“...The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
-Matthew 12:34-37 (NIV)
Well, this is a historic Presidential election.
Of course, we knew it was historic already, but I’m not talking about it being the first election to feature a woman as the nominee of one of the two major parties. That’s a big deal, of course. But the historic element I’m referring to is that it’s the first election, I’m pretty sure, to feature a tape of one of the candidates using what I’m going to delicately and ingeniously refer to as the p-word, and speaking graphically and cavalierly of sexually assaulting various women.
This is something you might expect to hear about in a campaign for 8th Grade Class President (though that might be insulting to 8th graders). You would hope a candidate for the Presidency of the last remaining superpower might be above this kind of thing.
It leaves people of faith with an interesting choice, though, between two candidates that have views on sex that we can’t even charitably call biblical. What that might mean for your choice on election day, I leave for you to decide.
In fairness, only one candidate seems to advocate sexual assault. That may seem harsh, especially if that’s your candidate, but I didn’t invent that. It comes from his own mouth, his own speech.
The shocking thing, even more so than the actual words, is the defense of them by some who should probably know better. I heard it on the Chicago radio affiliate of a major sports network based in Bristol, Connecticut, just this morning: “It was just locker-room talk. Just bravado. So what?”
“Just locker-room talk.” Interesting how that excuse is supposed to justify it, supposed make it OK to trivialize sexual assault. Because that’s what the words describe, and words matter.
Jesus said that words betray a person’s heart. You can fake it for a while, perhaps, by saying the right things, but sooner or later, in an unguarded moment or a fit of rage or whatever, what’s in your heart will show itself through what you say. The words that come out might not lead to anything more. They might remain “just words.” But they don’t come from nowhere. Like it or not, what comes out of your mouth has its origin in your heart.
What you really love, what you really hold dear is down there filling your heart. So is what you hate most. What drives you is down there. What you really want for yourself. All of your priorities are set in your heart. What you honestly, truly, think of yourself is there. And what you honestly, truly, think of others. All your prejudices come from your heart. Maybe most centrally, what you worship is there.
And, given a large enough sample size, all of that will make itself known in the things you say.
We’re rightly enough, outraged at the “hot mic" moment of a candidate for President of the United States. If we’re honest, though, we’ve probably all had “hot mic" moments. And we might like to think those are not representative of who we truly are. But to take Jesus seriously is to wrestle with the possibility that what we’d like to write off as an anomaly might represent what we genuinely hold dear at the core of our beings. To hear Jesus tell it, the goodness and evil “stored up” inside us are never more evident than where we’re speaking in our most unguarded moments. “That’s not really who I am,” we might argue if confronted with those words. But Jesus would disagree.
And to dismiss those words — as locker-room talk, as meaningless, as the result of stress or anger or whatever — is the worst way to handle them. Jesus says we’ll be held accountable for those careless, idle, empty words, that the words we speak will either acquit us or condemn us. That’s not to say there’s no forgiveness — of course there is, and we all need it for some of the words we’ve spoken. But to imagine those words don’t matter, to comfort ourselves with the idea that they don’t represent in some way something dark in our hearts, is to continue to bear the guilt they cause.
Make no mistake; if you berate your spouse or children, or say malicious things about your co-workers, or speak lustfully about women, or use racist language, or gossip about your brothers and sisters in Christ, then that is at least in part representative of who you are. That language comes from attitudes and values stored deeply in your heart. You are abusive, malicious, lustful, racist.
And, far from denying it, it should be acknowledged. We need the same thing that our Presidential campaign could use: a little repentance. To recognize when our words have been inappropriate, hurtful, damaging, belittling, and to apologize sincerely and genuinely for the pain we’ve caused by speaking them (not the non-apology of “sorry you were offended”) and by making things right where we can — that is how we take responsibility for our actions. Then we can ask for forgiveness: from those who we’ve injured, who might be willing to offer us forgiveness, and from God who graciously gives it through Christ Jesus.
Few, if any, of us are purely good or purely evil. The vast majority have a lot of both mixed up in our hearts. Sometimes the damaging, hurtful words we’ve spoken give us insight into what needs to change in our lives. To offer humble words of apology when we’re in the wrong, to speak gentle words where we’ve spoken harshly, to speak healing words where before our words have battered and wounded — in this way we show the good that’s in our heart, the transformative work of the Holy Spirit that is re-making us in the image of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.
May our words reflect that his Spirit is active in our hearts. May we lose our voices as we gain his. And may our world hear through us his words of healing, grace, and life.