As far back as I can remember politicians have not been nice to each other. And those who line up behind the politicians can also be cruel and heartless in the way they speak of those on the “other side” of the aisle.
I guess I have become accustomed to this behavior, knowing that “being in power” at all cost seems to justify to them behaving in a manner that is totally opposite of the way Christians are supposed to act. Paul tells us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29, NASB).
Could you even imagine a politician following this Christian behavior? Do you think you will ever see the day when a politician will go to the media and speak only about the good in their opponent?
Rigidity and harshness
What is alarming is that I have seen an ever-increasing adoption of secular political strategies creeping into our household of faith. We have always had differences of opinions about a variety of subjects, yet there has in the past been a respect and kindness with our different points of view. I remember two of my seminary professors at Andrews who disagreed completely about the nature of Christ. They were, however, the best of friends and their families shared Sabbath lunch together regularly. They were a great example to all the students on how to disagree.
Over the past 10 or so years, I have seen a rigidity and harshness creep into our dialogue with judgments of evil doing and satanic acts being applied to those who disagree with our point of view. All you need to do to see the unfortunate way we are talking to each other—and about each other—is to follow some blogs addressing topics on which we don’t all agree. I am not speaking of our 28 Fundamental Beliefs, but rather other issues on which the Adventist Church has taken no official stand.
Just the other day, I read a post on Facebook from Elder Ted Wilson where he spoke of the meaningful worship service held in the atrium of the General Conference headquarters celebrating the birth of Christ. I was amazed and saddened by all the people who responded so harshly to this post, accusing him of following the papacy and just being evil by the simple act of having worship about the meaning of Christ’s birth.
One of the most painful and damaging mistakes I have made as a leader was when I believed a rumor about someone and didn’t check it out for myself. I had invited a speaker to come for our conference’s camp meeting and when the word got out about our speaker list, I got a call from someone I thought was a credible source saying this person wasn’t straight with his theology. They told me I should call another church leader they recommended to check the speaker out, and I did. After talking with that leader, I made the decision to “uninvite” the guest.
It was a hard decision to make but I was afraid of the backlash that might come from having him at our camp meeting. I called the gentleman and will tell you he was about as gracious as he could be. So gracious, in fact, that I began to wonder if I had made the right choice. So I then did what I should have done from the beginning; I checked out the rumor for myself. Come to find out, those rumors were baseless! I had hurt and humiliated a wonderful Christian simply because I believed a rumor instead of finding out for myself the true story. I called the gentleman back and apologized. Once again, I felt his gracious spirit as he accepted my apology and invitation to speak at camp meeting the following year. He came and was a wonderful blessing to the people of my conference.
False witness, slander, gossip
I cannot begin to tell you about the false, hurtful rumors I hear about our leaders in the Adventist Church and our institutions. There are people who seem to be so eager to believe the worst that, without any conscience at all, they quickly believe and pass on false information about people. As a result, people’s lives are damaged and reputations are ruined. Being involved in this practice brings about unnecessary division in the church, thus hindering our mission.
What does the Bible say about this behavior? Without commentary, here are a few quotes to contemplate.
Do not spread false reports, do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. Ex. 23:1 NIV
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the laws and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. James 4:11 NIV
Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Lev. 19:16 NIV
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. Prov. 16:28 NIV
Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. Prov. 26:20 NIV
All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me… Ps. 41:7 NIV
Have you ever chosen to believe the worst about someone? Have you ever passed on an unkind word about someone who you don’t even know? Have you ever read blogs and websites where people are quick to pass judgment and call others evil? Have you ever passed on information you read from a blog, website or email to others without giving thought as to the veracity of the accusations?
I know I have. And I am so sorry for those situations where I have hurt others. Perhaps you, the reader, have been the brunt of unkind, false rumors. You know how damaging and unchristian that behavior is.
There’s a much better way!
How do we stop this? The text at the beginning of this article is a good place to start. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29, NASB).
This is an area we need to get right as a church. It is a must. We will always have differences of opinions, but we must be gracious in our disagreements.
Let’s all lead the church right here in Mid-America in this regard. Can you imagine your church, conference and union if we were spending our time building each other up instead of tearing each other down? What a difference having that attitude would make!
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others” (Phil. 2:1-4, NASB).
I want to invite you to leave blogs that spit dissension and hate about others and the church. I want to invite you to stop visiting websites where sarcasm and spite seem to be a part of every article. I want to invite you to press the delete button on emails you receive that have vitriolic statements against people or institutions. Doing these simple things would be a great start toward having the unity Paul calls for in so many of his epistles.
Let’s not imitate the world of politics in how we speak of each other, but rather let’s press together by getting “rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32,32, NASB).