I don’t know if I have seen a social media post that had a positive reaction to the first presidential debate of the season. In fact, I’ve seen numerous ones that described how the person turned it off as they were unable to watch to the end. Another recurring post I saw was that there wasn’t a clear winner, but a clear loser: the American people.
What we witnessed with the presidential debate, if you watched it, was a window into our nation. We are a divided country. In this division, civility, decency, respect, and honor for the other are MIA.
How do we use our words?
James, the brother of Jesus, taught that the production of the tongue reveals a lot about the factory of the heart. James writes,
“The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. . . . It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. (James 3:6–10).
In addition, Solomon taught the power the tongue of men had to either bring life or death. Wisely, Solomon wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Prov 18:21).
When you read James and Solomon, and read words like “set on fire by hell” and “death,” you wonder how mankind can be so corrupt and damaging in their use of words—especially in light of Genesis 1 and John 1. In both cases, God uses his words to build up and give life—to bring flourishing. Mankind uses words “full of deadly poison” and “cursing.”
Jesus ultimately taught out of the mouth the heart speaks (Luke 6:45). In other words, if you really want to know the condition of one’s heart, just exegete the tone and the substance of the words departing the mouth.
Last night during the presidential debate, words were used to talk to, not with, the other. Words talked past the other. Words shamed and tore down the other. Words interrupted the other. Words had no respect for the moderator. Words had only a shadow of substance. In short, President Trump’s and former Vice President Biden’s words not only revealed a war between two political parties, two political candidates, but revealed the war within their heart.
Last night, we peered into the heart of America. And it is ugly.
Less words, more ears.
Eugene Peterson, in The Message, interprets Proverbs 18:3 the following way, “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.”
I think we caught a lot of that last night in the presidential debate. There certainly was very little listening going on. Lots of talking, very little listening.
James also talks about listening before speaking. He wrote, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak…” (James 1:19).
One of the things that is needed most in our divisive world is ears. In other words, we need more people listening with their ears. But, truthfully, if one’s heart isn’t in the right place then their ears will not be attuned to listening.
Listening requires first and foremost a humbled heart. A humbled heart makes room for people—even people with whom you may disagree. But we must not only listen, we must seek to learn. Listening moves to learning, and learning moves towards understanding.
The failure to use more ears and less words, reflects a flawed theology in the view of the other. In other words, to talk past and over people—failing to engage them with a humble heart and open ears—means you don’t value, respect, and honor them as a person.
One thing we know from our King is that he valued, respected, and honored people—regardless of who they were.
Prophetic words of correction are needed.
As Christians, we are meant to have a prophetic existence. Being prophetic means that we are not on heralds that claim and embody the message of the King, but it also means that we use our voice to correct those who aren’t faithful to the message.
While the idea of being prophetic most fittingly is held for the people of God and the leaders that God calls to oversee and lead his people, the idea of prophetic words can also apply to the realm of politics.
Regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, if a politician fails to maintain the character befitting of a national leader, fails to honor people (even political “enemies”), and embarrasses the office they hold and the party they represent, then people of that party should prophetically call them out.
In biblical talk, we call this holding one another accountable. And accountability is something that is lacking in the current political climate.
Mr. President, your actions last night in the debate were unacceptable. You didn’t model humility, self-control, and honor for all. It seemed you were more about beating and berating Vice President Biden—who he is and his family—rather than debating and dialoging about the issues facing our nation.
Mr. Vice President, while you certainly weren’t the instigator, you became a participant in the mudslinging. As a result, you too failed to exhibit humility, self-control, and honor.
I believe both owe an apology to the American people.
Realistically, the loser of the debate was the American people—as many people have noted on social media. We desire better leadership; we demand better leadership. And better leadership will be exhibited not by a war of words but by a way with words. Thus, words must build and unite, not damage and destroy. Words should be less, not more, and be a result of our humble posture and listening ears. Words of prophetic correction must be received not deflected.