I headed into James 3 today. It seemed particularly relevant in light of the current cultural climate, right after the State of the Union and all that. (Amazing how the Bible seems to be for all people, for all times. But I digress...)
Generally, I hate politics. No, correction, I hate talking about politics. People who like to talk about politics are passionate. And you know what passion breeds? It breeds an air of pridefulness that begets rudeness, coarse language, and disrespect. This happens because, of course, we all believe that we are on the side of right, sometimes Right, and if we don't allow that we might be wrong, we aren't open to discussions that actually progress. When you enter a debate, you are hoping to win over your opponent, so naturally, you defend yourself as to be not allowed to be persuaded that they may, in any way at all, be right. That right there is some Grade A Pride. And it's not just politics, that just happens to be the area where I find it the most distasteful. It might be some other area for you - theology, parenting, sports, etc.
Well, this is to be somewhat expected from a large section of the population. We can not hold to account those who are not committed to living life in step with Christ. If someone doesn't sign a contract, you can't hold them to its terms. Though, I should say, that most people have a sense that we ought to be civil and polite - this is one of those culturally understood things. There's at least a pretense most of the time.
But I find myself both frustrated and saddened by the blatant disrespect I see at large in the Christian community. How are we to be salt and light when we have no distinguishing factors? How can we claim to be set apart when our actions and speech so closely resemble those around us? Many communities of faith hold to a standard of living in grace - there are certain non-negotiables in the tenets of Christian doctrine (although even this is sort of unclear and has led to all kinds of sects, cults, denominations, etc) - but there are areas where we allow one another to live in grace because there isn't any clear cut right or wrong answer.
Should you buy a Toyota or a Ford - or must all Christians drive a Chrysler? Or should all Christians forego driving and use the money they save on gas and ownership to fund orphanages in third world nations? Yes, of course that's a silly one, but sometimes the things we hold one another to are silly things.
One area that is explicitly clear in the Bible is that we are to be in control of our tongues (and I'm sure that fingers would have been included had the Holy Spirit chosen to reveal the future nature of our communication). This means more than not swearing, lying, sharing dirty jokes, name-calling, or being rough and sarcastic.
It extends to the way that we treat others. And not only other believers. Anyone can be kind about people who agree with them.
Our speech should be such that it is gracious and kind. And I'm not saying we need to go around talking like we're a bunch of empty-headed shadows. What I'm saying is that every person you encounter, read about, or see is made in the image of God. That alone deserves respect. That alone should make them worthy of the time it takes to edit yourself whether in speaking to or about them in person or an online forum.
Everyone knows you should never read the comments section on blogs or articles. If you really want to support the theory that the milk of human kindness has run dry, simply pop on over to any blog, however uncontroversial, and you're bound to find that some fight has broken out. And not just disagreements, but all out ugliness.
And we all tsk-tsk and shake our heads saying, "Wow, people, if you wouldn't say it in person, don't say it on the internet" or "I know I should never read the comments. What a bunch of wack-a-doos" or "Who are these people that post on the internet?".
Friends, they are us! We post on the internet. We get into fights on forums and in the comments sections of "news" articles and blog posts. We write either openly harsh or passive-aggressive status updates on Facebook. It's not just "them" - whoever "them" happens to be at the moment. (Oh, it is so hard not changing that to "they"... squirm.)
Pundits love to rail on and on about personal responsibility. Guess what? We are personally responsible to act in a manner that is befitting a child of God. That means our speech ought to show respect to those who are made in the likeness of God. That would be, let me see... Everyone!
The stubborn, backwards thinking super-conservative? Yes. The stubborn, backwards thinking super-liberal? Yes. The President of the United States and other political figures leading us? Yes. The teacher that didn't pass your child because your child failed to do the work required? Yes. The mom the does/does not cloth diaper/wear their baby/breastfeed/co-sleep/stay-at-home? Yes. A million times yes. No, nearly 7 billion times yes.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.