“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”
Contrary to this childhood chant, language matters. Words break more than bones, which are relatively easy to heal. Words can critically maim a person’s spirit and emotional health. Words define and interpret what is happening around us.
The language we use frames our worldview. We choose the language we use. We can describe fog as a bad thing that obscures our view or as a thing of beauty as the clouds gently kiss the earth.
Likewise, when faced with the ups and downs of life, we can describe low points as attacks or as challenges. If we consistently refer to them as attacks we begin to perceive the world as a hostile place. However, if we describe them as challenges we are less likely to feel overwhelmed. If we describe ourselves as “a train wreck” when we make a mistake, we begin to think of ourselves as flawed in some fundamental way. Talking about our struggles instead of demeaning ourselves, however, helps us to maintain our integrity as people created in the image of God.
And, so, when followers of Jesus use militaristic language to describe sharing the Good News, we begin to think of other human beings as objects to be conquered. For example, in a recent Facebook post the death of a church member was noted this way: The “Church is saddened to report the passing from the church militant to the church triumphant of our brother.” Likewise, I grew up hearing the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” sung with vigor. Even some contemporary Christian music spends a little too much time using bloody or militaristic metaphors.
The problem is this is not a war. The militaristic metaphors of the past created the colonial church, the inquisition, and many other sins. We are called not to kill and conquer but to love others, to seek justice, and be Christ’s loving arms and hands in the world (Micah 6:8)
It is time to renounce militaristic and aggressive language of the past, so that we can more fully love. Jesus did not come riding in on a white horse leading an army. The upside down savior came into an imperfect world as a baby, grew up in that world, but still breathed in the divine and breathed out love.
It’s time that our actions and language reflect the One who loves extravagantly. It’s time for followers of Jesus to follow Jesus. Perhaps then others will see Christians not as hypocrites but as people who love with abandon.