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Our Take: Name-calling is ‘rhetorical pornography’
Protesters from both sides of the immigration issue fill a sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday.
April 26th, 2012
12:12 PM ET

Our Take: Name-calling is ‘rhetorical pornography’

Editor’s note: Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, Dr. Russell Moore is dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

By Jim Daly, Russell D. Moore and Samuel Rodriguez, Special to CNN

(CNN) – We've all heard it, since we were schoolkids knocking about on the playground: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." A saying with good intent, to be sure, designed to steel young minds, and hearts, against the inevitable bruises that come with sharing childhood and adolescence with other children and adolescents.

But did any of us ever believe it was true? Even today – now that we're older, hopefully wiser, having experienced the heartaches of everyday life more fully than we may have as kids – is it a statement we can stand behind?

We don't think so.

Just about every day, a quick scan of the news headlines or a couple of keystrokes for a Google search serve up stories proving this old adage false. The evidence can come from picket signs, talk-show sound bites or something as short and simple as a 140-character tweet.

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Clashes in Arizona over immigration policy. Public arguments over homosexuality in California. Christians and atheists lobbing verbal firebombs at each other in Washington, D.C. Sometimes, those at the center of the name-calling are famous. Most of the time, they aren’t. Well-known or not, their actions prove a singular truth: Names do hurt – and not just those on the receiving end of them.

To borrow the point of another, more accurate old aphorism: What we say about others reveals more about ourselves than the people we're talking about. This is especially true for Christians, who encounter any number of verses in the Bible that point to how "sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness," as the English Standard Version translation of Proverbs 16:21 puts it.

Jesus, as tended to be his way, was a bit more direct: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken," he said in Matthew 12:36, adding: "For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

So, no, it is not news to any of us that we live in an electrocharged public square.

But it should be convicting to all Christians when we find ourselves contributing to this maelstrom. Derogatory terms for other human beings – regardless of how widely their views differ from ours or, more importantly, from the truths of Scripture – should never pass our lips. To call it rhetorical pornography, for the debasement it engenders, is not an overstatement.

To get into the terms specifically here would be to attach to them a dignity they don't deserve. But we know them when we hear them: Epithets and cutting adjectives directed at gays and lesbians that go far beyond reasoned articulation of our biblical views about God's design for human sexuality.

Cruel, dismissive descriptions of those who do not share our faith – whether they be of a different religion or none at all – serving to drive people further from the heart of Christ, the exact opposite of our calling as his modern-day disciples.

And, perhaps most distressingly, ethnic slurs against noncitizens in our country, people who, in many cases, are families just like our own, seeking the best quality of life they can achieve. How do those hurtful words address the deeper and quite nuanced issues of legality and border integrity?

What each of these instances has in common is that the words are being used to deny the innate humanity and dignity owed every individual. The Jesus we follow did not just die for those who believe in him; his father created each one of us in his own image.

That means that as Christ breathed his last on the cross, there was as much love in his heart for the homosexual activist, the Mexican national who is not a citizen and the atheist as there was for us.

It is out of the "overflow of the heart," Jesus says in Matthew 12, that "the mouth speaks." That means it is far more than a failure of "tone" when we marginalize or malign those with whom we disagree. The solution is not just "nicer" words, but a transformed perspective, one that sees all human beings, including “opponents,” through the eyes of our proponent, Jesus.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized

soundoff (1,241 Responses)
  1. Ben Moushon

    Reblogged this on Thinking & Driving.

    May 10, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  2. sue thom

    WHAT AN A**HOLE!!! The "truths of scripture"? What could you religious morons be talking about? Maybe the truths of how it's OK to own human slaves? And kill your children if they disrespect you? And stone people to death if they cheat on their spouses? And any number of other SICK, BACKWARD, PRIMITIVE, EVIL philosophies? You perverted, delusional, insane imbeciles!!!

    May 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Shawn Clauther

      Thank you for showing EXACTLY the type of name-calling that this article was JUST talking about. What ANY of those Old Testament laws have to do with the fact that people on BOTH sides of contentious debates need to actually talk about the ISSUES instead of about EACH OTHER is beyond me.

      I do not know what your intent in posting that tirade is, but I, for one, am grateful for the illustration of the principle that "[w]hat we say about others reveals more about ourselves than the people we're talking about."

      May 7, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  3. Big Art

    @ Eric:

    "One is for Joseph's side and the other is for Mary's." Ah yes, the old "one genealogy is Joseph's and one is Mary's" line. Please, then, explain to me which is Mary's? Is it the Matthean version that says: "And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matt. 1:15-16)? Surely this isn't Mary's side, as it clearly says "Jacob begat Joseph." So are we saying the Lukan passage is Mary's genealogy? How can this be so, when it clearly states: "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph . . ." (Luke 3:23-24)? This passage also clearly refers to Joseph's genealogy, saying clearly that Joseph was the son of Heli, etc.

    Thus, the claim that one of these genealogies represents Mary's side would seem to be based, not on a reading of the text, but on wishful thinking?

    "Peace 2 U!"

    May 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Big Art

      Oops! This post was response to Eric in my "QUESTION FOR ALL JESUS LOVERS" below.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  4. David Nelson

    I can honestly say that the only instance of name calling in our church that I recall was from a non-member who had been grateful to the church for help we had given him. Christ say that we are judges in a similar fashion as we judge others. Some say the SDA church is too far left, some say too far right. You can't please everyone and if you spend all your time trying to please man then God's word is likely to take a back seat.

    May 4, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • David Nelson

      That is, we are judged in the same wy we judge others. Sorry for the error.

      May 4, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • David Nelson

      I was trying to correct something and it posted before I could make the correction. Matt 7:1-2 says "Judge not, lest ye be fudged. For with what judgment we judge, for ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

      So we need to be generous with people.

      Sorry about the mispelling in my previous post, the word judges was meant to be the word judged.

      May 4, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  5. Big Art

    QUESTION FOR ALL JESUS LOVERS:

    (I raised this issue back on page 14, but got no response:)

    IF Jesus was an actual historical figure, and IF the biblical accounts of him are all true and are "inspired by God," then please explain why we have two very different genealogies listed for him in Matthew 1 & Luke 3?

    (from my previous post:) "[If the Gospels are historical, someone please take a look at Matt. 1 & Luke 3 and tell me who was Jesus’ grandpa? (M: Jacob vs. L: Heli) Or his great-great grandpa (M: Eleazar vs. L: Levi)? Or his great-great-great grandpa (M: Eliud vs. L: Melchi)? Etc. They can’t even agree on which of David’s sons fathered Jesus’ bloodline (M: Solomon vs. L: Nathan).]"

    I see no way that both accounts can be true. But if one is true and the other is false, then what else is false? And how could God be said to have inspired falsity???

    "Peace 2 U!"

    May 3, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Lizziecool

      VERY good and valid questions....who is up to answer them with something besides the unseen "faith?"

      May 4, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Michael Robinson Gainesville FL

      Big Art~~ The answer is simple really. It's all made up. Can't say it any plainer. Imaginary friends galore.

      May 4, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Neesha

      I believe in Jesus without a shadow of a doubt but let's make something clear. Jesus did not have an earthly father, he had a step-father who was Joseph. For those of us who do believe that Jehovah God sent an angel to speak to Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant by the holy spirit concludes my argument. I believe without a shadow of a doubt, not just based on hearsay but from experiencing God & his supernatural power & love.

      May 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Neesha

      In other words, there's no human father to link Jesus's birth gene's to. He can only be linked through the parents of Joseph which would be his step grandparents.

      May 4, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Eric

      One is for Joseph's side and the other is for Mary's.

      May 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Big Art

      @ Neesha:

      "I believe without a shadow of a doubt, not just based on hearsay but from experiencing God & his supernatural power & love." I like your spirit, and I have no doubt that you've experienced something (or, "Something") which leads you to believe in God's power & love. And I wish you well on the journey that Something leads you into, and pray that every tear you may cry may be dried with the glow of 1,000 smiles.

      "In other words, there's no human father to link Jesus's birth gene's to." Whether Jesus had any of Joseph's DNA is not the issue here. The issue is the fact that two different authors have given us two VERY different genealogies for the same individual, Jesus. IF both genealogies are true, which seems impossible to me . . . but I am open to creative explanations like Eric's, which I'll get to shortly . . . IF both are true, then I'm asking someone to explain how they can both be true. IF one is true and the other is false, then I'm asking someone who believes God inspired the Bible to explain how God could have inspired falseness.

      "Peace 2 U!"

      May 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Big Art

      @ Eric:

      [I accidentally posted my reply to you above; but I'll try it again here:]

      "One is for Joseph's side and the other is for Mary's." Ah yes, the old "one genealogy is Joseph's and one is Mary's" line. Please, then, explain to me which is Mary's? Is it the Matthean version that says: "And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matt. 1:15-16)? Surely this isn't Mary's side, as it clearly says "Jacob begat Joseph." So are we saying the Lukan passage is Mary's genealogy? How can this be so, when it clearly states: "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph . . ." (Luke 3:23-24)? This passage also clearly refers to Joseph's genealogy, saying clearly that Joseph was the son of Heli, etc.

      Thus, the claim that one of these genealogies represents Mary's side would seem to be based, not on a reading of the text, but on wishful thinking?

      "Peace 2 U!"

      May 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.