by Rev. Robert Johnson
It can feel that way sometimes. When violence enters the church, mosque, temple or synagogue it can feel like the foundations are shaking… that the apocalypse must be close if people no longer have enough common decency and respect to keep their issues out of the house of God.
However, if we look at history religion has never been a shield against violence – here or elsewhere. I lived in a country where religious violence and murder was common. While people spoke against the fact that it happened, rarely did people really call out, condemn and work to eradicate the ideas and speech that fed the hatred.
We aren’t doing it either.
The religious violence that has taken place over the past decade has had a variety of causes from madness to zealotry to personal grudges to religious persecution to frank racial hatred. One thing every one of them had in common was the prominence of hate speech in the lives of the perpetrators of these crimes.
The First Amendment may protect hate speech, but nothing, anywhere, says we must allow it in our lives. Think a Jew “joke” is harmless? Making people into objects of derision is the first step to making them into faceless objects that are easier to kill. No big deal to plunge into some dishy (and entirely false) talk about what Muslims (or Sikhs, or Mormons or whoever) are like? Not until people susceptible to conspiracy theories and paranoia get hold of them, when the lies become justifications for violence.
There is a reason that the Epistle of James says “The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Words have consequences. If we hate the violence we see happening around us, we need to hate the speech that supports it. May our commitment be to banish words of intolerance, hatred and objectification against anyone from our mouths and to make clear it is wrong for it to come from the mouths of others. Why? I will let James the Apostle have the last word: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God… My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”