Words Have Consequences
The tragic event of Saturday in Tucson, which has led to the deaths of six people, and the wounding of 12 others, including a sitting member of Congress (Gabrielle Giffords), has shaken the nation. We don't know if Rep. Giffords will recover, or if she does, whether she'll be able to return to Congress. We keep her and the others affected in our prayers.
This event has not only caught our attention, and it has spurred a national conversation about the words we use and their consequences. It has become increasingly clear that the nation's rhetoric has become increasingly uncivil and even violent. When it comes to politics, it seems that anything goes. Pundits right and left spew angry words at one another, and the nation has begun to divide up, depending on who they listen to on the radio or the TV.
Now, the United States has a rich tradition of free speech, which I support, but as Paul makes so clear --
"All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. (1 Corinthians 10:23).
I realize that Paul is speaking here of dietary restrictions and not speech, but I think the meaning is clear enough. We may have the freedom to say whatever we like, but those words, especially words spoken in anger, can have consequences -- even violent consequences.
Did Sarah Palin's tasteless ad "targeting" certain members of Congress lead to this shooting? In and of itself, no. I doubt that the former Governor was wishing death upon them, but when we use words and images of violence then some may take this much more literally than intended. The same is true of those folks who are praying their "imprecatory prayer," which quotes from Psalm 109:8 -- "May his days be few; may another seize his position." Are these folks praying for President Obama to die? I doubt that most are praying for death, or even contemplating ways in which this would take place. They're just hoping that in 2012 someone else will be elected, but if you're going to use this verse then perhaps you should pay attention to the words that follow: "May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow." This isn't a prayer for electoral change, it's a prayer for vengeance.
So, here we are, living in a time when the rhetoric has gone beyond being uncivil. It has moved past angry rhetoric. The rhetoric, especially on the right, but not just the right, has turned toward the violent. We can have a discussion about the size of government, whether or not it's too big or not. We can have a discussion about what kind of health care we should have in our land, but when we start moving toward violent imagery and calls for overthrowing the government, then we've moved past what is acceptable.
Good people of good will need to step up and say, enough is enough. Let's bring the level of rhetoric down several notches, and start working toward the common good.
Since I began with scripture, I'll end with scripture.
7 People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. 8 No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way! (James 3:7-10 Common English Bible).