I must admit I have the advantage of age in writing this piece. In my younger years I was not slow to speak or slow to anger. I also have the advantage of friends that I have made and been able to observe. One of my friends, Dani, is married to a man that is the quintessential “strong and silent” type. Dani says of him that he only speaks about 6 words a day and 3 of them are “I love you” and so she stays. This is hyperbole but based on a great degree of truth. Allen doesn’t say a lot, he listens more carefully than may be apparent and when he begins to share a few words it pays to listen. Not doing so misses the opportunity of garnering some pearls of wisdom. In many ways Allen reflects in his character the words of James 1:19-20:
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God”
James is right of course. When we allow our anger to control our words we often say the wrong things and further add to the problem. The anger and division of thoughtless assertions, false claims and personal attacks seem to have escalated in recent years with the advent of 24 hours news television and the Internet. Suddenly individuals appear to the opportunity to express their views instantly and internationally over the net. Some youtube videos go viral in no time once discovered.
False accusations due to anger can be harmful and because they are emotionally voiced are often difficult to overcome. One of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman accuses Tea Party of racism over Obama. Did he provide any evidence this is true or was his assertion simply an uninformed reaction based on false information being generated by Obama supporters? Obviously I cannot know and I find African-American TEA Party candidate Herman Cain’s response kind and thoughtful:
“most of the people that are criticizing the Tea Partiers about having a racist element, they have never been to a tea party.”
The thing I appreciate about Cain’s response is that, unlike Freeman’s assertion, Cain doesn’t ascribe motive. It seems he is trying to think the best of Morgan Freeman and assume that the great actor is simply uninformed. Responding this way gives Freeman a gracious way to reconsider his position and perhaps look more closely at the TEA Party movement.
Both Allen’s sparse, intentional choice of verbal interaction and Herman Cain’s deliberate and kind response are but two examples of the words of James. They are not only instructive about living life as a believer but about evangelism as well.
Questions are often better than assertions. Why does someone believe something? Once they tell us we can question their assumptions or ask if they are willing to consider other possibilities.
Don’t assume motives. As humans, we have no way of knowing someone’s heart. Sometimes their actions may belie their claims but even though what they do is contrary to what they claim, we may not know why they have acted as they have.
Choose the hill worth dying for. Not all issues have the same value and are not as much worth fighting over. Even when an issue is worth fighting for the energy expended may not warrant the conflict at the moment. As explanation here may be helpful. My friend and MCOI Advisory Board member, Jhan Moskowitz, head of Jews for Jesus points out that faith is an act of the will, not a function of information. That doesn’t mean that information is not important but that in the end, an individual chooses to believe or not believe. We cannot argue someone into the faith. He might ask a question like, “If I can show you that God exists, would you believe?” If the response is no, than he would move on to another subject. It is disarming because unbelievers are often prepared to be attacked for their unbelief. If they are interested they will bring the topic back to front and center.
At times we may need to challenge and demonstrate that claims and accusations are false for the benefit of observers even if the one making them is unwilling to listen and even adversarial. But is should be done, as the Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15, “with gentleness and reverence.” Peter prefaces this statement with, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Christ is to be the center of our lives and informer of our actions. The political and religious rhetoric is heating up and expanding exponentially very often setting up straw men and ascribing false motives. You and I have little control over what others say or how they act. But, we can influence those with whom we have direct contact, face to face and today over Facebook, Twitter and other social media. We need to choose our words carefully for they may come back to haunt us at a most inopportune time.