Violent words

By Michael Humphrey

Since October, 2006, I have had the great privilege to edit this little website intended to help inform people of faith who work for peace and justice in our community and world. Most of the reaction to the site has been heartening and made the work more than worth it.

The most common question – challenge is too strong of a word – that I’ve received about the site is the Vision Board’s rather strict guideline about language. It states, “We will not share our message with language that is derisive, sarcastic, undignified.”

Two weeks ago, Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in his church by a clearly disturbed man who apparently believed he was striking a blow against abortion.

It’s fair to wonder what effect violent rhetoric had on Tiller’s shooter. Kansas City’s own Bishop Finn, for instance, stated at the Gospel of Life Convention last month, “But as I speak a word of encouragement today I also want to tell you soberly, dear friends, ‘We are at war!’”

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue and also well known for his vitriolic language about the issue of abortion, is not buying the connection between such language and the violence. He said the following just a few days ago:

“In this hour of crisis, when the proponents of wholesale murder are screaming that it is our words that are responsible for Tiller’s death, will we continue to use those words?

“Put more clearly: Will we declare the truth without wavering – that abortion is murder – or will we cave in to the murderers themselves and surrender the truth? Will we surrender the very commandment of God in this battle? Will we honor God, or those who mock Him, rebel at His commands, and slay those made in His image?

“If we surrender the Truth, we are condemned to defeat.”

I have also heard people who work for the oppressed, often voiceless, poor and powerless use similar language out of their great passion and frustration to end injustices. For instance, in two public settings, I heard the last president equated with Hitler.

I understand the reasons for such language. But for people of faith, violent language is not a legitimate way to attain non-violent ends.  There is an implied lack of faith in God and God’s creatures in such language. In the din of Internet chatter, it seems spewing reckless rhetoric is the only way to be heard. One’s God should be larger than that, and better.

People of faith prone to such language should reconsider 1 Kings 19:11-12: “And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.”

That is when God was heard. I know there are many examples too where prophets, and even Christ, raged against the systems of death. Then again, Peter himself misunderstood at the critical hour and struck out in violence.

“Jesus therefore said to Peter, ‘Put the sword into its sheath. The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not surely drink it?’”

If faith leaders cannot understand that honest people have honest differences, if they feel the weight of truth upon them, they can at least understand that gentle words will bear their truth and even advance it.


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