we stand for freedom for everyone!
If the facts are on your side, deliver them in a positive and engaging way. Respond to insults with good cheer and humor. Be a happy warrior every time you speak out or debate. I wholeheartedly believe we can win more converts by being positive in what we say.
Solomon said it well when he said:
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)
Obviously this is true within our families, at work, and among our friends. But I also believe that if we’re careful with what we say and how we say it, we can affect change in the debate as a whole. We may have to start with a drop in the bucket, but enough small drops can fill the bucket quickly!