Last year, I received an email I wasn’t supposed to. From the opening line onward, there was a detailed list of complaints that an individual held against me with insults and slander throughout. It was one of the most painful emails I’ve ever read. At the core of the matter were differences in theological positions but also a dislike of me as a female speaker and leader. Even worse, this person was sharing their thoughts with a large group of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, asking them to boycott me and my work. I would have never known about any of this except somehow my email address was accidentally included.
I wrestled for a long time with what to do with that email. Should I respond? Should I reach out to the person? Should I expose this email to the online world and vindicate myself of what I felt to be false accusations? After much prayer and counsel from respected friends and the elders of my church, I chose not to respond.
Sometimes we can engage with folks who truly desire to have a productive conversation and are willing to engage us with mutual respect. We can clarify, perhaps educate too when necessary. But usually when negative words come flying at us, the best thing we can do is to first hold our own tongues. We can exercise self-control and choose not to sling the metaphorical mud back at our accuser.
Jesus models for us how to respond to violent words with words of peace. Jesus, our Prince of Peace, gives us peace at all times in every way (2 Thessalonians 3:16). In fact, Jesus’ peace is to rule over our hearts (Colossians 3:15), and He encourages us by saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God” (Matthew 5:9). The writer of that email had no interest in personally engaging with me, and I knew that fighting back, even defending myself, would not lead to peace. In fact, speaking angry, hurtful words back at my accuser would have only created more division and tension, not reconciliation.
Violence of any kind only perpetuates more violence. We often think of violence only in terms of our bodies, but words can be just as damaging. James 3:6 says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Verses 9-10 continue, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” Painful words linger with us long after they’ve been spoken. As Xochitl Dixon says, “Negative words often appear to have the sticking power of superglue.” Months, even years, can go by, and the wounds of accusations, insults, and lies can feel just as raw as ever.
Lashing back out, however, is neither helpful nor biblical. Winning an argument may make us feel better for a moment, but it doesn’t show love and peace to a other person. In the movie, You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan tells Tom Hanks that she’s always wanted to be able to say just the right words in just the right moment to stick it to someone. When she finally gets her chance, though, she feels terrible afterward. Putting someone in their place never satisfies us in the way we think it will.
I’m continually challenged by the words of Romans 12:17-19, which states, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge.” Think about that line for a moment: “If it is possible, live at peace with everyone.” This is incredible and perhaps one of the hardest challenges for us even still today.
We live in an age of cancel culture, of critiquing everyone for everything. Instead of making space for each other, whether it’s our different theological views or stances on the hot topics of the day, instead of learning to live in the tension and awkwardness of finding a way to get along, we say, “It’s my way or the highway.” Everything is either this or that. You’re either on “my team,” or you’re my enemy. None of this is living with a posture and heart for peace.
God challenges us to a better way. He invites us to forgive again and again, to be slow to speak and slow to anger, to cling to God’s Word and find healing in the knowledge and truth of who God says you are. We live in a violent, broken world, but we can be agents of transformation, breaking cycles of violent words and replacing them with words and indeed realities of peace.Leave a Comment