Being Careful With Our Words
Note from Randy: In February, I dialogued extensively with those involved in the End of the Spear movie controversy. God has laid it on my heart how easy it is for Christians to believe and disseminate false information. Below is an excerpt from the response article I wrote. This segment of the article applies to far more than that particular controversy.
Gossip and misinformation flow unceasingly in the Christian community. One day, in Heaven, they will be burned to ashes by the consuming holiness of God.
To cite one of many examples of our Christian gullibility, the FCC still receives letters and phone calls from Christians who are hearing for the first time the lie circulating since 1975, that atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair is petitioning the FCC to ban religious broadcasting from America's airwaves.
Never mind that this woman died in 1995. The fact is she was never involved in such a thing even while alive! Yet the letters (I've been getting them for thirty years, most recently ten months ago) and phone calls and now emails continue to come in. Why? Because despite the fact that we complain against media bias, Christians tend to believe whatever we hear—in newspapers, websites, blogs and emails, and in personal conversation.
I have been sometimes guilty of believing the worst about my brothers without hearing their side of the story. It makes me ashamed. I confess it publicly. I repent of it. I pray I will never do it again, and if I do that I will be quick to repent.
Speaking of repentance, it is more than just saying "I made a couple of little mistakes, sorry. Okay, everything's fine now so I can move right on and get back to hammering my brother." When we wrong our brothers—I mean all of us, beginning with me—let's take it seriously.
Psalm 51 is an expression of pure repentance. Notice that there is no explanation of the extenuating circumstances, of how busy the king is, how demanding his responsibilities, how lonely the man at the top is, how irresponsible it was for Bathsheba to be naked on a rooftop, how Uriah was a neglectful husband, etc. David didn't point to others' failures. He didn't explain or rationalize or justify or qualify his sin. HE OWNED UP TO IT 100%. He didn't care how bad he looked. He just admitted he was wrong.
That's the kind of repentance we need to practice when we misrepresent our brothers and sisters and believe the worst of them. We dishonor our God and each other when we gossip and accuse and delight in our brother's alleged errors. And when we pass them on to others who use them to attack the reputations of our brothers, it is just wrong. We need to repent. I need to repent.
I encourage you, if you have stated to other people, or said something at your church, or forwarded an email linking to a website claiming something about others that is false (e.g., that the producers of End of the Spear knew Chad Allen was a homosexual activist before they offered him the part), go back to them and correct what you have said. If you hear others repeat these falsehoods, please graciously correct them and point them toward what is true.
Life and Death, the Tongue, Forwarded Emails and Blogs
The power of the words we speak is far greater than we realize. "Life and death is in the power of the tongue." Years ago I put together a number of Scriptures on the power of our words. Their cumulative weight is stunning. I encourage you to read them and meditate on them, and examine your heart and habits. These biblical principles apply every bit as much to our written words as our spoken ones.
In fact, usually our written words assume more permanence and reach further and wider. Let me say something to my fellow writers of books and blogs and emails, words which I direct at myself as well: the blessing of reaching further and wider becomes a curse when our words are untrue and ungracious.
These powerful tools we are using, emails and the internet and blogs, can serve either God or Satan, good or evil. And make no mistake, God holds us accountable for every word we say, including the careless ones. Jesus said, "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). This means we better think carefully before we pass on emails that may be false.
There is an inherent danger in blogs. Usually there is no editor. No checks and balances. Yet because you have words attractively placed on a screen, there is an illusion of credible research. Often the research is minimal and limited to internet sites.
But there are a lot of truths you can't just Google. You've got to make the effort to go directly and privately to your brother, just like Jesus commanded us to.
Blogs have no publisher with a legal department or wise counsel to look at potentially slanderous accusations and say "Have you gone to them and asked them to respond?"
After writing more than 50 books, I know there can be inaccuracies even after a dozen people in our office and at the publishing house have looked over manuscripts. But when it's just the lone blogger, where's the process, the give and take, the wise counsel and accountability? Where's the iron sharpening iron?
With blogs, there is often almost no gap between composition and publication. The potential result is misinformation by the truckload. If I'm cranky or tired or busy today, I can hammer on somebody without bothering to get my facts straight or allowing enough time to pass to evaluate my impulses biblically and get some wise counsel before proceeding.
In fact, some Christian blogs operate with a sort of mob behavior, where one person kicks somebody with a verbal cheap shot, emboldening others, and then a number gang up, using words instead of kicks and knives. Christians encourage Christians to beat up on other Christians, often without a full or accurate understanding of reality. Isn't all this a natural spawning ground for the "careless words" Christ says we'll have to give an account of on Judgment Day? James is right—the tongue "is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."
There are very good blogs, of course. But even good ones can unintentionally pass on some falsehoods. And sometimes our misspoken words are taken by others who will do something with them we never would have wanted.
The Biblical and Moral Mandate of Grace
All of us who believe Scripture agree that things such as adultery, homosexual relations, lying, and stealing are sin. But so is gossip. So is bearing false witness against your brother. So is pride and arrogance and sowing seeds of disunity.
Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In the case of the End of the Spear controversy, how would you like to be treated if you made some very difficult, gut-wrenching decisions and went to many spiritual advisors and believed God wanted you to go a certain direction, only to hear it said (by those who did not pour out their pleas for God's guidance with tear-stained faces) that you have betrayed the Christian community, and betrayed your father's heritage by doing what you believe God led you to do?
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18). "Strive for peace with everyone" (Hebrews 12:14). Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." God has indeed called us to battle, which takes boldness and courage. But do not mistake expressions of slander, cruelty, and verbal mob behavior as doing spiritual battle. Humility, grace, and peacemaking are often God's greatest tools in the battle for righteousness and justice.
Psalm 133:1 says, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"
What are we doing to cultivate this kind of unity? Sometimes we must disagree with our brothers. But are we going out of our way to assume the best rather than the worst? Are we laboring to share our opinions in a spirit of love and grace?
Proverbs 6:16-19 says there are six things God hates, seven things detestable to the Lord. "Hands that shed innocent blood" would apply to abortion. "A heart that devises wicked schemes and feet that are quick to rush into evil" could apply to both homosexual and heterosexual sin and their advocacy. But let's not stop there. The passage also includes a "false witness" and one "who stirs up dissension among brothers."
Wouldn't we all like to think that WE couldn't be guilty of any of the seven things God hates? I would. But if we say that, then we have "haughty eyes" and "lying tongues," which covers the remaining deadly sins. We all get nailed, don't we?
I would plead with the Christian community to respond to others with greater grace and humility. While "Judge not lest you be judged" is perhaps the most misused statement in Scripture, it does have its proper application, doesn't it? So does "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall," and "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."
So too does James 2:13, which says "judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!"
Where is the mercy among evangelical Christians? Personally, I've seen a lot of it. I've also seen a lot of unmerciful condemnation of the sort that Jesus repeatedly denounced.
Now I realize that some know nothing but "mercy" and tolerance, and know nothing of truth. I am not advocating this. I am a truth-oriented person. Truth has been very important to me ever since I came to Christ as a teenager. I was brought out of lies to believe the truth, and it is sacred to me.
But Jesus often condemned the Pharisees, those whose doctrine was closest to his own. Why? For their lack of grace. Jesus came full of grace and truth. I do not want the truth to be compromised. Our Jesus came "full of grace and truth." I think we should approach any controversy with a great measure of grace.
I have seen online a lot of questioning of motives of our brothers in Christ. This troubles me. We're told in 1 Corinthians 4:5, "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God."
God tells us, essentially, "Don't set up your own judgment seat, because I know the motives of the heart that you don't." We lack a few important qualifications for being judges: not only holiness, but a little thing called omniscience!
Those words of our Lord are worth repeating because clearly we are not heeding them: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36).
I have sometimes spoken careless words against my brothers. I pray that God would give me the grace and humility to speak my words more carefully.
I think Titus 3:2 is a good guideline for us: God calls us "to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men."
Wouldn't you love for those of us who are already each other's brothers and sisters to learn how to believe the best of each other? And to speak the truth to each other in love? And to be like Jesus toward each other: full of grace and truth?
One thing is certain: a world torn apart by suspicions and false accusation will never be won to Christ by a church riddled with the same.