Monday, June 1, 2009

The Power of Words

When I was a child we used to chant, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." I most often chanted that when someone was calling me a name. Somehow in some way, if I used those "magic words" whatever hurtful, insulting or hateful things people were saying wouldn't matter.

Truth be told, it never worked. The names hurt, the words were painful for all that I attempted to be strong. Those persons who called me names or laughed at me or mocked me, knew the power they held.

As a preacher for 27 years, I know the power of the word. Words can comfort a grieving soul, words can inspire people to do great things. Words have the power to give voice to deep held emotions and beliefs. Words can share the depth of love and of faith.

Words also have the capacity to wound, to destroy and to incite persons to acts of hatred and violence. In that way, words are not neutral. What we say as human beings matter and matters deeply.

Not all persons are Christians, but followers of Christ have an interesting understanding of the power of words and the Word. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took the commandments from the Hebrew Scriptures and said paraphrased, "You shall not kill, but any one angry with their brother or sister or insults them or calls them 'fool' is liable." Jesus goes on to say in the fifth chapter of Matthew that what we do in our hearts and minds is just the same as if we physically acted out those thoughts.

When we say hateful, violent words, when we wish ill or death or violence on another human being it is the same as if we actually lived out the action. I believe in a very real way, those who have posted on web sites, opinion lines, those who have passed out flyer's and leaflets, and gone on radio and television spewing hatred, spewing prejudice and encouraging violence have a responsibility when their words are taken seriously and acted upon.

For years, certain groups have said horrible things about Dr. George Tiller. They have stalked clinic workers, Dr. Tiller and his family, they have passed out leaflets in neighborhoods where workers lived. Those leaflets have been filled with ugly language, hateful language and included pictures and names and addresses. Web sites have called Dr. Tiller horrible names and spewed vitriol that I would not begin to repeat.

The past two days comments on cnn, msnbc, fox, Wichita Eagle and Kansas television stations have been filled with a vileness that stunned and sickened me. In the online world where anonymity rules, some people really believe they can say anything they want and it does not matter. The more shocking, the more hateful, the more likely a reaction will occur. After a few glances, I have made a conscious choice not to read any more.

For people who claim the name Christian, words matter. We are held responsible for the actions that occur because of what we say and do. We are called to a higher way of being, one of love, one of peace and one of grace We can deeply disagree about our faith and how we live that out, but that does not leave any room for name calling, the hurling of insults or anonymous posts.

As a preacher, because I know the power of words, I find myself "filtering" rather than saying things that will had fuel to the fire, and promote more hatred and violence in the world. Words are somtimes "too easy" and I must be careful. A turn of phrase, a cutting edge to my voice, a slightly veiled insult does not promote what I believe is good and true. So, I continue to attempt to use my words to bring peace, love, justice and grace into the world. I know that words will break hearts and spirits. I will not use my words to incite anger and violence. I will lift up Dr. Tiller's family, his co-workers, his church family in my prayers as they walk through this difficult time of grief.
Publish Post

Graced to serve.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I am not a person of faith, but I respect anyone who is that truly "walks the walk". I have a lot of difficulty with the people like those posting their glee at the death of another human being. Regardless of faith, regardless of the circumstances, that behavior is abhorrent. And I thank you for calling it out.

  2. I have had the opportunity to post on this subject a few times. I can only wish that I had the ability that you demonstrate here to express my true feelings about this.

    Outstanding. Very well said indeed.