Avoid words that can kill

November 1, 2022
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Daily Scripture

Matthew 5:21-22, 43-48

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder [Exodus 20:13] and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

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Did You Know?

Resurrection has never told our members who to vote for. (Our membership includes voters, and at times candidates, from across the political spectrum.) We do urge our members to exercise the privilege and responsibility of voting. Kansas has early voting. If you haven’t already voted, we urge you to do so today (and certainly by next Tuesday), if possible.

Reflection Questions

Election Day is a week from today. Emotions are running high. Resurrection’s BE campaign urges all candidates, causes and voters to be just, kind and humble. Jesus showed the spiritual danger of despising other people and holding them in contempt rather than loving them. The Bible did not say “hate your enemy,” but some rabbis thought it did: “A command to hate enemies, while taught by some contemporary Jewish sects, was not explicit in Scripture, but extrapolated from pious examples there (Psalm 31:6; 119:113; 139:21).” * But Jesus stressed God’s love to both “the evil and the good.”

  • Jesus saw “Romans insulting Jews, Samaritans attacking Jews, Jews fighting back, different Jewish parties insulting and attacking each other…. Jesus…shows…a blueprint for a way of being fully, genuinely, gloriously human…. Every time you decide to let your anger smoulder on inside you, you are becoming a little less than fully human.” ** When have you seen deep inner anger reduce someone’s ability (even yours) to be fully human?
  • We might call a friend “idiot” or “fool” when we’re just kidding. But not in Jesus’ day (and at times today, our “kidding” can turn hurtful). The Aramaic and Greek words Jesus cited could destroy a person’s reputation and label them as subhuman. What kinds of words and ideas do we use today (in politics, but not only there) to create the same effect? How is that kind of thinking and speech the direct opposite of just, kind and humble?
Prayer

Lord Jesus, teach me how to love all the people you love, as hard as that feels. Help me to love because your love has changed me inwardly. Amen.

© 2022 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 219237-219240). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

** Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 42-44). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

GPS Insights

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

Someone very close to me is gay and may be trans. I know this is a controversial topic at most churches, but this is my story. The rhetoric and politics surrounding gay and especially trans people right now has been horrendous. Daily, I see social media messages calling the LGBTQ community groomers and pedophiles, almost all of them from Christians. It’s gotten to the point that if I find out someone is Christian but I don’t know them yet, I assume my friend will not be safe around them. And when I say unsafe, I’m not talking about harsh words. 22.7% of hate crimes in 2020 were carried out on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, totalling 1,376 violent acts. I literally fear for my friend.

I can already hear the rebuttals to the above paragraph. The vast majority of Christians would never commit a hate crime. I know that. Statistically, I know my friend is probably not going to be physically attacked by my Christian friends. But hate doesn’t start with hate crimes. As Jesus alludes in today’s passage, words can be damaging too—not just because they hurt, but because they enable a baseline of hate that empowers systems of injustice and, yes, violent acts.

Dr. Gregory H. Stanton studied hate and genocide and documented 10 stages of genocide:

  1. Classification – Separating groups of people to create an “us versus them” mentality
  2. Symbolization – Symbols are given to the “other” as a visual representation of their separation
  3. Discrimination – The dominant group uses laws, customs, and political power to deny the rights of the minority
  4. Dehumanization – The dominant group begins to treat the “others” as less than human, sometimes comparing them to animals or parasites
  5. Organization – Plans for violence against the “others” are made and groups are trained
  6. Polarization – Propaganda is put in place and socializing between the groups is forbidden
  7. Preparation – The plan is set into motion
  8. Persecution – The trigger is set
  9. Extermination – The trigger is pulled
  10. Denial – History is rewritten and evidence is covered up

Now, again, I know we’re nowhere near genocide in America. That’s not the point. My point is that by allowing hateful speech or actions, we’re enabling people and processes that are somewhere on this spectrum. The fact is, I think all of us have a spot somewhere on this list that we’d deem passable. Each of us probably has a group of “others” that we feel we’re fighting against. We probably look for ways to identify these people in public. We might support legislation that singles these people out. We may even go so far as seeing these people as less than human. But you know what? Humanity is dark. It always has been, in Biblical times and today. And today, just like there has always been, there are still people who are OK on this list right up through step 10 because of the hate we allow to fester.

The right place to be on that spectrum is step 0. Even knowing that we will likely never get to the later steps of that process as a society, there are individuals who might carry out their own agendas based on where they feel the threshold is. If you see classification, symbolization, discrimination, or dehumanization going on, whoever’s saying those things is somewhere on this spectrum. There is no room for love on this list, and there’s certainly no room for this list in love.

I don’t mean to be alarmist, but a lot of the discourse I see frequently on social media and in private conversations goes up to dehumanization. Initially, I stayed out of these conversations under the guise of protecting my own mental health or personal relationships. It wasn’t until I saw some of my friends forced off of social media due to threats and daily abuse that I realized that my comfort is far less important than someone else’s humanity. The things we allow and the things we overlook can have a far greater impact than we can initially see, and allowing (or making) even a few hateful comments can be much more destructive than we ever intended.