The Deficit of Speech

When was the last time snow was on the ground in 49 of our 50 states? Welcome to the Winter of 2011. But the tragic killings and attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords in Tuscon, Arizona, last weekend are a somber reminder that this nation’s greatest challenge is not meteorological but moral. On this weekend that remembers the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., it is well for us to ponder the morality deficit America yet faces. Our civil (or uncivil) discourse has been under heightened media scrutiny since the Tuscon tragedy. And while it is not the purpose of this blog to evaluate the merits/demerits of the charged rhetoric of both major political parties in this nation, perhaps there is in all of this a renewed calling to the followers of Jesus Christ. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” our Master once intoned (Matthew 5:9). So stepping away from last weekend’s violence (perpetrated perhaps by one in the clutch of mental illness), how can radical disciples of Christ live out his calling to peace-making? Couldn’t we reject the use of violence in all its forms to advance peace? We could. But beyond that—what about our own discourse? How civil is it in our board rooms and dorm rooms and bedrooms? How civil is it with those we like, with those who don’t like us? If we infused Jesus’ call to become peacemakers into our daily conversations, what effect would it have on the words that pass our lips? “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). At some point radical Christianity and Adventism have to move beyond petitions against hand guns and protests against war. For those who insist on these forms of public advocacy, Jesus’ enjoinder—“This ought you to have done, and not leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23)—is timely. Namely, until peace-making infects/affects the very words we articulate in public discourse or in private conversation, until our speech as radical followers of the Christ is “full of grace” and “seasoned” with the salt of the Golden Rule (saying to others what we wish they would say to us), what good is all the championing of peace and justice and morality on the broad stage of public attention, when our private speech is uncivil, unkind, uncalled for? But in the end could it be that the example of our Master under provocation and verbal assault is peace and grace’s unassailable weapon? “But Jesus kept silent” (Matthew 26:63). No words at all are sometimes the most potent of all, aren’t they? So then why despair? In a world of such wanton violence, let us renew our choice to follow the Peacemaker. And with words carefully chosen and seasoned by his grace, let us win the heart of both friend and foe with language—private or public—that honors the Christ we follow.