Fiery Tongues in Public Discourse

The Scriptures tell us in James 3:6 that “the tongue is a fire”.  Fire can be used for constructive or destructive purposes.  It can warm a person up or burn a house down.  We must take great care in the way we attend to fire.  In the same way, we must also take great care in the way we attend to the language we use on a daily basis.

When we use language, are we using it to heal or to hurt?  Do our words build others up or tear them down?  The tongue is a fire, indeed.  Like a fire, it can also burn quickly out of control and cause unspeakable damage.

This truth has been driven home for me in a fresh way as I sit here in these days following the brutality unleashed in Tucson, Arizona.  I listen as media reports pour in on a daily basis, containing not only information but also interpretation about the horrible things that have happened there.  I notice that voices on every end of the political spectrum are quick to paint their own version of events, each with its own cast of villains, victims, and heroes.

Each side implies that the other may have secretly hoped for this disaster or may be secretly trying to benefit from it.  As a result, the political language in this country has become increasingly polarized and inflammatory.  Each side wants to associate its enemies with the kind of violence and insanity we witnessed in Tucson.

I believe it is imperative for us to tend the tongue’s fire carefully in moments of crisis, not because some might use that language to incite violence, but because most will not.  Most of us are better than that.  Most of us will listen to others who want to make this world a better place.  Most of us can respect the intelligence and good intentions of those with whom we disagree.

Let’s allow our language to reflect the very best that is in each of us and draw out the very best that is in each other.  Let us tend to the fire of the tongue with grace.

God of compassion, you watch our ways, and weave out of terrible happenings wonders of goodness and grace. Surround those who have been shaken by tragedy with a sense of your present love, and hold them in faith. Though they are lost in grief, may they find you and be comforted; through Jesus Christ who was dead, but lives and rules this world with you.  Amen.

-from the Book of Common Worship

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