November 11, 2020

Speak No Evil

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2

The World We're In

We're coming, as a nation, out of the most contentious election cycle in a number of years. While negative ads and trying to make it seem like voting for the other side would be an awful idea are nothing new, this year did seem to elevate the level of rancor that we've seen, at least compared to elections that I've observed (which reaches back to Clinton/Dole, 24 years ago).

But while this tactics are certainly nothing new, it seemed the volume was pushed up to eleven this year. Part of that, undoubtedly, was that fact that this is 2020. The year of coronavirus, the year of shutdowns and a massive economic downturn, the year of rising deaths and the burden of facing all this trauma disconnected from so many we know and love. If you voted for Trump, you were for his horrible COVID response and you may as well be a murderer. If you voted for Biden, you were trying to shut down small businesses and starve the small business owner and his family. Or so the narratives went (and continue to go). 

And of course, it wasn't just at the top of the ballot. Here in Iowa we had what was expected to be a close Senate race (though it turned out to not to be). So we were bombarded in every way, TV, radio, Youtube, traditional mailed flyers. All proclaiming the various virtues and horrors of Theresa Greenfield and Joni Ernst. But do you know what my 7 year old was able to identify, that I fear many adults miss? That all this advertisement is so much smoke, no actual information is being conveyed, and so it's useless to listen to any of it if you want to know the truth. That wasn't quite her wording. I believe the exact statement she made to her little brothers was, "don't listen boys, they're saying opposite things so we can't tell which is telling the truth." 

And she's exactly right. Of course the unhidden secret in all political advertising is that it depends on lies, half-truths, and painting things in such a way as to make your opponent seem as awful as possible. There is no sense in which politicians are out there seeking to uphold what Jesus calls the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

How Ought Christians Speak?

Into this reality busts a passage like Titus 3:1-2. Paul there tells believers to speak evil of no one. Did he just mean the people who look like you or vote like you? If so, would he really have needed to make a point of saying this? No, Paul says to speak evil of no one, because he knows we are often out to make ourselves look better by putting others down. It gives us a feeling of moral superiority. And that is a dangerous feeling in political discourse, because it moves the conversation from "I disagree with you, and here's why" to "you are a bad person, because of your evil intentions. You monster." 

I wish how I described that was exaggerative. But I feel I may have muted how vile our discourse has become. 

As a Christian, of course, this sort of thing should never surprise me. A youth pastor friend of mine called it "the world being the world." And this is apt. But what does disturb me is when the world is setting the tone and agenda for those inside the church. Brothers and sisters, it should not be so.

Speak evil of no one. That doesn't mean we fail to call evil ideas evil. It doesn't mean that we don't speak out against injustice. Far from it, if someone if walking in sin the role of the Christian is often to clearly speak the truth in love. In love. Because both truth and love find their source in God, you can't actually have a truthless love or a loveless truth. The absence of one diminishes the other. And so when we are told to speak evil of no one we are being called to treat others as if they are what they are: image bearers of God. Those who have been made in God's likeness (James 3:9). Even if we have profound disagreements with a person we are never given license to speak in a way that is derisive, that mars to truth to our advantage, or seeks to unfairly score points. Speak evil, speak falsehood, speak unfounded accusations of no one.

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About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).