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. Jacob D

    Unfortunately, people (especially in this conversation) tend to think as Christians we "hate" everyone who isn't a christian. That is not what it's about! God commands us to love one another. That doesn't mean we should be okay with everything everyone does though. He still wants us to stand up for what is right. As Christians, one of the most important things we can do is to pray for this world in the hope that many will come to Christ and find life. Of course we will speak out against what is wrong. We (and god) don't hate sinners, we hate sin itself, which is devouring this nation.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  2. jim

    If the author truly wants to stop the hate speech, stop trying to shove your religion into my life. If I allow you to live your life according to your beliefs, why can't you grant me the same right?! Oh, that's right, you believe I'm doomed if I don't do what the bible says. My problem, ok? Live your life, I'll live mine.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  3. jim

    Jesus was ok, but I do not see what modern Christianity has to do with it. All you hear is hate gays, hate immigrants, hate Mormons, hate Roman Catholics – and that doesn't even start to cover women's health issues. Christianity has killed more people than any disease, and certainly is a leading cause of suffering in this world. The bible says don't eat pork or shellfish, and all sorts of nonsense that no one is pushing, why the hangup on abortion and gay marriage?! Think about it – the more gay marriages there are, the fewer abortions will be necessary! It's all about power and control with the clergy.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  4. Jodey

    Keep your religion off other people's rights.

    May 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  5. Michael Robinson Gainesville FL

    Christianity....same old dog and pony show, new and richer preachers of crap. Get over it people. All religions are fake. Do you still believe in zeus and pharoah? (neither does anyone else, cause they found out it just aint so). Call us non-believers anything you want, just keep your cotton candy jesus out of intelligent conversations. It's boring already.

    May 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • tim

      Why do you hate cotton candy?

      May 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  6. wanda

    I am a Christian and I am proud of it despite all you haters. I love my church and my pastor gives wonderful sermons. He is a great teacher. We all help each other in times of crisis and we also help people in our city, in our state, in other states and in other parts of the world. Our church with its own money has built a hospital in Ghana which provides medical care for many that could never have access to it. We have even added a maternity ward this year. And Doctors that attend my church go there to work and teach others. We helped with area flood clean up. We pack backpacks with food every week for kids that need it for their families. We have a prison ministry and I personally work with that and with at risk youth. If you even spent some time listening to people give testimony on how their belief and the kindness of other Christians has change their life maybe you wouldn;t be so mean and nasty and hateful. What the Bible taught me the most is to love others and serve others and that is what I do. Hate me if you want byt my beliefs are not hurting you and your hate is not going to shake my faith. It just makes us stronger. When people need help they don't get it from groups of athiests, they get it from CHRISTIANS.

    May 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Jodey

      Yes, there are Christians who are good. But there are also Christians who are BAD. The good ones just need to love more loudly than the bad ones hate.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Corey

      Wanda, that's because when we help people, we don't do it in the NAME OF anything. We do it because our fellow man needs it. We are not obsessed with saying, "Oh, by the way, I'm doing this because of god!" In fact, I've volunteered with many Christian groups because frankly, as long as they don't make me pray, I don't care what group I'm working with.

      By implying that Christian groups "do more good" (which is the most bogus argument of all time, you clearly know few atheists), all you are saying is that Christians help others out of obligation or fear to their god. Atheists, on the other hand... we help people for the good of humanity and don't need a Bible to tell us how to behave and connect with our fellow human beings.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • jim

      I think it is wonderful you believe in something that gives you comfort. Just leave me alone, and don't force me to live according to your beliefs, and I won't make you live according to mine, ok?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  7. MikeTexoma

    I am not a theological conservative. I am not a fundamentalist Christian. I am not a biblical literalist. But I can agree with them on some important things, and I can certainly say AMEN to this

    May 3, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  8. Really?

    Funny how evangelical conservatives and their lap dogs the GOP/T care so much about unborn babies but couldn't care less what happens after they are born...

    May 3, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • tim

      so just kill them first. nice try.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  9. MNTaxpayer

    How about we start with not calling people Christians and non-Christians and using both labels to make sweeping generalizations.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  10. RobbieMe

    Both NPR and CNN had weekend articles about God that brought over 4000 comments. I read about half; they were angry and condemning of course. No matter what the God-subject is the Comments section is now the only place where non-Christians can spout-off; the political areana isnt the place, OccupyWallSt isnt, The ACLU and Planned Parenthood dont work for them. There is simply no place for the anti-Christian person to unload but in Comments. But if anyone remembers Katrina and the Gulf Coast in 2005, who showed up to help those cities, bring food, clothes and camp out in the stadium with healthcare support long before the Fed arrived? Was it the church. Yeah, it was.

    May 3, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  11. Sean Harris, pastor of Berean Baptist Church

    "Nah – don't call /em names; shatter their wrist bones." http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/02/north-carolina-pastor-retracts-sermon-remarks-about-punching-gay-kids/?hpt=hp_t2

    May 3, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  12. jimtanker

    Don’t forget the National Day of Irreverence tomorrow. Break every one of the commandments that you can tomorrow. I’m not talking about breaking any laws but you can lust after a woman in your heart for adultery and hate someone which is the same as murder and covet something which is the same as stealing. You know, the usual Way of the Master B S.

    For those who can’t remember what the ten commandments are (I’m mostly talking to xtians here), here is the short version:
    1. You shall have no other gods before me.
    2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image. (like a cross with Jesus on it?)
    3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
    4. Remember the Sabbath day.
    5. Honor your father and your mother.
    6. You shall not murder.
    7. You shall not commit adultery.
    8. You shall not steal.
    9. You shall not bear false witness.
    10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or donkey.

    Like I said, break all you can but don’t break any laws. Have fun and have a great day!

    May 2, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Big Art

      Toga, Toga, Toga!!!

      May 3, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • paul

      I'm all over the adultry one.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • wanda

      it must get tiring spending so much time hating everyone that is not like you. I will pray for you

      May 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  13. WachetAuf

    Too many corrputing influences have crept into the "Christian" churches over two thousand years. It is not the church of Jesus. Jesus did not create it. It was created by politicians whose egos infected its substance and structure. Jesus taught a powerful message of tolerance, even that you love your enemy. Most of the churches, instead, are rigid heirachies where no truth is allowed to penetrate. They are exclusive clubs, excluding those who do not agree, not only with their religious views, but their political views and social standing of those who dominate the church, all of which have corrupted Jesus' teachings. The authors of this article do have a proper view of Jesus' teaching, but I suspect that none of them are willing to go into the temple and try to clean house as Jesus did. None of them will abandon their cushy jobs and go into the wilderness to seek guidance. They need the adoration of their flocks and the power the money brings them.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. You're focused mainly on the churches that have gained fame or notoriety on TV and the media. There are countless unsung churches who are upholding the faith.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  14. Maya

    I don't call Christians name because they believe in Christ. I call them names because they annoy the **** out of me. Big difference.

    May 2, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • wanda

      I am sure that you annoy the hell out of everyone that meets you.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  15. David Nelson

    The simple fact of the matter is this: Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both claimed to be prophets of God and taught that black skin was a curse from God for siding with satan in an imagined pre-existence. Both were virulent racists. Any Mormon who is defending their church and saying its not true is either lying or too young to know the truth about their religion. In either case they have no excuse now. Sorry, don't mean to hurt your fellings if you are LDS, but it is true. No amount of public relations can change it.

    May 2, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • jim

      Well, about about the Roman Catholics and the Inquisition? What about the Southern Baptists? I'm not overly fond of Mormons, but they have outgrown their racist past, just as the RC has grown out of its anti-Semitism. They have a right to their beliefs. However, I have a right not to have those beliefs applied to me.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  16. David Nelson

    Michael, they were only perfectly reflecting exactly what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught. You are either too young to know or know and are lying. I hope its not the latter.

    May 2, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  17. swohio

    Jim, Russell, and Samuel: I hope you're directing these same sentiments toward the gay activists who call Christians "hatemongers" and "bigots"...as well as toward the atheists who call us "deluded".

    May 2, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • PsiCop

      So, you're saying "two wrongs make a right." Got it.

      May 2, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • atomD21

      No they're not. And they shouldn't. The alleged victimization of Christians is all our fault (and a flat out myth). We started the fight by acting better than everyone else and by trying to berate people into believing in our religion, and now when the groups we attacked and dehumanized are fighting back, we are crying foul. We turned our backs on love your neighbor and ran straight into the arms of hatred and bigotry (commonly known in the church as Satan...). Until the church takes a step back and realizes that it is not its job to point out other people's problems while acting like they are perfect, nothing will change and will only get worse. So, before you start pointing fingers at all the "meanies" that pick on us poor downtrodden Christians, think about your conduct toward all those that don't sit in the pews at your church. I for one am sick of the way people that claim to follow Jesus treat other human beings, and I refuse to continue being part of the problem. According to the Bible, God is love, Jesus came for everyone, and we were specifically told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So why is it that we feel we have been given the divine right to choose who God gets to love and accept? The sooner we stop preaching this manmade religious dogma, and get back to doing good for all people and with all people like we are supposed to, the sooner we will see a healing of the wounds we have created.

      May 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Maya

      How does deluded, hatemongering bigot strike you?

      I can't really blame you, though. If you really believe in the Bible, there really is no other option.

      May 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      @atomD21: Jesus said no mane comes to the Father except through me. He didnt say "except through me and any others who make you feel good."

      May 2, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      @atomD21: Jesus said no man comes to the Father except through me. He didn’t say "except through me and any others who make you feel good."

      May 2, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  18. David Nelson

    While I agree that name calling is always counterproductive, christians are demonized beyond belief at times. It seems more year by year. Maybe it is just that blogs magnify all the name-calling. Name callers seem to love blogs.

    May 2, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  19. rousch15

    As a former Christian, I have to say that the most hateful words I've ever encountered came from the mouths and the keystrokes of Christians. It's quite sad, actually, because I still believe that Jesus was the Messiah. However, one who happens to be a liberal (as Jesus was!) faces a peppering from those who claim to love a Man who healed and fed people for free. It's sad that they cannot imitate their Savior's behavior and extend the favor to those less fortunate. It's also sad that they choose to blame the poor for their plight rather than pressure businesses to educate and hire them.

    May 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Tom

      Maybe I'm the first to do this or maybe not. But on behalf of those who spewed hateful words, either at you directly or just in your overhearing. . . .I'm sorry. I'm sorry that the church isn't more charitable, loving, forgiving. But, more importantly, I'm sorry that the church doesn't slip into the other side of the "Confession Booth" and confess it's own shortsighted, uncharitable behavior.
      Perhaps you'll never to return to faith (no matter what that faith system might be), but please never lose hope. Perhaps someday, in a post-Christian society, Christianity will return to it's roots of charity, love, peace. From a simple follower of Christ.

      May 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • David Nelson

      Well, being God it was very easy for Christ to feed and heal people. I know that many liberal christians don't believe he was God. But, I would never call people names just because they don't believe as I do. But, I would pray that they prayfully re-examine their belief from a biblical point of view.

      May 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
      • rousch15

        What's your thing against liberals? I gather you don't know many.

        June 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • atomD21

      Some of the best and worst people I have ever met have been Christians. We have lost sight of Jesus in our current crusade to "Christianize" the world, rather than truly help it. If we were truly following Christ, we would be feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and loving everyone as God does, not choosing who is deserving of God based on what we feel or were told once in church. It is a far greater evil to continue in the way we are going than to live a supposedly "sinful life."

      May 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • VoiceOf Truth

      "...most hateful words I've ever encountered came from the mouths and the keystrokes of Christians."

      Sorry you feel this way. Either you're not paying attention or are not researching enough into how this world works. If you did, you will see that your statement is way, way off base. The evil ones running this world continuously speak blasphemies and arrogant boasts 24/7, just as the Bible warns. People of all backgrounds say very hateful things, but you have chosen to follow the conditioning set forth by the media to focus your judgment on Christians. Repent.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:01 am |
      • rousch15

        Thank you for proving my point, as you assume too much-and you know what they say about assumptions.

        Born and raised a Ch

        May 3, 2012 at 1:50 am |
      • rousch15

        Thank you for proving my point, as you assume too much-and you know what they say about assumptions.

        Instead of telling me to repent, I think it would be wise for you to warn your fellow parishioners about the consequences of creating outcasts.

        May 3, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • jim

      If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, you are a christian. That, indeed, is the definition. Organized cults/churches ruin it for all of us.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
      • rousch15

        I remain outside of the Church because I tend to follow science instead of bowing to the Church's archaic teachings, especially when pertaining to social issues.

        May 8, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  20. Sumo

    Expecting Christians to actually practice what they preach? Keep dreaming!

    As an ex-Christian myself, one of the things that drove me to reject Christianity was continually seeing how hateful and venomous Christians can be when talking to people with whom they disagree.

    As an Atheist, I can see it more clearly now, the sinister grin Christians have plastered on their faces when they gleefully proclaim "You're going to hell for rejecting Christ! I can't wait for you to BURN for rejecting Christ!".

    May 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Maff

      umm, why do all ex-christians blame christians for their departure from faith? if you were a christian in the first place, you would know that your relationship with God has nothing to do with how other people act.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Wayne

      @Matt, let's work on our reading comprehension. He said "one" of the things. There are many factors involved.

      May 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Maff

      @wayne, you too may want to work on your comprehension. Did I say "all" the blame? Just blame right. Ok then.

      May 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • practicing athiest

      But the point of the article, and one of the points of Christ's words, is that people judge the faith by the acts of its adherents. The fact that we see this in action here is what makes the article particularly poignant. What does it matter whether Sumo's response is "appropriate" from an internal consistency perspective. It was real, and it was human.

      May 2, 2012 at 5:52 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.