Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:25-29
Recently I attended a speech contest, and there was something that happened there that reaffirmed some concerns that I’ve been having for some time about public discourse – our abilities to speak about our differences, our perceptions about truth, and our tendency to repeat things, either on Facebook or in other ways, before knowing whether they are true, whether they are kind, or whether they serve any purpose other than to stir up emotions in others. All we have to do is look at our politicians these days, who spend their time refusing to cooperate with each other; blaming each other for everything that happens or doesn’t happen, and pretty much stopping progress on everything just to spite each other.
The speech contest I attended was a Toastmasters event, and right now I want to say that Toastmasters is a wonderful organization, and members of Toastmasters are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Toastmasters produces life-changing results for people who want to learn to speak in public and/or become good or better leaders. I recommend it highly to everyone (contact me for information about joining our chapter, or go to www.toastmasters.com to find a chapter near you). But, like most organizations, there are people from all walks of life who are members (and they are all welcome).
The first speaker at this event was one of those members who are “unique.” His speech was a hate speech, disguised as a joke, implying that Barak Obama is Satan. When the emcee interviewed him later, he said “obviously this man has a lot of faith,” because he had introduced himself as being a seminarian. I thought to myself, no, his faith is not obvious, but his hatred is. I am so thankful that our chapter member, Teena Myers, went last. Her speech was a perfect counterbalance to this gentleman’s speech. Every seed of hate that was planted by him was gently uprooted by Teena’s speech. Like the first speaker, she spoke from the perspective of a Christian, but her speech was about tolerance and loving people where they are – about seeing similarities in each other instead of differences.
The reason that this man’s speech bothered me so much was because he introduced himself as a Christian (and I’m not questioning his faith), but then he pretty much announced to the room that he hated someone. He thought it was ok to publicly make fun of a human being. And he probably thought this was acceptable because it appears to be quite common these days. There are a few problems with this. First of all, as Christians, we really aren’t supposed to hate anyone. Second, finger pointing has never been an effective form of evangelism. Third, when we criticize others, it may appear to others that we are believing that we are better than they are, and this is not true. God made all of us and loves us all equally. Fourth, as Christians, our words should be truthful, and further, our words should be encouraging and helpful.
Sometimes it appears that the media portrays Christians as a bunch of “antis” – anti homosexual, anti-immigrant, anti-welfare, anti-Obama. Some Christians tend to post “anti” comments on Facebook or in other media, perhaps not realizing how some of these messages can be perceived by others. Many of the items posted and re-posted on Facebook, by Christians and non-Christians alike, are not even accurate. And Christians are not supposed to lie. If we aren’t absolutely sure that something is true, we shouldn’t say it or post it. More and more people are re-posting untruths and messages that sound like hate (even if that isn’t their intention) on social media. And isn’t there enough hatred in the world already? Do we really need to add to it?
I’m not saying that people should not be anti-anything. Some things are just plain wrong. I’m definitely anti-poverty and anti-hate, among other things. But I think our society has become too much about “anti” and not enough about “pro.” It’s so easy to sit there and criticize others, but criticism isn’t a positive action. Instead of criticizing someone, ask yourself what you can do to change the situation. If you can do something, do it. If you can’t, let it go. Ask yourself if what you are saying is kind or helpful to the situation. Remember, if you are not a part of the solution, you may be part of the problem!
People like this first speaker turned me off from the church for a long time. It took me a long time to find a church where I felt accepted as I was. But I did find one and there are some great churches out there! Does everyone in my church agree politically? No. But everyone does love each other.