Our theme for this month: “Changing the tone of the conversation”
Our Bible verse for today: “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest”, replied Paul, “For it is written, ‘You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” Acts 23:5 (CSB)
Our thought for today: “Do not engage in character assassination”
I’m currently reading Senator John McCain’s new book, “The Restless Wave: Good times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations”. Senator McCain has terminal brain cancer and is nearing the end of his life. He wrote this book as a means of reflecting on his long career in the military, and on his decades of public service in politics.
I have great admiration and respect for him. He’s a military hero and a committed and passionate public servant. I know he’s not conservative enough for some on the far right of the political spectrum. They call him a “Rhino” – “Republican in name only”, but I disagree. He’s a principled and fair-minded moderate who understands that getting anything done in the world of politics requires the ability to get along with others and to negotiate compromises.
One of the things I admire and appreciate about Senator McCain is his ability to get along with, and to speak respectfully of, those with whom he disagrees. Politically he had ferocious battles with Ted Kennedy and Barak Obama. But Ted Kennedy was also one of his best friends, and although they were on opposite sides of the politically, they spent time together socially and they treated each other with respect. John McCain also disagreed with Barak Obama on almost every important issue of our day, and yet he still spoke respectfully of the man as a person.
One of the most damaging and problematic elements of our national conversation today is the poisonous, mean-spirited, disrespectful, and even hateful personal attacks that take place on a daily basis. Not only are people disagreed with, but they are viciously attacked, on a personal level, as individuals. The object is to disparage, destroy, and crush. It is character assassination and it is wrong.
In Acts 23:5 we find the Apostle Paul on trial before the Sanhedrin, the religious court of his day. In a fit of anger Paul made a disparaging remark about one of the authority figures present, who turned out to be the high priest. Realizing that what he had said was inappropriate, Paul apologized. It was wrong of him to speak in a disrespectful manner of an authority figure. He still went on to state his case. He still told the high priest and the rest of the religious court why he thought they were wrong, but he did it in a respectful manner, as he should have.
As Christians we need to be careful about how we say things. We are free to disagree with others. We are free to explain to them why we think they are wrong, and we can even state our case strongly. But we are not free to engage in character assassination, or in other unkind, disparaging, or mean-spirited talk.