Will America Become Famous for
Hatred or Famous for Christ?
The Very WORDS You Choose to Use Right Now
Will Help Determine the Outcome!
Editor’s Note: The midterm elections are over. Results are in. How do you feel about the final results? Can the country survive what we’ve been through? What’s next?
Many believe we’ve already passed a point of no return—that the very fabric of our society is being ripped to shreds, irreversibly—evidenced most often by the divisive, dehumanizing, and vitriolic WORDS we choose to throw at and about one another!
In this week’s blog post, David Bryant looks at how pervasive hate-filled speech has become, metamorphosing America into a place that feels unfamiliar and, in some ways, unsafe.
Thankfully, David points to a whole other possible outcome, where the future of the USA is shaped by a radically different set of WORDS—words that heal, that build up, that unite, that give light, that revive hearts—words able to lead America into an unprecedented era where we become famous, worldwide, for Christ, rather than for hate.
In so many ways, America’s destiny depends on WORDS! Your words, especially!
So, Where Does America Rank Today
on the “Hate-O-Meter”?
This past year I’ve noted intriguing blue yard signs with white lettering popping up in front yards everywhere across the country. They say: “Hate Has No Home Here.” It has forced me to ask: How much has hate found a “home” in America today?
As I listen to the language swirling around me from cable news channels, at office coolers, on talk radio, in political rallies, on a thousand YouTube diatribes, in editorial pages from the right and left, I wonder: Are the ways we talk to and about one another taking us toward healing or hostility? Toward the glory of Christ or the goring of countrymen?
What if we had a scientific tool that could gauge the level of hatred displayed in daily conversations and proclamations from coast to coast? If it measured all of the words spoken any given day in the public square, what would it tell us?
At one end of this unique meter we’d find “Hate” meaning: “I disdain you and want to dismiss you because I fear you and can’t trust your approach or what you stand for.” At the opposite end appears “Love” meaning: “Even though I don’t always agree with you, I care about you and affirm you as a person, and I want to understand you better so as to find ways we can join hands to work for the larger good.” The meter’s needle adjusts every day toward one side or the other, depending on the content of words it picks up.
At which end of the meter would America find itself in this hour? Would the dial suggest perhaps we’re facing a crisis of social, moral, and spiritual jeopardy as a country?
Far more importantly for my fellow Jesus followers, where today might the Body of Christ in America find itself on this “Hate-O-Meter”? Is there growth in acidic language among us, inside our churches, particularly in the political arena? If so, how could that negatively impact the mission of Christ across our land?
Take a moment to carefully reflect on this before you answer—because words matter.
Words Matter More Than We May Think!
Dr. Richard Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, observed last week in an article titled “The Neuroscience of Hate Speech”:
Humans are social creatures . . . who are easily influenced by the rage that is everywhere these days . . . . We know that repeated exposure to hate speech can increase prejudice . . . It can also desensitize individuals to verbal aggression, in part because it normalizes what is usually socially condemned behavior . . . . you don’t have to be this unhinged to be moved to violence by incendiary rhetoric. Just about any of us could be susceptible under the right conditions (emphasis added).
Dr. Friedman proceeded to issue a grave warning about where our nation is headed in this regard—just based on our words. For him, the “Hate-O-Meter” regularly registers far too close toward a climate of “enmity that’s enveloping us as a people.”
Words matter. A lot.
Highly respected, conservative Wall Street Journal/New York Times columnist, David Brooks, spoke out the very same week about what he calls “the forces of division” that are warring against “the forces of connection”—primarily by our choice of words—and leading to what he calls “a new cold war.” Here’s how this astute cultural analyst put it:
It is as if we’re witnessing this vast showdown between rippers and weavers. And here’s the hard part of the war: It’s not between one group of good people and another group of bad people. The war runs down the middle of every heart. Most of us are part of the problem we complain about (emphasis added).
The existential “cold war” America is experiencing—our heated war of words—“runs down the middle of every one of our hearts,” Brooks claims. That sounds familiarly biblical, doesn’t it?
Have we gone MAD? What I mean is this:
During the 20th-century’s cold war with Russia, the ultimate defense for the US was called “MAD” (“Mutually Assured Destruction”). It implied: “If you try to destroy us with nuclear missiles, we will do the same to you.” Even so, there seems to be a social parallel to MAD in America these days. We say to one another: If you try to destroy me with your words, then I’ll destroy you with mine.” Is this where we currently find ourselves—mutually trying to destroy one another with words?
Words matter. Sometimes our use of words should terrify us because of where they lead.
Let’s Take a Closer Look at Our Condition
Below, you’ll find a series of observations gleaned over the past month alone from various communication outlets to which many Americans listen daily. The phrases reflect verbal assaults that commentators say many believe are unraveling our culture.
Putting them together in a list like this has really sobered me, especially when, as you’ll see in a moment, I drew on the descriptions to help me look closer at Christians in America.
Mind you, these direct quotes are about our words:
- We’ve become addicted to outrage
- Our smashmouth language peddles hatred
- There is a lot of fear-mongering going on
- A tone of incivility has overtaken us
- Our words are poisoning our public life
- Toxic words are leading to toxic behaviors
- Opponents are now addressed as enemies
- By our words we are dehumanizing one another
- In our conversations we vilify those we consider “the Other”
- Instead of debating, we are demonizing one another
- Our words exacerbate the growing “tribalization” of our society
Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed in our recent political contests, such vitriol carries consequences. One set of hatreds fans other expressions of hatred, as the gap between speech and the violent acting out of hatred closes—until we’re confronted with pipe bombs mailed to ideological opponents; or massacres of worshippers motivated by loathing and resentment of them; or the murders of people of one race because the killer dwells in a cesspool of racism.
Yes, words have consequences. Scripture tells us in Proverbs 15:4: “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit”; and in Proverbs 18:21 we read, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”
That is why America faces a true existential threat from the flood of hateful language that is overtaking so much of our public discourse—bringing “death” to relationships with neighbors, distorting our passions, warping our well-being and security and self-respect—and inflaming our politics.
The Bible Reveals the Fountainhead
of Hateful Words
Our words don’t materialize out of thin air. There’s a fountainhead. The three sources of our brawling taught in Scripture are: (1) the “wisdom” from below; (2) the flesh; (3) the human heart. Here are three key passages:
THE “WISDOM” FROM BELOW vs. WISDOM FROM ABOVE: Thinking that leaves God out is one-dimensional, drawing only from our human, finite, fallen perspectives on life. This mindset is spelled out for us in James 3, where he describes it this way:
If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (NIV, emphasis added).
THE FLESH vs. THE SPIRIT is contrasted in stark terms in Galatians 5, where “the flesh” is a code word for our fallen, sinful, depraved human nature, and “the Spirit” refers to Christ pouring his nature into those who belong to him.
The acts of the flesh are obvious . . . hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy . . . I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love . . . Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (NIV, emphasis added).
THE STATE OF THE HUMAN HEART was fundamental to Jesus’ diagnosis of the origins of vicious language. In Matthew 15 and Matthew 12, we read (emphasis added):
The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person (Matthew 15, NIV, emphasis added).
You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of . . . . For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12, NIV, emphasis added).
Our words reveal our hearts, Jesus said! What comes out of our mouths on a regular basis testifies to what really fills our souls.
So, as you look at the American scene from coast to coast—especially in this white-hot political season, but also year-round—what do you think?
Based on the words you hear exchanged every day, what are the controlling forces in the life of the USA? Wisdom from above or from below? Fruits of the Spirit or works of the flesh? Hearts filled with the realities of Christ and his kingdom or filled with the passions of sin and self? Isn’t the answer pretty obvious?
Next, gather up all the phrases listed above from well-informed commentators on US trends. Then compare them with the graphic descriptions from these three scriptures—bitter envy; selfish ambition; demonic, evil thoughts; false testimony; slander; hatred; fits of rage; dissensions.
Now ask: Across our nation what does the quality of the prevalent, public discourse tell us about the spiritual desolation and danger threatening America today?
But now I want to press this analysis one step deeper to unpack the most disturbing insight toward which this entire blog has been headed.
How Much of This Unhealthy
National Climate Manifests Itself
INSIDE our Churches?
In the thick of such rancor and division and slander, what is happening with us as God’s people? As you weigh the words coming out of the mouths and keyboards of Christians, what do our declarations and conversations tell us about our own spiritual health?
Has the Church—more particularly the Evangelical movement in our land—become famous for Christ or for hate? Based on the words the country hears coming out of our mouths, is the person of Christ the first thing people think of when they hear the word “Church”? Or do they picture our political passions and moral outrages?
Have we as believers become more famous for what we’re against? For what we disapprove? For the policy positions we fight for? For the government practices we vehemently demand?
In the eyes of many non-Christians watching us, have we become more famous for words and attitudes of antipathy and anger—often spoken toward fellow Americans? Too often even toward one another as fellow believers?
I’m not saying that we constantly express blatant belligerence at others. But if you were to listen to the communication coming out of our mouths in individual conversations as well as the tone of expressions found in our collective social media messages delivered daily into the public square, what might someone be justified to charge us with?
How much of how we present ourselves to our nation as God’s people reveals a good deal of “the wisdom from below,” “the works of the flesh” (even if it is “religious flesh”), and the contamination of unclean hearts?
That’s the question that Christians in our nation need to engage far more aggressively than a single blog post can manage to do. But engage it we must—because solutions must be found.
Let Words of Life and Love in Christ Resound!
TIME magazine’s front cover story this week is titled “Beyond Hate.” It offers recommendations from some of the nation’s top thinkers who express urgency for Americans to move past the level of hostility that is ripping us apart, unmasked by what we are saying to one another.
In his recent bestseller, THEM: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (a Jesus follower) puts it bluntly: Our cultural crisis isn’t really about politics. Reversing our moral and social decline requires something more radical, he says—a rediscovery of human-to-human relationships, where we start all over again learning to love our neighbors in community.
This requires, first of all, that the people of God—those of us who are alive in union with the risen, reigning Son of God—also must move beyond hate.
How do we do that? The first step is for us to experience together in greater dimensions God’s answer to the “love prayer” of Ephesians 3:
I ask [the Father] that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! (The Message).
Love! Yes, that’s the solution! The love that can make America whole is found in the whole Christ—and can be spread abroad only by those who are wholly alive in him.
Awake to Christ. Awake to
Words of Life and Love.
That’s why thousands of us from every stream of the Church have been praying and laboring for decades toward nothing less than what we call “a nationwide Christ Awakening movement.” We truly believe that by God’s grace such a profound spiritual revolution looms on the horizon, offering the one great hope for America.
We believe such a Christ Awakening will involve “the whole Church becoming wholly alive to the whole vision of the whole Christ” as “the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to reintroduce the people of God to the Son of God for ALL he is.” This in turn will saturate our hearts with Christ and his love to the point that the words spilling out of us will be filled with his grace and truth, with his goodness, and with his gospel.
Dr. Edwin Orr, the great revival historian, summed up his three PhDs in the study of awakenings with this simple definition: “It is when Christ pours himself out on his Church through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
That’s precisely what we’re praying for. Many anticipate the day when, in fresh and amazing ways, our King will pour love on us by pouring himself into our life together—until by our very WORDS we become famous for Christ—as our tongues display “the wisdom from ABOVE” (which is the truth about Christ), as we “walk in the power of the SPIRIT” (which is the power of the victorious Christ), and as our HEARTS are filled with the unbounded love of Christ.
The reclamation of America requires a flood of words about Jesus and for Jesus and leading to Jesus that saturates and then renovates our whole society—until our neighborhoods, communities, cities, and nation become “filled with the knowledge of the glory of God” (Habakkuk 2) as revealed “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4).
Without a doubt, the Body of Christ can become famous for the person of Christ once our tongues consistently speak of the supremacy of Christ.
Words can kill. Words can heal. But words that take people to Christ can totally lift up and transform one person or one nation for the good.
If words about Christ, from Christ, and for Christ begin to saturate the Church and subsequently the whole land through the Church—if those words are believed, received, consumed, lived out and passed along—then that kind of language will really matter.
When replicated by millions of believers in daily conversations, emails, texts, tweets, and blog posts along with Sunday sermons—when backed up with gospel deeds of love—Christ-exalting words can eventually reconstitute an entire people making them famous for Christ rather than for conflict.
We’re told that “faith comes from hearing when what is heard is the message about Christ” (Romans 10, emphasis added). No wonder, then, that the Bible summons Christian communities to “put on love . . . [and] let the message about Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3, emphasis added).
Out of such an overflow of words focused on the spectacular, saving supremacy of God’s Redeemer, there will ignite in our land such a fervor for Jesus and for all he is and all he brings, that like the sun spreading its rays across a field in early morning, there will come about such a “warming” of the spiritual and moral climate that America will become more and more famous for Christ.
And when that testimony arises before the nations, in contrast to our present sullied reputation of division and bickering, the impact of such a nationwide Christ Awakening will prove to be so profound it will strengthen the work of the gospel in every part of the earth.
Psalm 68 records: “The Lord gave the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it.” Even so, let words of life and love in Christ resound without delay among God’s people throughout our land!
To follow up on this blog post, download my free ebook, Messengers of Hope: Agents of Revival for the 21st Century, here.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com.