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).


roy said…
I agree with everything you've said... with one exception. You, and others, have been quick to say that those on the right and the left have used violent rhetoric and have so laid responsibility for this atmosphere at the feet of both. For the life of me, I can't think of any examples where anyone on the left has used that kind of violent imagery and certainly none that have spoken of 2nd amendment solutions or prayed prayers like the one from the Psalms (and I have heard the next verse included).
I'll be happy to own part of the responsibility for this charged atmosphere if you can give me some examples of that same kind of language being used by those on the left. If not, then lets lay the responsibility where it is deserved and hold those accountable who are accountable. So, can you point at any examples? I have a significant list of them from the right.
Brian said…
I think you're right Roy. To those who say there is an equivalency, I ask, "Where are the bodies?". There is a literal, not figurative, body count coming from right wing violence. (I'm not yet saying this is one of them.) Since the old SDS days of the
1970's, I cannot think of a single act of violence on US soil from the left. Not one single lifeless body. If I'm wrong, show me the bodies.
Robert Cornwall said…

I agree that the left hasn't as far as I know used images of violence, but I see a lot of angry rhetoric on the left that is at times raising the heat.

If all would lower the temperature a bit maybe we can accomplish something positive.

But then part of this is wanting to level the playing field and not just blame the right, even if their rhetoric has been by far the more inflamatory.

In the case of this shooter there's no evidence that he was spurred on by Tea Party views -- his was more anti-semitic, white supremicist. But we just don't know yet.
Anonymous said…
I noticed obama had a "moment of silence" for the victims of the shooting in Arizona. Did obama have a moment of silence for the victims of the Fort Hood killings? I don't remember one.

The shooter in Arizona is purported, by the liberal media, and by liberal bloggers, as a right-winger, (the evidence of which I have yet to see). He is assmumed to have political movtives and to have been influenced by the speech of conservatives, and again, the evidence for those assumptions have not been revealed.

The shooter at Ft. Hood was a Muslim, and we were told that it would be best not to jump to conclusions about his motives, but to keep an open mind.
John said…
Just to keep the record clear:

What Barack Obama said he would do to counter Republican attacks: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a Philadelphia fundraiser Friday night. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

There is blood enough to go around.

Glenn said…
Obama's remarks following the Fort Hood shooting:

"As some of you might have heard, there has been a tragic shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas. We don't yet know all the details at this moment; we will share them as we get them. What we do know is that a number of American soldiers have been killed, and even more have been wounded in a horrific outburst of violence.
My immediate thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and with the families of the fallen, and with those who live and serve at Fort Hood. These are men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk and at times give their lives to protect the rest of us on a daily basis. It's difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas. It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil.
I've spoken to Secretary Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and I will continue to receive a constant stream of updates as new information comes in. We are working with the Pentagon, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security, all to ensure that Fort Hood is secure, and we will continue to support the community with the full resources of the federal government.
In the meantime, I would ask all Americans to keep the men and women of Fort Hood in your thoughts and prayers. We will make sure that we get answers to every single question about this horrible incident. And I want all of you to know that as Commander-in-Chief, there's no greater honor but also no greater responsibility for me than to make sure that the extraordinary men and women in uniform are properly cared for and that their safety and security when they are at home is provided for.
So we are going to stay on this. But I hope in the meantime that all of you recognize the scope of this tragedy, and keep everybody in their thoughts and prayers."

In the Fort Hood case, official moments of silence were called for by Secretary of Defense Gates and also held in the U.S. Congress.

I've noticed this same attempt to politicize this on several right-wing blogs. I'm not exactly sure what purpose this line of attack serves.

Jumping to conclusions about the shooter's motive is happening on both sides. The left leaning bloggers have labeled him a right-wing extremist while the right leaning bloggers label him a liberal communist. Regardless of whether he had any political motives or not, the questions as to whether the politics of demonization can encourage violent responses by unstable people is a legitimate area of exploration.
David said…
I can only think of the young child and her family so far. Hopefully their sacrifice will, ironically, result in some healing. Every time I think of them, I can only weep inside. I guess the gunman had family, but they should have seen he needed help. His school knew.

By the way, her father said this morning that living without freedom may have saved his daughter, but he still wouldn't choose curtailing that for America. What a great spirit.
Robert Cornwall said…

Thanks! This is a good word.
Brian said…
Today I'm sharing this reflection by Diana Butler Bass with my friends.

Anonymous said…
Indeed, words do have consequences. And the consequence of your words that link the tragedy in Arizona with conservative rhetoric is that it is now incumbent upon you to provide evidence that the link exists.

Good luck.
Robert Cornwall said…

If you read my post I don't make that direct link. I make the point that the rhetoric that is present in our society creates a climate in which such acts can and do take place. We don't know what was in the mind of this man, but he sought out a politician and sought to assassinate her. Maybe his is left wing ideology, I don't know.

But, what I do know is that most the of the rhetoric that has violent connotations is coming from the extreme right. And Sarah Palin's use of gun sights on her ad and talking about Conservatives needing to reload and Sharon Angle talking about "2nd Amendment remedies" is at least worth considering as as contributing to an unhealthy political climate.
cr said…
SarahPAC uses crosshairs to target incumbents they want to defeat; the Democratic Leadership Committee uses bull's-eyes to target incumbents they want to defeat. These images are a normal part of political rhetoric. They are visual metaphors.

There is no evidence that political rhetoric caused the shooting in Arizona. And the belief that political rhetoric creates a 'climate' that fosters such shootings is pure speculation -- it is also the worst kind of opportunism in which one side seizes upon a terrible crime to smear their political opponents.
Robert Cornwall said…
Again, I'm not saying that anyone ideology led this man to do what he did. What I'm saying is that violent rhetoric, left or right contributes to a climate in which violence can take place.

While the left blames Sarah Palin the Tea Party says its liberals.

So, where this leaves us is continued talking at each other rather than dealing with the problem, which is violent rhetoric in our land.
John said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said…
Interesting how people on the left are saying its the fault of right wing extremists and people on the right are saying not so. And some are saying be careful about finger-pointing without all the facts. To my way of thinking, the most disturbing faction includes those who see nothing to be concerned about

What is certain is that an unstable and obsessed young man was allowed to purchase a semi-automatic pistol and the ammunition for it and carry out the pre-meditated killing of a number of people and the wounding of many others - some government officials, some children, some grandmothers, all of whom were innocent and completely unaware of the tragedy which was about to befall them.

What is also certain is that such random violence and our horror at the consequences, brings our own hostile words and conduct into sharper focus: IS THIS WHERE IT LEADS TO? Perhaps, perhaps not. It is unimportant whether the young man paid any attention to the political rhetoric of the moment - what matters is that we pay attention to it, that we are frightened by it, by our own words and by the words of others - we have heard it said before that murder is where hostility leads.

"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt 5:21-22

The obligation is to seek reconciliation, not termination; to work together for the kingdom, as friends and not as enemies; to speak with love - even to power, even to enemies, and to be an ambassador of compassion and kindness.

What we need to ask ourselves is NOT who else is at fault here but: "What does the Lord require of you...?"


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