Friday, October 1, 2010


Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.

~ Ecclesiastes 5:2, RSV

Language is powerful; it can be used to build up or to tear down, to hurt or to heal. From this point forward my goal is to cease using my words to tear down or to hurt – and, in the words of Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins, “If I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through, and if I can’t let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you.” [1]

I remember trying to mediate between two people who disliked each other. One party was willing to try; the other was not. His rationale for his spiteful remarks was, “I won’t be a liar.” I pointed out that he didn’t have to be cruel. There is always something nice to say, even if it’s “I like the color of your blouse.” It only takes a little effort to say something that will “build up” another person. As my mother –and many other mothers – often said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Civility seems in short supply these days. As much as some people rail against “political correctness,” at its most basic the PC movement may be a desperate attempt to remind us to “Do unto others as [we] would have others do unto [us.]” [2] According to Merriam-Webster “politically correct” is an adjective originally used in 1936 (!) and defined as conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated. [3] What’s so bad about that? [4]

Dr. Kathleen Greider, one of my seminary professors, once said something to the effect that being willing to engage in conversation with a person with whom we disagree is a sign of respect because it implies a belief that the person is capable of learning; that has stuck with me. [5] There is nothing respectful, however, in demeaning a person or his or her belief system. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. It is possible to be passionate about an issue without being offensive, or without becoming DEfensive, for that matter… because, if I am truly convinced of the rightness of my belief that belief can surely stand on its own merit.

I’m not saying that we all have to agree or pretend to agree. Certainly not. As it says on a key fob I carry with me, “Diversity is our strength.” But it is possible for people to listen – truly listen – to one another and to express differing beliefs without using “loaded” language that subtly or not so subtly denigrates the other person or position. It is possible to challenge even an intolerable position politely and without resorting to name-calling.

So, with God’s help… one day at a time, one breath at a time… as much as it depends on me… I will use words that heal. I will no longer make spiteful remarks about people whose politics are disagreeable to me… whose attitudes or even actions are anathema to me… who make spiteful remarks about me or about ideals that are precious to me. I will think before I speak, and when my very thoughts are mean-spirited I pray that God will gently rebuke me. From this moment, I resolve to be a new creature in Jesus the Christ.

Pastor Mary Jo

[1] Rich Mullins. “If I Stand” copyright 1988 BMG Songs, Inc.
[2] Matthew 7:12
[3] politically correct. Merriam-Webster at, Accessed September 30, 2010.
[4]See my earlier post, “An open letter,” dated September 4, 2009.
[5] I hope I can be forgiven for what is most likely an inadequate paraphrase!

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