My friend said to his mother, “Don’t worry about it. They are just words.”
In fact, she was right to worry. She was concerned about the wording changes in her church’s by-laws. Words that reeked of exclusion and fear.
She had prayed fervently that the ugliness that was sweeping through churches nationwide would not touch her church, but it did.
Words are never just words. Our words are sacred. When we were endowed with the power of speech, God gave us the power to bless or to wound others with our words.
The psalmist prayed that not only “the words of my mouth” but also “the meditations of my heart” would be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14).
Similarly, the Greeks used the word logos to mean words spoken as well as words formed in the brain but not yet spoken.
Words spoken and/or heard become part of our nervous system. They may stimulate an immediate response, or they may lie dormant for years.
Words are never just words. They carry with them the power of life or death.
Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are the most powerful drugs used by man.”
The U.S. has been tragically reminded of how destructive words can be when they are weaponized by someone with evil intent.
Our democracy was threatened when a mob set out to overthrow our government. It seems that some were actively looking for certain officials whom they intended to harm.
Some in the mob shouted, “Hang Mike Prince.” Others cried out ominously, “Naaaaancy. Oh, Naaaaancy.” Thankfully, they did not succeed in finding either.
Many police officers were injured, and one was killed. There was much destruction to our Capitol and the business of the Congress was delayed.
The former president of the United States is a master politician and showman.
He understands the power of words especially when the same inflammatory words are repeated day after day, week after week and month after month. He is skilled at name-calling and character assignation.
With his words, he has been successful in undermining the press, the scientific community, the intelligence service, the FBI and the CDC. He has mastered the art of destructive speech.
Most heinous of all, he succeeded in turning citizen against citizen. This clearly demonstrates why words are never just words.
With his acquittal in the second impeachment hearing, former President Trump was not held accountable for the manner in which he (mis)used his freedom of speech leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
There is something to be learned from all of this: Our words are a sacred trust.
We have the power of creation with our words. We can create a better world one person at a time.
We can speak words of encouragement, hope and caring. We can build each other up and help create a more harmonious environment. We can create community.
We can search for leaders whose speech is more uplifting. So much of political programming on the radio and television is toxic, as are political campaigns.
No, we do not live in a Hallmark world and finding those who model healthy speech is not easy, but it is worth the effort.
As a follower of Christ, even more troubling is the reality that so many Christian leaders sacrificed their ideals in order to be associated with the former president.
They have done great harm to their reputations and to their calling. They have encouraged many of their followers to choose a darker path.
Their actions mocked the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).
I believe that the attack on our Capitol is the worst calamity of my lifetime because it was not committed by a foreign power. It was committed by my fellow Americans at the urging of the former president.
Our words are important. Our words are powerful.
Let us use them wisely, so that they bring life not death.
A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.