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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Ranger14

    Thank you for this article. It is truly sad seeing so much un-christian behavior being exhibited in the name of Jesus. We need more Christian leaders to speak up and remind thier followers of the peace, love and forgiveness in Jesus' teachings. So many people who call themselves Christian seem to have lost that message.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  2. Fields

    Jesus said, "Cast not pearls before swine."

    I assume he was referring to you lot.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  3. jimmytwoshoes

    As a Christian, I completely agree with this article and I believe it stands for what the Bible truly represents for us to believe (Truth). If only all Christians could share this worldview.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Fields

      I disagree. Jesus did not call on Christians to be total wusses. We don't have to go all Crusader on the devil-worshipers, but we can't let them walk all over us either.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • jimmytwoshoes

      Fields, there is a difference between being walked over and understanding what fight you should actually be fighting and HOW to fight it. Jesus never persecuted anyone. He accepted all sinners and spoke to them to change their ways. He educated on the purpose of Christianity to those that would listen, he did not abruptly tell someone that was not ready to listen that they were wrong. Read "UnChristian" at some point if you truly want to understand why today's Christian's are actually hurting Christianity.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "We don't have to go all Crusader on the devil-worshipers, but we can't let them walk all over us either."
      The devil is the christian god's alter ego. You have to be christian to even believe in him.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • momoya

      @ LinCa

      I think Fields has the sort of mental model that equates "not-absolutely-totally-in-agreement-with-me" and "devil/satan.". The virus is to firmly entrenched in his thought processes to compute disagreements in any other way.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Amused

      Fields – "devil-worshipers" ??????? Please, don't tell me you really buy into that old Christian myth! Are you too uneducated and too ignorant to comprehend that people who don't believe in God, do not believe in "the devil" either? Only religious followers believe in the "the devil"!

      April 27, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Fields

      The devil's greatest accomplishment is convincing people he does not exist so they might worship him in other forms: money, lust, power, etc.

      April 27, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "I think Fields has the sort of mental model that equates "not-absolutely-totally-in-agreement-with-me" and "devil/satan.". The virus is to firmly entrenched in his thought processes to compute disagreements in any other way."
      That definately seems to be the case.

      I find it hilarious to see how christians claim to worship and all-powerful god, can't or won't take care of the devil. By being the creator of everything, the christian god must have also created the devil (or at the very least have done nothing to prevent it), making him responsible.

      Being responsible for creating this evil creature, and not lifting a finger to eradicate it, makes this god the puppeteer. He is responsible for all evil done by the devil. The christian god is worse than the devil.

      April 27, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  4. dave

    Christian here...agree completely...lets take the logs out of our own eyes here folks. Being Christian doesn't make you sinless, it just means you should be able to recognize and repent for those sins. A little less defensiveness, a little more repentance.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  5. just a "biblical" theory

    Interesting article. Let's call it "How to be nice to heathens". The fresh, fundamentalist, GOP, republican, failures certainly have started that 'act' lately with their "best friend" Mitt. Don't worry, you'll only have to endure this behaviour for 4 years. By then Jim Daly will have a much different speech that you will really love.

    April 27, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  6. DP

    Just pointing out, since this is an article about Christianity and name-calling, you left out that stuff where Jesus said calling someone a fool is murder. It seems a bit on point to be left out of this article.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  7. Joe

    What I have seen on these comments are mostly Christains countering the article then a bunch of atheists calling them idiots. Notice the irony. Article preaching about christain name calling then looking at the comments and all the name calling is by everyone but the christians. Interesting.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • littlexav

      I'm seeing a lot of Christians defending the names they call others, and a lot of atheists who are tired of Christian doctrine and populism influencing secular government. Now that's truly funny; which one of us has the rose-colored glasses?

      April 27, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • myweightinwords

      I am neither an atheist nor a christian and as I scan the responses to this, and every other article on the Belief Blog, I find the vitriol flows from both sides freely.

      In fact, the name calling and blatant bigotry from all sides often keeps me from commenting at all. I enjoy talking about religion and faith, I enjoy learning from others and debating what I've learned and experienced over the years...but that kind of debate doesn't often happen here on these threads because no one, christian or atheist can see past their own hurt/anger/fear to realize that the "other" is human just like they are.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • momoya

      Joe, take a look at the recent post by "Fields.". It seems you were just proved wrong.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  8. Rob

    There are Christian's that walk that walk and love all otherseven if they disagree with their lifestyle or views. It is painful for them to be lumped together with those who do not. I am sorry if you have not met any.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  9. littlexav

    I like where your heart is on this, and I wish more Christians would heed your advice, but honestly – really – do you think there is a war on Christianity? Do atheists really "lob verbal firebombs" at you the way you do at them? I don't see it... I think most atheists and agnostics just want to be left alone, to get *your* religion out of *their* lives. Christians don't want the government to interfere with religion, but they LOVE it when religion interferes with government. It's an unfair double-standard, and it needs to end.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • closet atheist

      Exactly... I don't understand why they refuse to understand where we're coming from. Christians in this country tend to live by "it's my way or the highway" philosophy....

      April 27, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Lemark

      Both sides have a lot of bias. Athiests commonly look down on Christians. Christikans commonly look down on non christians. It's just how folks seem to

      April 27, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • momoya

      Perhaps, Lemark but what about

      April 27, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Lemark

      Your funny as heck. I had a mouse error and posted before I was done and expected to be lambasted by a grammar nazi. Thanks for the laugh there... nicely done.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  10. S.R.

    Religion, the worst thing that humans have ever invented. I believe science proves there is a god but religion is a bunch of fairy tells and made up stories. A lot of these "stories" are borrowed from ancient Pagan religions including a son of god being curcified on a cross. Look it up. Lets all join in reality!!!

    April 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Huebert

      How does science prove that their is a god?

      April 27, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Rob

      Because if its on the internet, it must be true!

      April 27, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Huebert

      I'm waiting. I really want to hear your thoughts on this.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  11. Leigh

    Like Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I just do not like your Christians." These so-called Christians might as well follow Bozo the Clown as much as they twist Christ's words and teachings to suit their own agenda.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Lemark

      I agree with you here. And I am a christian. One thing that seems to be true is that you bring your assumptions about the world and the people in it to your religion. You then go about justifying the teachings of your religion to match those assumptions. You would think it would be the other way around... and that what you take on as your faith would change your world views, but it never really seems to work out that way.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  12. Paul

    Lastly, judgement. Of course your supposed to judge. do you think the intent of the bible was that if you were to bring your children into a home where the occupants were "doing drugs" (for example) that you shouldn't judge that as wrong and take your children out of that situation? To me, you could replace the word "judge" with "condem", i.e. "you should not condemn lest you be condemned".

    April 27, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • myweightinwords

      But that isn't what the scripture actually says, Paul.

      It says not to judge lest you be judged BY THE SAME MEASURE. Or as stated elsewhere in your own scripture, take the beam out of your own eye before you go digging after the speck in mine.

      It seems to be a recurring theme of that guy Jesus y'all talk so much about. See to your own salvation.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  13. Nate700

    I love this essay but I feel that it will only be heard by the choir; those that are guilty of name calling (I don't feel) are likely to read it.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  14. Samson

    I'm not religious by any means but wouldn't it be nice if Christian's actually practiced the teachings of Jesus? Christian's lately seem to be coming across as Satan worshipers. They seem so full of hate and prejudice. The hypocrisy needs to end!

    April 27, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Rob

      I guess that would be the Christian's that you know.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:01 am |

    "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." Give me a break..by that reasoning I should be able to rob a bank and maybe even kill the teller and it would be ok because I am just seeking the best quality of life for my family. Both are breaking the law..where is the difference? You want to be in this country..do it the legal way.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Nate700

      NJHeathen – You can't possibly believe that illegally crossing a border carries the same weight as bank robbery or murder...do you. Your statement is exactly what the authors are talking about.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  16. Paul

    BTW, calling someone what they are, i.e. illegal aliens, is not name calling. It is what they are. It is criminal, and they should be considered criminals. "... just people like us who want whats best for their families (paraphrasing)". give me a break. can I go into your house and steal from you for the beterment of my family? The stupidity of liberals is amazing... "the problem with socialism is eventually you run out of people to pay fot it" Margaret thatcher.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • eyes

      Liberals didn't write this column. Pay attention.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • littlexav

      No, it's not a crime. I understand you're not a lawyer, and you don't have any idea what you're talking about, but it's not a crime.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Amused

      So please tell me, When exactly did the act of walking across a political line in a dessert get equated to breaking and entering a private home and stealing the contents????? I'd say that is quite a HUGE leap from one to the other! But, that just reveals and underscores the truth about your EXTREMELY UN-CHRISTIAN bigotry and hatred doesn't it?

      April 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  17. aginghippy

    Christians not only make a habit of judging others, labeling any behavior that contradicts their Christian teachings as "sinful", but they want to pass laws to prevent people from engaging in those sinful activities. This article focuses on name calling, when most of those who are targets of their judgement couldn't care less about what some brainwashed Christian thinks of them. It is the open discrimination, in the form of oppressive laws desired by the Christians, that is hurtful.
    Christians fear that an abortion will anger God, so it's not enough that they simply refrain from having an abortion, they must attempt to engage the courts to make sure NOBODY can have an abortion. Christians think a man loving and having an intimate relationship with another man will anger God, so it's not enough that they refrain from marrying someone of the same gender, they must prohibit EVERYONE from doing so.
    I'm an atheist who has been called some pretty choice words by "loving Christians". Call me what you want. What I fear is that some loving Christians might just want to elect another loving Christian to the White House, a president who believes that atheists are not worthy of the same rights as those who believe in fairy tales.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • bethb

      Seems like you're passing an awful big judgement on all Christians. I'd say that makes you a hypocrite.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • momoya

      and I'd say it sounds like aginghippy is just giving the christards some of their own medicine.. At some point you gotta quit worrying about the "hypocrite" label and just start returning fire for fire.. It's the believers who think a myth with talking animals and undetectable body parts and diseases (soul/sin) is a great book to run your life by, then fine.. But you don't also get to be proud of such absolute stupidity and put people down people who don't believe in talking snakes and big, magic, sky daddy creating the universe by speaking "spells.".

      April 27, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • JesseClark

      The only people I'm seeing insulting anyone else is atheists.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • momoya

      Then you must not know how to read a few posts up or down from the one you commented on.. How stupid you must feel..

      April 27, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  18. Paul

    A CNN Journalist quoting from the bible is the first sign that whatever is written is somehow bashing christianity.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • HZD

      Did you read the article? It is written by three conservative theologians.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Cale Parrish

      Maybe try reading it?

      April 27, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Paul

      and if CNN is publishing it... there's an agenda.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • sam stone

      feeling a bit put upon, paul?

      perhaps if christians weren't so eager to deny others civil rights, people would cut them some slack.

      as it is, much of christianity seems like self-declared piety

      April 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  19. sherwin

    This article is perfectly timed for the born-again christian who has to live under a 'mormon' or 'closet muslim' president shortly and can't come to grips with their legacy of name calling. Secretly, In their eyes, there will be NO fundamentalist christian president for the next 4-8 years and it burns them to accept this and now they are recognizing who is truly to blame. Themselves. What Jim Daly and his posse just stated is the same mainstream ,watered down, love conquers all, rhetoric that born-again christian can't stand to hear from other mainstreamers. But when HE says it, it is SO much more meaningful.
    Your not fooling anyone Jim, your faith cares nothing about anyone but yourselves and your fundamentalist agenda. Don't try to sweeten up your crowd for Mitt. It never works. Your acting like Mitt now, filip-flopping on your values.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Primewonk

      "closet muslim"? Seriously? There is no closet muslim running for President that I know of.

      April 27, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  20. Hadenuffyet

    Seeking words of wisdom , let it be...

    April 27, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Huebert

      *Waves lighter in the air.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:52 am |
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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.