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. mouse2

    You are so right but then, when have christian's EVER acted like christian's. I'll tell you, NEVER! That is how you can tell that this is a fairy tale like all the others. If this all powerful, all knowing being can't keep his people in check it must be because he/she/it does not exist.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Autumn Le Fleur

      No True Scotsman Fallacy

      April 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • brutus

      You have great grammar...must coincide with your great intellect and logic which comprised your response!

      April 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • John

      Mother Theresa, Saint Francis, Sisters of Mercy, the Poor Claires, the Dominicans, the Benedictines (to name a very, very few). Start reading about the lives of the Catholic Saints and the Religious Orders they inspired.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  2. Mark

    I am an Atheist and I have a good friend that is a devout Mormon. When it comes to religion we are on opposite ends of the earth but we both value our friendship and we respect each other values (religion & secularism). We agree to disagree and our friendship is solid.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • JesseClark

      What are you doing?? You can't be thoughtful and kind here!

      April 27, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  3. j

    I agree with this article. Christians should not be calling anyone names. Scripture is clear:

    1 Peter 3:15

    But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

    2 Timothy 2:25

    Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,

    God told us to love our neighbor as ourselves..and love and hate do not mix. For those who call unbelievers names, you are ruining Christs reputation in the world, and you will have to answer for it.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Bob A

      If Christ indeed loved and died for us all, not just those that believe in Him, then...
      The scriptures you quote are meant for us all, not just those that believe in Him.
      All people will answer for every word and action of their life, not just those that believe in Him.
      When the time comes, "Every knee will bend" , not just Christians, but Muslims, Atheists, Pagans, but All will answer to Him!

      April 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "When the time comes, "Every knee will bend" , not just Christians, but Muslims, Atheists, Pagans, but All will answer to Him!"

      Seeing as 33% of the world actually believes in Christianity and many of those really don't follow it closely, then your god is basically sending at least 70% of people to hell. Hmmmm.... now that's a evil god. Oh...that's right men made it up and didn't realize the math wouldn't work out in their favor. LOL!

      April 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  4. MormonChristian

    The challenge is to live life as Christ showed us – to love our enemies, forgive, see everyone as a child of God. Rather than disparaging Christianity, we have a call to "Come follow me". If we all lived and loved as Christ did, the world would be a peaceful place, there would be no crime, no disparity of income, no war, no poverty (Acts 4:34-35).

    April 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  5. Burbank

    Speaking of name calling, why does this author seem to think that anyone who is not a Christian an atheist. That's name calling/labeling right there! There are a lot of non-christians that believe in a higher power, although it may not be called by the same name as they do.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  6. Patriarchae

    Wait, the president of Focus on the Family contributed to this article? What a hypocrite (and no that's not name-calling, that's a fact). Focus on the Family is one of the most hateful Christian organizations out there, especially in their anti-gay rhetoric.

    Unless Focus on the Family has magically changed in the last year or so, I cannot take this article seriously due to that.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Chance

      The people behind the article are humans and not perfect it doesn't compromise the idea behind the story if they fall short of it. Just because a Christian messes up it doesn't invalidate the foundation of Christianity.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  7. JohnENY

    wow- more people with a guilt complex pointing out their own faults

    how about an article asking why bill maher hates christians? nah- that wouldn't be politically correct

    or an article asking why thousands of churches are being burned in the middle east and africa? and thousands of christians being killed because of their religion?

    nah- let's just focus on a small minority of christians who are bigots. we'll be safer that way

    April 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Mavent

      Perhaps you should grow and worry more about yourself than you do about Bill Maher.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Ed

      You should spend less time using the rest of the world as a scapegoat and focus on yourself and your community, Forget Bill Maher. Better yourself.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • JohnENY

      thanks guys. i'm not even a christain. and i watch bill maher

      however- many of my friends are christians- and they're great people who are not racist, do not hate gays, and honestly never said a bad word against anybody

      i'm just sick of the unanswered hate coming from the left. bill maher is not religious- so what? why bash others who believe in god? if you don't like their politics- attack their politics

      at a time when muslim murder of christians is becoming an epidemic with no media coverage, these guys are worried about a few bigoted christians?

      April 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  8. Mike

    Christians don't seem to really understand the Bible, Christianity, and the teaching of Christ. The main message of the great book is that Christ was persecuted for helping others who were less fortunate, and in the end, they took his life. So walking around persecuting others... isn't really living the path of Christ. Anyone preaching or spreading hate and greed. Knows nothing of Jesus nor the teaching of Christ. Those who say greed and hate are "ok" were the ones responsible for Jesus' death. Which side are you on again?

    April 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • pooryorick23

      Excellent article, now let's try to live this out in the comments section :).

      April 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Leigh2

      You're absolutely right ~ Christ was persecuted. Mercilessly. All events moved in that direction for a reason. His crucifixion and then resurrection. So I agree, we need to recall what Christ suffered and be ever mindful of how we treat others. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. In other words, treat others the way you want to be treated. But I still suggest, don't confuse people who are Christians in name only with those who are true believers.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      You don't need god to treat others well.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Guest12912

      Agree 100% , and it's really sad that religion as a whole is represented by those people whom don't understand the teachings and have no respect for their human brothers. well it is true we are as strong as our weakest link and it's time people understood what it means to be a follower of Christ if they choose Christianity. Also, a little secularism might be able to help with the fanaticism. ( not that secularists can't be fanatics too).

      @ HawaiiGuest: You are absolutely right when it comes down to the individual, but when it's a population it's not as easy to make a comment like that. We can all look at China and see what is missing.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      The religiosity of China doesn't matter to it's moral convitctions, it's lust for power and wealth of the government that drives the government to what it is. To say that religion is not needed to treat people well at an individual level, but it is needed on a population level makes absolutely no sense.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  9. Tired

    I think it was a lyric in one of Jewel's songs that said...In the end only kindness matters"...no matter what one believes or does not believe it wouldn't hurt anyone to try to live by the "golden rule" and to be as nice as possible to everyone they come in contact with. Here is hoping that I'll witness lots more of that in the future instead of all the hate being spewed back and forth by so many. Or...like Rodney King said..something like "can't we all just get along"?

    April 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  10. Sanctiimonious

    DanD – The reason the author is singling out Christians is because he is one and is concerned about the hypocrisy of so-called Christians who are self-righteously intolerant of any persons or views which they have judged to be against their "Family" values. Look to clean your own house first. Attempting to project the guilt onto other religions for also being intolerant is simply an attempt to spread the blame and avoid responsibility. I am a christian who is appalled at the lack of compassion and tolerance being displayed by many of our bretheren. Christ said ""Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me also"

    April 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Leigh2

    What makes you believe these people who say these things who you are calling 'Christians' are really Christians and true believers? Sounds to me like they aren't following Christ's example and therefore are Christians in name only. There are many people who claim to be Christian yet who don't really follow the tenets of Christianity. God knows our hearts and will judge accordingly.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • DAVE


      April 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  12. TomatoSoup

    I love how the article singles out Christians of name calling and the only name calling going on in the comments is from the atheists...

    April 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • anon

      missing the point friend. He is saying that Christians need to take the high road. he is not implying that they are the only guilty party

      April 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Sheepleherder

      Yes, it is strange that Christians would mention Christians, when writing an OpEd about how Christian people, of their own Christian faith, should stick closer to what their Christian faith dictates ... or maybe not.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  13. my2cntsworth

    Ouch, this must make Christans squirm in their skins. To be "Christ-like" is tougher than you thought. You Christians feel that you are in a position of authority to denigrate your fellow man, when in fact, your saviour warned you that you shall be judged by your words. Hope there is some reflection for those who read this article. Doubt it though. We are too far along and ingrained in our own version of Chritianity and not the one described in our Bible.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  14. Welled

    Your seeing thing inside of a microwave looking through the glass. Christian ignorance is as dangerous as the robber barrons that furrow and dig up the earth. They make big donations to churchs. Which makes you scratch your head. They also fund a lot of things including financing your churchs. Ok. Well its ok to lend to a gentile. But how about a little sermon on usury. You wouldn't dare do that one. Ok how about a little sermon on Israel. You know the Israel where the people were what 1800 years out of their homeland. Now cleaned up and brought through the fire. They have miraculous 6 and 7 day wars where God just hit's em hard and hes with them. Not to mention the miraculous 19 day Yom Kippur war. God is with them. There are 17 banks in Israel with rates worse than ours. Home loans, boat loans, student loans, credit card, commerical loans, land loans. farm loans. business loans. Of course a house that takes only 3 months to build and 30 years to pay for is a deal. For an idiot that is. Naw that ain't usury. You guys need to find another line of work. Quick. Cause you really can't see very well and using your head dosen't seem to be working. Don't believe me check the facts. The same guys that lend that you love so much are the same guys that had that Bible written its about pacification. Your not wanting much them gettting theres in the end with no vengence. You having to wait until its to late. So work quietly minding your own busniess. While your "flock" does the labor helping these guys to steal what is not theres even the gold on a thousand hills.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • serveJBR

      Ignorance is dangerous for all. So, what exactly is your point? Did you make a bad financial decision? Get ripped off by someone claiming to be a believer? If that's the case, sorry. Plenty of fake people of all stripes. All one can do is be "unspotted by the world" and try to set a good example through grace and forgiveness. Sure is hard sometimes to be sure, really want to throttle people sometimes. Then, you see that plank in your own eye and pipe down a tad. Yep, it's hard. Guess I had to decide "Do I believe in something, or nothing?" No way to know for sure, but sin and evil are definitely real and lead to suffering, just read the news every day:(

      April 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Welled

      So whats my point. Try reading it again. My point is ignorance of real facts. Facts that are there. Facts that you rationalize till your 8 years old again with wet pants drooling in front of the televison set in a subconcious state. Facts that clearly point out what you think is a modern day miricle is nothing but a really big hoax. Camps, The bomb. Miraculous re-entry into Jerusalem. All in one fell swoop. I point out whats going on. You ask me a stupid question. Your really gullible pal.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Common Sense

      Religious people aren't stupid or ignorant. They're religious. Get out your anger on something else.

      April 26, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  15. Joshua

    Funny, how all this love for immigrants is coming from heavily Republican organizations, at a time when Republicans need Hispanic votes, when Republicans need to rein in their more enthusiastic Tea Party followers lest the Democrats get the hispanic vote and clean Romney's clock.

    Nothing to see here but politics, folks. Remember how these people TRULY feel. Vote Republican and the hispanics and the gays are in big trouble. The big bad wolf is smiling now, trying to get you to come a little closer.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Reality

      Let's see - vote spendocrat, I mean Democrat, and more debt will be added to the 15.6 TRILLLION dollar debt so that the Spendocrats can offer moochers more "freebies" as a way to buy votes! The "freebies" are not free – they are paid for by the labor of other folks and by adding to the MASSIVE national debt. The Spendocrats will not be buying my vote by promising "freebies" that are bankrupting our country. The American work ethic is dying out and is being replaced by the MOOCH ethic.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  16. Patricksday

    Too bad the "Christians" dont read the whole chapter of Matthew, where he says what YOU DO to the least of us You have done to God. Greed, Selfishness, Hate, Fear and Gluttony are the apparent values of the Republican Party "Christians", and the church tells them they can sin as much as they want as long as they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and it wont matter who you cheated, who you betrayed or who you murdered. Just whip out your Jesus card and swipe at the Pearly Gates will open to you, but then their is the Exit Interview you need to pass before your "reward" or Judgement they dont talk so much about. Just toss the Church alot of money and they will say and do pretty much what you want.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • serveJBR

      ah, no, "the church" says no such thing, no play a Jesus card, sin all you want. As with most books, one must read the entire thing, study it with smart folks (sermons) and then decide for yourself / "question everything", not basing your decision on how others behave, but on what you think is likely the truth. If you believe in God, you don't judge how He is by how people act. To me, the Bible is crystal clear- all of us sin, but all of us have been offered a free gift of salvation to be enjoyed in this life through peace and the other "fruits of the Spirit" and then for eternity. Hard to believe? Sure, initially. But life is hard, so perhaps go back and hit the book, pray, study, worship. Then perhaps it will become more clear. It's not about politics. It's a love story / His story:)

      April 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  17. DanD

    Why is this rant limited to Christians? Muslims, radical Jews, radical atheists, radical "statists" are all guilty, don't single out "Christians", be honest and complete in your complaint!

    April 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • LinSea

      I think he approached the topic as one Christian speaking to other Christians.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • pastrychefvt

      This was not a rant. And as it was written by Christian leaders, it was directed to Christians. As you would expect, or at least hope, that a Jewish leader would appeal to his people, a Muslim leader to appeal to his people, these Christian leaders were appealing to their people to be more "christian". I, a baptised and confirmed Christian (though mostly Buddhist now), and quite appalled lately at the violent rhetoric used by many Christians, as well as other groups, was very touched by this appeal to reason, love and compassion. It was not a rant. It was a sermon.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Joe

      Because this author is obviously Christian and addressing his brethren.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Mike

      I believe the writer is Christian and is trying to speak to those of us who say we believe in and follow Christ. He is saying that we as Christians should be acting more like Christians regardless of how people of other beliefs act. I think you are a part of the core audience for this message.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Bruce

      It's not limited to Christians. It emphasizes Christians, but everyone else is mentioned in there as well.

      Reading is fundamental...

      April 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  18. The reality

    The truth is, or at least in my memory and my discussions with friends over the years, that name calling hurts. It just plain does.

    It hurts the hurler and the hurlee.

    It often hurts those within ear-shot.

    Sometimes, it never leaves one's memories.

    Find a way to be kind. It's far more important to our humanity.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  19. Harry From Pa

    I agree with this article, I am christian and what I see going on in America is we like to play church but we don't live by the word, or by what Christ teaches us how to live. Sometimes it's crazy to think where is that we are getting our teaching from. The biggest thing we know about God is that he is Love, and to love thy neighbor. But we don't see any of that. Why is it the gun toting party who claims they are the most christian and with the most family and moral values. They are Pro life at the beginning of life as pro death penalty at the end of it. I just see a lot of hypocrisy going on. I mean they say the president is waging a war on religion but what party claims he is muslim? I don't get it. Sometimes I wish people would actually act as christians and not just use it as a label.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Birch please

      “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

      April 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • The reality

      @Birch please:
      Ghandi was "teh man."

      April 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Hank

      Let's not go down the list of other things (or people) Ghandi didn't like...

      April 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • DavidLevinsn

      "The problem with quotations that are found on the internet is that it is very difficult to determine whether they are authentic"

      April 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  20. Krox

    What else do christians have? its not like there are facts or evidence to back up any of their claims.

    April 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Jer

      well they do have a 2000 year old book put together by a bunch of people mainly on witness acounts.... isnt that enough?

      April 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Bruce

      In many cases, I find that the "claims" of Christians boil down to something like, "you know, I had this personal experience that affected me in this way, and that personal experience–and its affect (and yes, affect is the proper word here and not effect, look it up)–resembled somewhat this story about Jesus and/or the early Church in this part of the New Testament. Have you had a similar experience?"

      What kind of "proof" does one need to believe in their own personal/private experience, or to place the affect of that experience in a proper framework for understanding? This isn't rocket surgery, you know–it's faith.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • DavidLevinsn

      Well said Bruce.

      April 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Chance

      @Krox Please share the fact and evidence you have to disprove God.

      @Bruce thanks for replying to @Krox

      April 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Krox

      Jer, you may want to do some historical research into the bible. their book has 0 witness accounts. the guys that wrote the stories wrote them no less than 60 years after the supposed events took place.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • momoya

      It is not incu.mbent upon the skeptic to disprove a claim that has not been demonstrated as fact by the claimant.. The atheist claim is not a positive claim that can be proved or disproved but is a judgment of the evidence already laid forth from the god believer..

      When an atheist says, "there is no god," typically what he means is what you would say in reference to unicorns.. I know that you claim god/unicorns exist, but I do not see that what you claim as "evidence" is really so..

      You're the claimant.. You have to prove your claim.. As soon as a god believer can prove his claim, there will be no atheists.. We don't have to disprove and unproven claim.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Bruce

      @momoya: This isn't that sort of "claim." Look up the definition of "affect," the noun version of the word.

      The question, "have you had a similar experience?" or another question, "how should I understand the affect of my experience?" is not a claim in and of itself. It's a conversation. It's a reaching out to your fellow human to get some sort of connection on an emotional (aka "spiritual") level.

      It's not rocket surgery, as I said, it's faith.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • John

      Talk to Catholics.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:54 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.