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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.

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. tingle007

    More Christophobia from CNN. Atheists use name calling as well. So does every religion on earth.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Keith

      We wouldn't have Christophobia if you weren't so scary

      April 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  2. illuminati

    If those who are not Christians do not like us or like it here they can convert, leave the country or we can burn them with the steak.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • avoiceinmyhead

      hmmmmm. . . BBQ steak.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • gager

      The US is not a christian country or a muslim country or a jewish country, so you should all leave.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Keith

      Illimanati you are not,

      April 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Udoosh

      Yeah, see, it's hard to just chill and be copacetic when your entire religion is based on hate and fear.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  3. robatino

    Assad is a mass murderer. Should no one point that out?

    April 26, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  4. Post-Baptist

    As a long-ago backslidden Baptist, I am amazed to learn that at least one of the authors of this piece is a Baptist. I hope that this public statement (which I admire greatly) does not cause him to be ostracized from his faith against his will. Right after 9/11 I heard a radio broadcast in which another Baptist (this one an active congregation minister) also pushed toward a more balanced and humble assessment of our selves and of others. If TWO Baptists can make these statements within only slightly more than a decade, maybe there is hope for the world after all.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  5. jamie

    honestly – Ive encountered offensive "christians" out there; yes this is true. If Christians are to be known by their Love then theres a good chance that someone who could do that is not in a state of grace with God. But, by far, the rude and offensive behavior comes from the irreligious. Add to that the most are religious and you wind up with what is most likely a much, much higher concentration or percentage of 'rudeness' in the irreligious than in the religious.
    I think that makes sense though.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • momoya

      Are you saying that belief in any god at all curbs certain behavior??

      April 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • ewobi

      momoya, It is supposed to. Let me guess, you will say it fails, but you can only focus on what you think proves your point. One failure to you means all failure. Belief and following the teachings isn't often vocal about it, just quietly following the belief.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Belief and following the teachings isn't often vocal about it, just quietly following the belief."

      Really? So how do you explain all the churches all over the world? How do you explain the Vatican and it's billions of dollars?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Keith

      Momoya – any god will do

      April 26, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • ewobi

      YeahRight, I made no mention of the Vatican, I know little about them. Organized religion is not synonymous with belief.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  6. annajones

    "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

    James 1:27 This doesn't sound like the GOP

    April 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  7. Redemption23

    These conspiracy theories that are leveled at Christianity is nothing new. They have been refuted time and time again. Christianity still stands the test of time and the viciousness on this blog is a testimony to it's resilience. Oh by the way Krox, you have "faith" that your statement is true yet you cannot "empirically" test it. You want to make your point clear, stop using the "ad-hominen" tactic and start attacking the position and not the person. Gee whiz...

    April 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Keith

      That statement is the biggest circle of BS I have read lately

      April 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  8. V. Johnson

    Amen! As Americans, we are privileged to believe what we want; however, for the sake of our country's greatness, we all should focus more on where we can agree for the purpose of working towards solutions. Way too many digging their heals in and only focusing on their own beliefs, creating more problems for our country.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • momoya

      You do not "believe what you want.". That is a dumb lie.. You believe what you are compelled to believe.. When a loved one dies, can you just "believe what you want" that they didn't die?. No.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Keith

      momoya – You are an idiot, you are not compelled to believe anything. You choose to believe what you believe.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Keith

      I'm an idiot.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  9. n8263

    Christians are not held to a higher standard, Doobie, they hold themselves to an arbitrary standard. You could believe in a religion where it is unethical to wear black shoes on Mondays, you must eat blueberries on Fridays or something really ridiculous like it is immoral for consenting adults to have non-marital sex.

    This is not a higher standard, it is an arbitrary one.

    Religious moral codes lack reason and thus lack objectivity. Reason and objectivity are necessary to establish a scale of morality and therefore determine what a "higher" standard is.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Keith

      That is the most concise explanation of logic I have seen.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Redemption23

      Who then becomes the higher standard you speak of? Seems to me that in your world, religion is dangerous and therefore arbitrary. Do we live by your standard pal? Everything in life has a point of reference, question is, what is yours? Are they objective? Why should we believe you? so on and so on.....

      April 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  10. Mike

    Religion is a mental illness.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Kalessin

      Nah.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      Really? Wow, you must have been up for days coming up with that zinger....

      April 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Kalessin

      Simple statements require simple responses. You should be aware of this...being simple and all.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Rob

      LBGT is a birthdefect. Lets get everyone healthy.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  11. gretchen

    wow- lecturing Christians on misbehavior, when about all they ever get these days is slander from the media, and slander from just about every direction, even when most of them have nothing to do with the nonsense going on all around us these days? Whether you want to believe it or not, without the Christian population of the US, it would be a whole lot worse place to try to survive, folks. It is the Judeo-Christian roots of the US which has made it the incredible + mostly very decent place it has been for many years. It is when people abandon these standards that there's trouble. Our entire US legal system coast to coast is based squarely on Jewish and Christian traditions and decency standards, that's an incontrovertible it's a fact. There is no argument that will ever prove otherwise.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • momoya

      I reject your conclusions because you are simply begging the questions.. Logic fail.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      So you're suggesting it's too much to expect christians to behave better than everyone else? Then what's the point really? Just to get your "get out of hell" free card?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • ewobi

      momoya, It's interesting that you seem to think that any religion should follow you standards of logic. I suspect it's arrogance and a feeling of superior intellect. If you are right there is no difference but if you are wrong you will regret you lifetime of choice. I am not talking Heaven or Hell, just the understanding of how wrong you were. The rules of the universe just happened spontaneously? That isn't a leap of faith?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "The rules of the universe just happened spontaneously? That isn't a leap of faith?"

      Your god just happened spontaneously? What created your god?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • momoya

      Pascal's wager uses poor logic, and it's been refuted multiple times in multiple ways.. Please look it up so that you don't stupidly bring it up again.. By it's logic, a muslim would think that you are risking eternal punishment for not believing in his god, right?

      When you understand that I feel for all religions the way you feel about other religions than your own, you will know why I disbelieve..

      April 26, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Me

      And that right there is why our entire justice system does NOT work! It is base more on feeling and opinion then actual thought and logic!

      April 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • ewobi

      momoya, I don't need to look it up since that has nothing to do with what I am saying. That is not what I am proposing. My feelings on any religion is that they are trying to see the one source of it all and none of us are capable. You can believe whatever you want because you have a choice and no believing is still a choice. I can no more prove that God exists than you can prove he doesn't. A leap of faith is taken by every human being even if the don't admit it. When you can explain and prove what existence is all about I will take time to listen to you insistence that there is nothing responsible and the universe is an accident from nothing.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "and the universe is an accident from nothing."

      But wait...your god was created by an accident from nothing right? What created your god?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • ewobi

      YeahRight, I don't know anymore than you can explain why there is no source. That is why they call it belief and no proof. The interesting thing is that I can let you have your belief in nothing but you seem to resent any belief in something.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  12. Sergex

    momoya, believing is a choice... I chose to follow Christ after seeing the evidence he put before me. The evidence was not in full, but it was enough for me to make to choose to not need more convincing and believe. It's a choice, just like not believing is also a choice, especially if some else invites you to believe, and you choose not to. So yes, it is a choice, and it's before you. And again, I don't believe you are all the better or worse for what you choose, or hate you for that matter. AT ALL

    April 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • momoya

      No, believing is not a choice.. If you see a car wreck, you can't choose to believe it didn't happen.. That's stupid.. We are compelled to believe what we do.. If it were a choice, we'd not believe thousands of unpleasantries.. Think about it.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      I don't believe you have ever seen any evidence that god exists.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "I don't believe you have ever seen any evidence that god exists."

      There is evidence it all has to do with your brain, not a god.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  13. Colin

    Those who quote things Jesus allegedly said or who attribute specific acts to him have a pretty big problem to overcome.

    In truth, we have no accurate record of what Christ or did. The first gospel, Mark, was written about 35 to 40 years after Christ died. We have no idea who its author was (the myth that grew up in the middle of the Second Century – that he was a companion of Peter the Apostle is widely accepted as being just that – Christian myth) but it is very unlikely that he ever met Jesus.

    The author of Mark wrote in Greek, was highly educated and was likely at least 25 when he wrote. This would mean Jesus was dead for at least a decade before this author was even born! Jesus and his Apostles spoke Aramaic and Jesus’ apostles were all poor fisherman and the like in an age where only the very, very wealthy could afford to learn to write in their own language, much less Greek!

    So, he had to base his stories on what Jesus said and did on stories that had been circulating for well over a decade and, perhaps, earlier written accounts that no longer exist. As stories were told and retold over the intervening 20 years by early Christians, who obviously had a vested religious interest in magnifying the feats and life of Jesus, the stories got bigger and bigger, to the point where started to be credited with magic and miracles.

    The likelihood that any Gospel writer got the story of Jesus correct in any but the broadest terms is vanishingly small. All Gospels after Mark – Matthew, Luke and John have to overcome an even greater gap between Christ dying and them putting pen to paper – about 70 years in the case of the person who wrote John.

    This is why the 4 gospels contradict themselves in so many ways. It is also why I have never understood how Christians can unquestioningly believe the claims of supernatural powers contained in them. It would, literally, be like taking the word of a committed member of the Branch Davidian cult that David Koresh ascended above the flames at Waco, when this cult member wasn’t even born when Waco happened, was totally committed to the spread of the cult and wrote in Chinese.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Kalessin

      "In truth, we have no accurate record of what Christ or did."

      The same could be said of any ancient historical figure, but we don't see too many people saying Socrates wasn't real or what Plato wrote was inaccurate.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • momoya

      That's because people aren't using Socrates and Plato to argue for stupid sh!t..

      April 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Colin

      Kalessim, actually, we do. There is always debate on such matters. Any person who claims they know very much about figures from the ancient World is fooling themselves.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Kalessin

      @Colin- True, but not the same kind of debate like there is when it comes to religion.
      I agree also that some people can get a little too certain over what they know and believe they know is true.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Colin

      Indeed Kalesem. It quickly leads to an odd conclusion. People claim the gospels must be true because they were divinely inspired by god and then, when you ask them why they believe that, they say, because the Bible says so.. True, they do! Circular reasonoing 101.

      I believe Obama is a great and wise man. Why? Because it says so in his biography. And why do you believe his biography? Because it was inspired by Obama, a great and wise man.

      It is quite astounding the nonsense we will swallow as a species, provided it comes with a promise of eternal life.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Redemption23

      Colin buddy......research how many years after written accounts of Plato or even Aristotle existed? You never once get their existences called into question. It dwarfs the time lines of Jesus. Hey, I read Sam Harris too pal and talk about leading sheep's to slaughter.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Kalessin

      "I believe Obama is a great and wise man. Why? Because it says so in his biography. And why do you believe his biography? Because it was inspired by Obama, a great and wise man.

      It is quite astounding the nonsense we will swallow as a species, provided it comes with a promise of eternal life."

      We'll be nice and give the Democrats a break. They are quite deluded with their Chosen One. 😉

      April 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Alejandro

      I loved your post. It was very informative.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "The same could be said of any ancient historical figure, but we don't see too many people saying Socrates wasn't real or what Plato wrote was inaccurate."

      A good example is look at all the myths surround the first American President or do you even know the truth?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Colin

      Redemption23. RE Plato Socrates. That is my point. It is impossible to state with any degree of confidence what they said or did. It is too likely that myth and exageration crept in. Jesus is not immune to this tendency.

      Don't quite follow the Harris comment.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Colin

      Alejandro, amigo, I suggest that you get the tapes from The Teaching Company that were done by Professor Bart Ehrman. Those on the Historical Jesus and the Origins of the New Testament are great.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  14. Krox

    @Bruce, Faith is a useless thing. all religions use it and they can not all be right. peoples experiences and their understanding of those experiences is determined by their bias's and their understanding of the universe. so if a religious perosn has an expereince they can immediately explain they attribute it to their god. the intelligent and critical thinking person will try to find an explantion that is realalistic.

    experinces can be decieving based on how much investigation you use to figure out what that expereince was all about.

    personal experience is NOT evidence.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  15. *frank*

    It took three people to write this pinheaded thing?
    Really?

    April 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  16. God hates religion

    I have met very few self proclaimed Christians that are not hypocrites, they act more as if they were in a fraternity or belonged to a exclusive club rather than follow the teachings of Christ. Too many "Christians" have given Christ a bad name, he loved everyone, not just his followers.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  17. Redemption23

    Judge Christianity by the perfection of Jesus Christ and not the imperfections of Christians........just saying.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Really????

      That's such a nice sentiment, too bad it gives rotten people more excuses for being terrible.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • atlasmonroe

      Thank you.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • momoya

      No.. Because that's stupid theology; Jesus was the "first born" of many brethren (that's you, if you believe).. The idea is that YOU are supposed to be performing and doing almost exactly what Jesus did when he was here on the earth.. "These signs shall follow them that believe..." right?.

      The problem is that you can't.. You can't raise people from the dead and heal their maladies like the apostles and their shadows did.. If you could, and you did, then there'd be no other religions.. There's no magical "healing" power in Christianity, so there's no need for anybody to concern themselves with it's other claims, either..

      April 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  18. Sergex

    Have and Apple, I never mentioned I disagreed about church and state... I agree that the church should be separated from the state... AND vice versa. I also never mentioned I hated you, or though I was more than you cause I believe different... Try to find that in what I said. YOU WONT. You are the perfect example of the hate spin that is out there. You believe what you believe and dont want to consider my faith in God, fine... I wish you would... but it is your choice. And I DONT hate you or think I am better or worse than you for what you believe.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  19. bannister

    It took THREE writers to write this crap!

    April 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      3 christians = 1 semi-coherent concept.

      April 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  20. Max

    The sheep follow the shepherd. If you want to change peoples' perspectives, you'd better start with the people behind the pulpit and on the screen. If the overflow of the heart can make the mouth speak, then hate certainly can too, if not quicker.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:08 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.