“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Nonsense.
“The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3.6. Good sense.
It’s just been a few days after Trump’s close victory in the US election. The reactions range from jubilance to outrage. The reasons for such reactions are many and complex. I’m only going to deal with the aspect related to the above quotes. One immediate impact is racially targeted crimes, aka hate crimes. Already, more than 200 racist incidents have been reported (not counting unreported ones, of course). Such incidents have shown that racism has always been there in the underbelly of America, but so many are shocked because they never saw that underbelly. Some are still in denial.
Most elections in recent years have an edge of nastiness and mud slinging, but the Trump campaign was trademarked with xenophobic and racist rhetoric. I heard one friend say, “It’s just rhetoric” because it seems Trump has reneged on many if not most of his promises. Is it just rhetoric though? Even if it is, is it true that “words will never hurt me.”
Evident from all the racist incidents, words do indeed transform rhetoric into sticks and stones. Trump had provided the vehicle to deliver bold racism that racist whites formerly couldn’t put into words. In one situation, a class of students chanted “build that wall” (in reference to Trump’s promised wall against Mexicans crossing the border) to their Mexican classmates. Others make jokes about deporting immigrants obviously in reference to Trump’s promise to boot illegal immigrants. These are just words though. Grow thicker skin, they say. But skin can only grow so thick when punches start raining. Apparently, some of these incidents aren’t merely verbal. My friend, a white female, was at the bar chatting with a man who supported Trump. When he found out that she didn’t vote for Trump, he got belligerent. Argument ensued followed by the man trying to assault her. Lucky she learned self defense and put him down. This is in “enlightened” and liberal California. As we recall, Trump is also the same person who longed for the good old days when he can punch someone who didn’t agree with him. Can we place the entire blame on Trump for these people’s action? No, these people are individual who should be responsible for their action. BUT we should place the blame on Trump’s rhetoric for providing the vehicle for these people verbal and physical abuse. Some misinformed people argue that we simply can’t blame Trump for all these incidents. Such an argument is simplistic and unbiblical. Trump’s rhetoric has to take part of the blame.
What some Christians fail to grasp in this election cycle is the biblical truth about words. They’ve subscribed to the false understanding of “words are just words.” Words are NOT just words. The congregation of James was in some dispute, and unqualified people had been using words to cause further chaos. This gave the reason for James to write these words. It seems that our country is in some chaos. Some say that the chaos has always been there, and those incidents have always been there. I doubt if their claim is right. More than 200 racist incidents reported in half a week isn’t just made up my media to get ratings. It’s abnormal. I think Christians need to take what James said seriously. I think we’ve laughed off a lot of Trump’s antics in this election (please don’t bring in Hillary in at this point. I’m just referring to Trump here) because we frankly have a careless view on words. James admonished us to take words seriously.
If James described the tongue as a wild fire, then Trump’s careless words have set our country burning on both sides (yes, I’m aware that some people have beaten up Trump supporters and caused destruction of properties too). If Christian citizens do not hold their own words and their leaders’ words accountable, the result will be unimaginable.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will be the cause of those broken bone (or a national forest fire). Words aren’t just words!