Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why What We Say Matters

Words mean something. What we say matters. Unfortunately, when Christians are fighting the culture war, that tends to be forgotten. I know some Christians might quickly point the finger at the godless atheists who berate their religion and call them names as a justification for the type of rhetoric they use.  As Christians, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, especially when it comes to the things we say. James puts it like this (3:3-12):
"If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."
It's clear, we have the choice to heal or to hurt with our words. We can use our mouths to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know it or we can use it to curse those we come in contact. Brennan Manning once said "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle." I wonder how many people have been so close to follow Christ but because someone "religious" alienated them with their words, it was all for naught. I once read an article where Mike Dirnt, the bassist for Green Day, told a story about how he attended a church for a while after his mother died until the pastor told him she was in hell because she smoked cigarettes. What would've happened if that pastor hadn't said that? Only God knows of course, but he could've been instrumental in that young man's life. 
Unfortunately, Christians feel like they are silenced by "political correctness". Sometimes they are but frequently that's an excuse to use inflammatory rhetoric. I have heard people proclaim they are politically incorrect and proud of it. Now, let me be clear, I'm not saying people should be silent about what they believe but rather that they should use winsome, sensitive rhetoric. I am amazed by the way many Christians rely on stereotypes, defend the use of slurs, etc. We are the ambassadors of Christ, someone willing to sit down and eat with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Should we not be willing to do the same? Instead of pushing people away, we should be bringing people closer. Instead of protesting a gay pride parade, have you taken the time to personally get to know and share your beliefs with someone from that community in a loving way? That's one example from a hot button issue in the "culture war" but the principle applies to any other.  I read about one Christian group who stood outside abortion clinics. Instead of protesting or yelling at the women going in or out, they would tell them that they loved them, that Jesusnloved them, that they had better options. This particular group used constructive means of showing others the kingdom of God in a relevant issue.
There are 3 main things we should do to make sure we are being constructive in our discussions. The old proverb says, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." we show that level of caring by listening. Even if someone believes something polar opposite of us, until we show them we care, that we respect them, and that we are willing to listen, they won't care what we say or think. Listening helps us to relate to others better. It helps us know them and find some common ground. 
Very often, you hear the term "culture war" that categorizes the relationship that exists between Christians and the world. The tension seems to be in the wrong place. It is consistently over political issues, characterized by angry protests and aggressive talking heads on TV. Rather, it should be shown by how we live our lives. Our routines, words, and actions should be contrary to the world because they are dictated by Christ. We are Christ's hands in the world. We should use that to pull people towards Him instead of pushing them away. It may sound cliche, but it is nevertheless true: think before you speak.