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Sticks and Stones: The Unintended Consequences of Words

We’ve all heard that children’s saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” But it’s just not true. Clearly, Todd Akin’s poorly chosen words hurt others. And it’s also possible that poorly chosen words not only hurt, but can incite physical violence as well.

I say this in the wake of the frightening attack on the Washington, D.C., offices of the conservative Family Research Council by a lone gunman who shouted something to the effect of “I don’t like your politics” before shooting a building manager in the arm with a 9mm handgun.

In his backpack, along with more ammunition, was a collection of sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, the focus of national attention only a couple of weeks earlier. Two big-city mayors hung out the “not welcome” sign for the fast-food chain when its owner, Dan Cathy, spoke up in favor of one-man, one-woman marriage. The shooting came a day after the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign labeled the FRC a hate group. And of course the Southern Poverty Law Center has long called the FRC a hate group.

But liberal columnist Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is troubled by the cavalier way that liberal groups attempt to smear conservative groups like FRC. According to Milbank, labeling “a policy shop that advocates for a full range of conservative Christian positions as a hate group is reckless.” He says, “it’s absurd to put the group, as the law center does, in the same category as the Aryan Nations, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Stormfront and the Westboro Baptist Church.”

Well, it’s not only absurd; it’s potentially dangerous. Now, we can’t say that a particular statement causes a troubled person to go off the rails. But the fact is, we live in dangerous times when it doesn’t take much to set off unstable people in our broken, sin-scarred world — as we’ve seen recently in Aurora, Wisconsin and our nation’s capital.

The sad fact is, demonizing the Family Research Council or even Chick-fil-A can lead to unintended consequences. As Milbank says, “There are unbalanced and potentially violent people of all political persuasions. The rest of us need to be careful about hurling accusations that can stir up the crazies.” The president has called for civility in the past and needs to do so again.

But whatever words the critics hurl at us, we Christians must continue to speak the truth, even in the face of hate. Our confused society needs truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. That’s why our friend Chuck Colson put together the Manhattan Declaration, to uphold the sanctity of human life, religious liberty and one-man, one-woman marriage — even though he knew that those who present the biblical worldview on these vital issues can and have become rhetorical targets.

But, as Chuck reminded us, we must speak that truth in love. Christians should set the standard for keeping a cool head and demonstrating by words and actions that we care about all people.

My friends Eric Metaxas and Joe Loconte join me this weekend on "BreakPoint this Week" to talk about this. Joe’s new book The Searchers has earned him spots recently on national media like CNN and MSNBC. And each time, Joe demonstrated the sort of informed, courageous winsomeness that we need more of. Eric and I talk with Joe about how to do this every day – especially with our relatives and friends. I hope you’ll listen, and I hope you’ll pick up Joe’s book, along with the e-book of Eric’s legendary speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, by coming to BreakPoint.org. Click on this commentary. Both of these books are on sale this weekend.

Our Lord Jesus said we must treat others — even those who unfairly put us on the level of the KKK — as we wish to be treated. This may or may not win over those who hate us, but this isn’t just about civility. It’s just what Christians must do.

As the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, John Stonestreet provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: August 24, 2012

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