I used to make smart-aleck remarks when I was younger. Sometimes after making a sarcastic comment my mom would tell me, “Watch your mouth,” meaning, “Be careful what you say.”
Unfortunately, such advice needs to be given to many people in our society. We seem to be highly polarized, and very aggressive in our rhetoric.
As a teacher of “Introduction to Public Speaking” courses, I try early in the semester to help my students understand the appropriate and ethical boundaries to follow in their speeches. I work hard to help them understand how overly aggressive rhetoric can create legal problems since it is defamation, and that it is also wrong to use such a tone.
It does not represent solid argumentation or speaking abilities. It simply demonstrates someone who is unable to intellectually and appropriately engage others. Sure, it may be entertaining to watch on television news talk shows, but it does not really accomplish anything. It is even more problematic when Christians act this way toward other Christians.
Inaccurate and inappropriate comments have been made about the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, other ministries, and even churches and individuals. There have been a number of un-Christ-like statements lopped by some Missouri Baptists at their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of the comments written about the BGCM, other ministries, and even myself have been so far off reality that I cannot believe a “newspaper” would even publish them.
Often derogatory adjectives are added in front of an individual or organization to attack them. Such name-calling is not only inaccurate, but only makes the situation worse. While we may expect this type of mud-slinging in politics, it should have no place in church life.
In one article the author wrote that fellow Christians were being “asinine.” Such a word means someone is being foolish and acting like the King James Version word for “donkey.” Yet, this comment was made in a publication that is supposed to be a “pro-family” and “Christian” newspaper. How can one make such a comment about another member of the church?
The worst comment I think that has been made was one that compared comments made by several ministry leaders to Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister.
Goebbels justified the Holocaust that resulted in ethnic genocide that killed 10 million people, and he generated German support for the Nazis regime that sparked a world war in which over 50 million people died. No matter how much you disagree with another Missouri Baptist, no one has come even remotely close to the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
With these types of statements being made it should not be too surprising that when another Baptist convention in Missouri settled a lawsuit earlier this year, some of the charges they settled for were slander and libel—with some of the comments leading to those charges coming from the same newspaper the above comments I refer to were in.
So where do we go from here and how can we begin to fix this problem? Let me offer three quick pointers.
First, remember that everyone you rhetorically attack is a beloved creation of God and someone Jesus died for. You are literally attacking the image of God, since we were all made in that. This admonition is even more important when dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ. We are going to spend eternity together in Heaven, so let us try to at least get along here on earth (otherwise you cannot in good faith pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”).
The next step is to choose your words carefully and wisely. I always urge my students in public speaking courses to “watch their adjectives.” It is with unnecessary and inflammatory adjectives that we often get ourselves in trouble. In particular, the desire to label others can drastically hurt the chances of engaging in true dialogue.
Finally, even when we disagree with each other we need to make sure we do it in a nice and Christ-like manner. We must be careful to not let disagreements over minor issues separate us from cooperation on the major ones—fulfilling the Great Commission and Great Commandment.
Our society is becoming increasingly polarized. As this happens, our rhetoric has heated up and become more aggressive. Hopefully, Christians will set an example of appropriate speech and not slip down to the world’s standards.
The three pieces of advice I have offered here, which the BGCM strives to follow, can help improve the discourse. We will not always agree, but we can at least treat each other with Christ-like love and respect.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.