Words are powerful. There’s so much power for good in the words we use. The opposite is also true. Words can cause great harm.
Last week was a good example. Two African American men were shot by white police officers. Then, five police officers were killed in Dallas at a protest. By many standards, it was an awful week.
Then, a lot of people talked about it.
When tragedy hits I try to speak as little as possible. I rely on a few phrases that, I hope, will express love and comfort to those who are hurting. Being present speaks about as loudly as anything.
On the other hand, some seem to view tragedies as platforms. Maybe it’s because they don’t know anyone directly involved. Either way, these terrible events created an opportunity for some people to make a point.
It should take incredible tact and sensitivity to address something so tragic in a public way.
Unfortunately, many of the remarks I read lacked both.
I’m really not concerned about how my non-Christian friends talk about these issues. When people who don’t follow Jesus don’t act like they’re following Jesus, I’m not shocked.
But, I am concerned with how my fellow Jesus followers talk about these issues.
Here’s why I think it’s important enough to write about…
I’m afraid some Christians might be forfeiting their influence in the broader culture because of their inability to engage in a loving way.
Granted, sometimes the loving thing to do is to confront, have the hard conversation, or tackle a problem that no one wants to. Love isn’t all rainbows and lollipops. Love isn’t disengaging, either.
You can’t deny that love should be our calling card as followers of Jesus. It doesn’t matter what we do or how right we are if we don’t love people. Whatever we do or say, it needs to be done and said with love.
You see this all over the scriptures.
Jesus was once asked what was most important (Mk. 12:28). The question was intended to be a trap. But, he left no room for doubt when he said…
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6
That’s pretty clear.
First Corinthians 13 also comes to mind. Specifically…
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1
We have a role to play in these situations. It’s one that’s too important to forfeit by engaging in these conversation in an unloving way. We can be agents of reconciliation during these times.
I recently read a statement by Captain Ronald Johnson that perfectly expresses this.
Captain Johnson is the Missouri highway patrol officer who coordinated the law enforcement response to civil unrest in Ferguson, MO following Michael Brown’s death.
“The strongest voice that brought calm to Ferguson was the clergy and those of faith that came out and ministered to the citizens of St. Louis…
when the law enforcement voice or [school] superintendent’s voice…could not calm the crowd, the faith of God did.
We’ve gotten to this point [where a Ferguson situation is possible] because we’ve stepped away from our faith.” Good Faith, p. 165
It bears repeating: we do have a role to play in these situations. Our role is to be agents of peace and reconciliation who act in love. Let’s not forfeit that role in order to make a point.
Without love, we can’t be the voice of reason. No one will listen to us, even if we have words of life and hope. To borrow Paul’s metaphor from 1 Cor. 13:1, without love, the only thing people hear is…
clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang.