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Streaming live in 2020, worse than H.G. Well’s science fiction nightmare:  THE WAR OF THE WORDS. 

Just when you think Twitter can’t get more toxic or Facebook more fractious, the impending elections are about to unleash a social media war of poisonous words.  Instead of joining the fray, you might want to keep your own supply of verbal cyanide under lock and key.  

   My wife, Joyce, recently shared a Facebook post: the story of a bellicose media personality who sarcastically labeled a former U.S. President a “retard.”   A 30-year-old Special Olympian with Down syndrome responded to her use of the R-word with an eloquent and elegant letter.  His measured, articulate and kind response proves that someone born with an intellectual disability can be much wiser than an Ivy-League graduate.  After winsomely educating this verbal terrorist on the damage effects of her hate speech, he signed off, “A friend you haven’t made yet, John Franklin Stephens.”  

   You can learn a lot from a person with Down syndrome. You can also learn what not to do from Evangelicals who allow their faith to be hijacked by partisan politics.  I recently witnessed a Facebook post that displayed the photo of a protester carrying a sign that offended several of my Evangelical friends. They each wrote in big bold letters that he was a “moron.”  They might as well have screamed in unison, “You’re a retard!”  Who do you suppose disappointed our Lord more:  the protester with the sign, or the Jesus followers who called the guy a moron?   

What Would Jesus Do?  

   Do you remember when that angry lynch mob dragged an adulteress to the town square for a public shaming and stoning.  But Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  

   There are all kinds of stones. We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The tongue has no bones, but it can crush hearts, hopes, and spirits.  Washington Irving wrote, “The tongue is the only cutting instrument that grows sharper with use.”  Solomon said in his Proverbs, “In the tongue lies the power of life and death.”  Before we throw verbal stones at those who offend us, we should remember what Jesus said: “[They] who are without sin should cast the first stone.”  If we took the time to recount our own sins, we would never hurl hurtful words at other sinners.

How Does Jesus Judge Hateful Words?

   In Matthew 5, Jesus talks about how we kill others with hate speech.  If you find it hard to believe that your tongue is a murder weapon, insert the words, “argument led to murder,” in your Google search engine.  Within 0.42 seconds, you’ll have seventy-nine million, two-hundred thousand results.  

   This is so serious that Jesus said, “Anyone who calls his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be in danger of the council, but anyone who says, ‘You fool’ shall be in danger of hell’s fire.” [Matthew 5:22] The word “Raca” is Aramaic for airhead, empty head or brainless.  Today we might say “idiot” or “retard” or “moron.”  You might argue, “Jesus was saying it’s a sin if it’s directed at a brother. But not everyone is my brother.”  Nice try, but that won’t wash.  Whether a believer or not, everyone is a son or daughter of our heavenly Father.  That makes every person on earth a brother or sister.  Even our worst enemies bear our Father’s image.   So, the next time you’re ready to lob demeaning words at a child of God, remember that their Father is watching, and he’s not going to be amused. 

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel 

   There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing, but we don’t have to  be disagreeable. There are many ways to discuss issues intelligently.  Great debate is a beautiful art to behold.  But the lowest and laziest discourse is the ad hominin argument.  That’s Latin for “against the man.”  It takes no intelligence, reasoning skills or preparation to attack someone personally, rather than deal with the issues that divide.  When you get down in the gutter of name-calling, you are closer to hell than you might think.  

A Final Word from Jesus’ Half-Brother

   He gave sage advice when he wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.” [James 1:19] Be quick to listen!  You will never learn anything new by telling people what you already know.  It’s the listener who learns.  The obstinate never do.  Wisdom is the reward you get from a lifetime of listening, when you might have preferred to talk.

   Be slow to talk.  If our mouths are like loaded assault weapons and our words hollow-point bullets, then we should keep them under lock and key.  British writer, Dorothy Neville, once said, “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at a tempting moment.”

   Be slow to get angry.  Mark Twain wrote, “Anger is like acid that does more harm to the vessel where it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”  Cable news shows and social media build their ratings by feeding the anger of their target audiences.  Political candidates tailor their messages to get you angry enough to go to the polls.  Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, and other social media platforms can be snake pits.  If you aren’t careful, you will be snake bitten by verbal venom—charges and countercharges, half-truths and outright lies, stupidities and absurdities.  Get caught up in the toxic anger, and you might become a venomous snake yourself.       

    Here’s a bit of advice: instead of watching CNN, MSNBC, or FOX News, catch a good Netflix movie, play a board game with your family, go for a long walk, read a good book—or, better yet, the Good Book.  You might stay away from Facebook and Twitter until after the elections.  When a political email shows up, hit delete.  And never forget this:  whatever happens on November 3, 2020, God will still be on his throne and the sun will come up on the fourth. 

Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative