Crooked Speech

Posted: September 4, 2008 in advocacy, grace, speech acts

Okay, so when I’m not blogging, I blog, and when I am blogging, I don’t write a thing. Funny thing. 


If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably been paying attention — at least on some level — to our national politics. In two weeks we’ve had a historic nominee and political convention, a close-to historic VP selection, a teen-pregnancy revelation, trooper-gate, questions about vetting, and another political convention. No matter your political leanings, you have to admit that there’s much happening.

The folks on the station I watch for news are just giddy with excitement about all things political. They speak about how “exciting” and “fun” it all is. Boldly they say their station is “The Place for Politics.” And if you know me well, you know that I enjoy my share of politics. But, I must say, about this time every four years, I would describe politics as anything but “fun.” 

While politics does have the ability to bring out the best in us, what I see so frequently is the worst of us. Watching one political interview after another might give someone the feeling that no one on the other side of the interviewee is ever worth voting for. Strategists and current and former elected officials talk ad nausuem about why “not” to vote for the other guy. It’s about muslim-sounding names, someone’s age or lack thereof, someone’s daughter, or what someone did 35 years ago that may or may not have any bearing on the next 35 years. What’s more, at one convention you can see Christian folks carrying signs with pictures of dead Iraqi children, and at the other we see other Christians with pictures of dead fetus’. Both groups are shouting about the unrighteousness of the other, largely in denial about the self-righteousness in themselves. They shout and say the most hideous and ugly things about the others. And when pressed on any issue, all either group can say is how the other is filled with “hate.”

It makes me wonder how many of these well-meaning Christian people have ever noticed how much attention the Bible gives to speech acts? Do we know how precious words are? As N.T. Wright points out, “Words Create Worlds.” God created the universe with words. Jesus came to the world as the Word made flesh. Scripture is deeply concerned about the way we talk. “No evil talk. No vulgar talk. No bearing false witness or meaningless talk. Let your speech always be gracious.” Sound familiar?  

Yet, politicians — both left and right — talk about faith and Christianity and family values, but some give speeches that are little more than smear and fear and lies about their opponents. But what if Christians took speech acts as seriously as God does? What if when some politicians just railed with contemptible speech against their opponent, we considered them “malcontents” and “grumblers” as Jude does? What if we made our leaders live up to “truthful speech” as Paul highlights as important in 2 Corinthians? What if we made wholesome speech a qualification for president, vice-president, and all those sent to speak on their behalf had to answer for it. Do you think there are enough voting Christians in the country that we might effect a change in the way we talk to one another? 

Somehow slowly too many of us have come to accept poor speech. In fact, we expect it! Sometimes we want it. And we really want it when it helps meet our needs for power and expand our ideology. Yet, the truth remains a transformed life is partly witnessed to by transformed and transforming speech.

There is no law we can enforce or war we can wage to transform this nation into the “Christian Nation” so many seem to desire as long as our governance and processes for governance are marred by what Proverbs calls, “crooked speech.” Let us not forget that when God searches Israel for a King to replace Saul, he finds David, who was “prudent in speech;” or as some versions put it, “has good judgment.” There is a connection between the way someone speaks and the judgment he or she exercises.

So, this week, I’ve taken a political fast. No political TV or radio. I’ve grown weary of hearing about who’s really puts country first and who’s identity is overly shaped by and lustful for war. Plus, I’m sensing the darkness that comes when someone is too immersed in negative and contemptible talk. The apostle Paul encourages us to avoid “profane chatter” because it “spreads like gangrene.” I think he’s right. And I don’t need to be sick right now!

  1. Rochelle says:

    Kind of afraid to say anything. . . . 🙂

    These are great thoughts….and it seems we forget the power of the tongue to build up and to destroy. The whole world needs more Shel Silverstein and Leo Busgalia and Mother Teresa and Maya Angelou……. and Sean Palmer– who use their word power for good.

  2. Rochelle says:

    oops. Buscaglia. Leo Buscaglia.

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