It’s not a new idea: We reap what we sow.
At least as old as the writing of Galatians 6:7, it is a timeless principle.
When it comes to the relationship between hostile rhetoric and violent wrongdoings, the early apostle’s words provide a better perspective than what many of us were taught as children.
The adage, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you,” is a lie.
Not only do words hurt but they can quickly lead to the use of sticks and stones and AR-15s.
Telling a segment of people that they are victims (without evidence) and identifying as threats those unlike them creates fear, defensiveness and even outrage. Often, outrage gets excused and expressed in violent ways.
Demeaning people (by ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and identity, political affiliation, or other marks) in a weapon-saturated culture is particularly dangerous. We see the results almost daily in deadly attacks on the innocent at school, work, stores or concerts.
Jail cells hold many of those who were whipped into a frenzy by such rhetoric to the point they stormed into the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, in a destructive and deadly manner.
Several confessed that such behavior was not normal for them; they got caught up in the moment or they believed the falsities they were told.
There can be an overreaction to how one should speak about issues that impact our societies. Silence can be dangerous as well when we fail to speak up for those who are treated unjustly.
Expressing truthfulness, however, must always be a primary concern. The biblical proverb tells us: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21a).
The power of words to heal or destroy is hard to overstate. And we see the sow-and-reap results clearly.
In the post-truth era created in recent years — fueled as much by white Americanized Christians as any group — any parameters for resisting hostile rhetoric have fallen.
Whether what is said about others — particularly groups deemed the enemy — is truthful has become irrelevant. All that matters is winning and keeping enough support to hold domination over those whose lives are undervalued.
Such evil rhetoric has a clear cause and effect — and it is proudly made right here in the church-dotted U.S.A.
Unfair words and resulting hostilities get easily excused by a well-purchased political force of defenders eager to deflect their clear responsibilities.
Mental illness is a favorite scapegoat — along with deflections toward the need for thicker doors and a Dodge City-like, quick-triggered populace.
Grievance, most often shaped by untruths, induces and justifies retribution. It’s a short step from words to brutality.
“Come after me and I’ll come after you.” “We don’t have a country anymore.”
A whole bunch of grievance seeds are being carelessly thrown around. And, unsurprisingly, they are producing violent results.
The tragedy upon tragedy is the large degree to which professing Christian are engaged in this sow-and-reap practice. They mimic those driving an unethical seizing of power by excusing dangerous behaviors through false equivalencies and the regurgitation of provable lies.
Whether by dog-whistling or overt racist appeals, we see the public stirring of racial hostilities — designed to create fear and a license to behave in any manner that might alleviate it.
Dangerous rhetoric has been normalized in recent years by its rapid fire from irresponsible and often irrational public figures, some of whom are just now facing accountability for their destructive ways.
When truth is tossed aside as unnecessary waste, words become weapons. When those who identify themselves with Jesus add their weight to seed-sown acts of untruthfulness and hostility, the faith they claim is damaged as well.
Karen Swallow Prior, who in recent years taught courses on Christianity and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted this tragedy. Writing for Religion News Service about the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol building, she confessed: “As a Christian, I find that the greatest surprise — shock, horror, dismay — is that so many were drawn to the riot and the narrative that led up to it in terms interlaced with Christianity.”
Those last three words should be in bold. “Interlaced with Christianity” means diluting Christianity to the point that it starts with the same letters as “Christ” but reflects nothing of his life and teachings.
Hateful, violent behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is brought to a boil by a steady diet of words designed to enrage listeners.
Politicians, preachers, media personalities — even those of us who post on social media to small audiences —play a role. Sometimes a primary role.
In order to grow, such bad seeds need fertile soil. Sadly, the seeds of destruction often land and grow among professing Christians who — out of fear, ignorance and true convictions —choose deceit over decency.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.