Spiritual Life

Pastor's Perspective: Words are intended to connect, not divide

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

– Psalm 19:14

It is difficult to refrain from speaking about the current political realities in our country. It’s troubling to see how easily we have been led down paths of division, anger and absolutism.

What once passed as something of a national consensus on civility has deteriorated badly. And now we find that bots and Russian agents have had a hand in fostering the ill will that seems to infect everything. We don’t tolerate ambiguity. We don’t agree on facts. We are children of passion rather than faith and reason.

And Christians have played a role – or, at least, a great number of people and institutions bearing the name of Christ have played a role – in the increasing polarization of society.

The media, too, is complicit. Recently, Fox News ran a headline on my newsfeed: “North Carolina mom begins serving jail sentence for baptizing daughter.” It’s the kind of headline that feeds the narrative that Christians are being persecuted in this country. But if you read the article, you discover that this woman was jailed for violating a court order. A judge had granted custody of the child to the father, including authority over decisions like baptism, and the woman refused to follow it.

What does it mean for us to “sow light” and “scatter mercy”? It means, at the very least, that we renounce the use of words as weapons. Words are meant to connect, not divide. Words are meant to build the ties that bind us. There is a reason that couples falling in love spend the entire night talking. And even where we disagree with one another, words allow us to find some resolution other than beating each other over the head with a club.

The power of words

God’s first word called forth light. The words that follow called forth a beautiful and harmonious world. God’s first words to humanity were words of blessing. And humanity’s first words named the creatures of the earth. Names are about relationships.

Words are remarkably powerful instruments. With them, we crossed seas, journeyed to the moon, built bridges, discovered penicillin and sang Bach’s B Minor Mass. With them, we also set the stage for the murder of 6 million Jews and the Trail of Tears. It is our responsibility to use words for good, not ill; to heal, not wound; to connect, not divide.

It’s cheap and easy to use words to divide. We know how a harsh word can slice through us. It is almost instinctive to respond in kind.

Mother taught me that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” She was wrong. I appreciate, now, the lesson in toughening up against ordinary childhood tauntings, but that doesn’t obviate the fact that words have great power. And, as words capture so well, with great power comes great responsibility.

It seems to me we are at a point where, oddly enough, patriots and Christians should find themselves on common ground.

It seems to me that it is our patriotic duty as citizens to resist foreign efforts to destabilize our country and, on that account, we should renounce divisive words and refuse to entertain them. Even more, as citizens of the reign of God, as participants of the new creation born of water and the Word, we should refuse to use words to divide.

We should heed the truth expressed so succinctly in James 1:26: “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”

The Rev. David K. Bonde is pastor of Los Altos Lutheran Church, 460 S. El Monte Ave. For more information, visit losaltosluthern.org.

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