Formula E429 could change your life!

One of the best ways to improve our communication is to replace destructive tones with constructive ways of speaking to each other.

Words of appreciation and encouragement are excellent alternatives to ugly tones of grumbling, whining; impatience, frustration and defensiveness.

Think of how many times we could defuse a situation by choosing better words and tones. Parents especially need to ask if their words and tones set the right example for their children. 

Use Formula E429 to remind yourself of God’s will for our speech. The formula is based on Ephesians 4:29 – “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

Then apply a large dose of the first two characteristics of love: “Love is patient, Love is kind…” (I Corinthians 13:4).

This could literally change your life and the lives of those close to you!

WARNING LABEL

This advice comes with a warning about how easily we excuse our attitudes, words and tones by pointing to the difficult people around us. Remember the basic truth that the only person you can change is yourself. But by working on self-correction and experiencing personal change, we can powerfully influence others. So if you feel stuck in a bad place, find ways that you can change your attitudes, words and tones. But start with the words and tones you use because this discipline will make you face and confront your attitudes and emotions.

Recognize how all of this change fits under the work God is doing in your life based on these truths:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV).

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:12-13).

I have work to do. Will you join me?

Steve Cornell 

See also: Spiritual Depression

The President’s Speech

The President’s speech today was an unbelievable display of partisan posturing based on significant misrepresentations of why the government shut down.

It’s frankly a little scary to think that our leaders so boldly take us for fools.

What the President did was not an example of good leadership but of brazen and unmitigated personal and party promotion. And the manipulative use of health care for such bitter partisanship is despicable. I realize this happens all the time in politics, but this President has taken it to new levels. Please do not allow the smooth talk to deceive you.

Rather than delay the individual mandate, Obama and the Democrats chose to shut down government. Now millions will face penalties due to Obamacare. The so-called Affordable Care Act has been the source of widespread reduction to the work week from 40 hours to part time hours. ObamaCare has also been the most partisan legislation passed in this century.

I want honest efforts from our leaders to work together. The President and Democrats have resolutely and arrogantly refused to work in any way with the other side that would require the slightest concession.

The President publicly gives the impression that the only reason he won’t cooperate is because he must protect the poor people who don’t have health care from the angry Republicans who want to deny them care. What a deceptive distortion! Does he really believe that Americans are dumb enough to fall for such distortions? 

And today by slight of speech, the President actually blamed all the “crises” on a “small segment of Republicans.” He threw that in to move the heat off of himself for the crises that occurred under his watch. The level of deception is unbelievable.

An unbiased look at the President’s speech today will reveal that it was filled with calculated distortions of the facts for political advantage. I hope most Americans will refuse to be swayed by the smooth talk and lies. President Obama’s message has consistently been “do it my way or you’ll be hating on Americans and I will take every opportunity to make them see it this way.” But this “My way or the highway” attitude must stop. 

Where is the leadership we so badly need?

Steve Cornell

Judge not, lest you be judged.

“Judge not, lest you be judged.”

    • These are perhaps the most well-known words of Jesus.
    • They’re commonly used to keep people from making moral judgments about others. 
    • Some people use these words to excuse themselves from making judgments. “Who am I to judge?” they ask. “After all, Jesus did say, ‘Judge not…’”

So…

  • What exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke these words?
  • Was he advocating a mind your own business policy?
  • Was he forbidding all judgments about the actions of others?

A good question


John R. W. Stott asked if obedience to these words required us to “…suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to avoid all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil?”

Let the context speak

As with most confusion over the meaning of the Bible, a careful reading of the context is the key to understanding.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

While Jesus clearly condemned a certain kind of judging, he equally advocated a need for judgments. Jesus was not excusing us from all moral judgments. He was not promoting an individualistic attitude. Far from it!

Later he spoke of the need to go to one who sins against you and “tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). Love requires moral concern for others. But that concern must follow the order Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-6.

What kind of judging did Jesus condemn?


Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus condemned hypocritical judging. He insisted that we must “first” remove the log from our own eye before we’re prepared to notice and remove the speck from our brother’s eye.

Jesus encouraged involvement in other people’s lives, but only after careful self-examination and self-correction. On another occasion Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were notorious (as are most religious people) for judging based on appearance. They were also notorious for their hypocrisy (see: Matthew 23).

When we hold other people to tight moral standards while making plenty of allowances for ourselves, we engage in unlawful judging. When we “play God” by trying to enforce standards not specifically established by God, we are in danger of being judged by God (Matthew 7:2; Romans 2:1-4).

Some professing Christians, (like the Pharisees), view their traditions as equal with God’s commands and wrongly judge the godliness of others based on them. This happens when people make personal applications from general commands of God (like his demand for non-conformity to the world and holiness of life), and then elevate their applications to command status.


Three categories for Christian standards


To avoid unlawful judging, we need to recognize three categories for setting Christian standards.

  1. First, some behaviors are clearly commanded.
  2. Secondly, some things are clearly forbidden.
  3. Finally, certain matters are permitted, or left to free and responsible judgment according to the best of our knowledge and conscience.

When we demote something from categories one and two into category three, we treat God’s clear standards as negotiable. When we elevate matters from category three by treating them as if they belong to categories one or two, we self-righteously judge others with our own opinions. The first action threatens purity; the second unnecessarily disrupts the unity of God’s people.

Matters of freedom vs. Matters of command


When a behavior, custom or doctrine is not addressed in Scripture with specific requirements or moral absolutes, it’s a matter of Christian freedom. When Christians condemn others in areas not specifically addressed by Scripture, they become guilty of the judging forbidden by Jesus.

But to agree with God’s clearly revealed standards does not constitute unlawful judging – unless, of course, it involves the kind of self-righteous hypocrisy Jesus repeatedly condemned. It’s possible to make accurate judgments but to be hypocritical in making them. Self-examination and self-correction are necessary for avoiding hypocritical judgment.

Scripture clearly reveals many moral standards God expects us to follow. Aligning with God on a specifically revealed moral judgment is not to make oneself judge, but to honor the standard of the Judge.

Follow the example of Jesus


Jesus taught with conviction and authority on many subjects.

“It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination- an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify. But the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offense right and left. Even his loyal followers found him, at times, thoroughly disconcerting. Jesus did not go about mouthing pious platitudes; had he done so, he would not have made as many enemies as he did” (F. F. Bruce).

I agree with the one who suggested that, “the capacity of judging, of forming an estimate and opinion, is one of our most valuable faculties and the right use of it one of our most important duties.” Judicial systems in every nation depend on the proper exercise of this capacity. But let’s be sure to use this valuable faculty first and most directly on ourselves. This will ensure a more humble and merciful application to others.

For further reflection

  • He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored (Prov 13:18 NIV).
  • Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself (Gal 6:1-2 NLT).
  • See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-13).
  • My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20 NLT).

Watching vs. Watching out for

When we honor the distinction between watching others and watching out for them, we’ll be far better postured to avoid wrongful judging. The first is prideful and pharisaic behavior; the second is humble and loving care for the wellbeing of others. Let’s live and teach this distinction to ensure we obey Jesus’ command, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Steve Cornell

See: Understanding legalism 

How we got here

 

As we witness sharp changes in public opinion on social issues, it’s worth asking questions about some possible upstream influences that led to the changes.

It’s tempting to focus on the pressing realities of downstream consequences. Shifts in political opinions are (for example) downstream realities. When we dislike what’s happening in politics, we need to ask questions about the upstream influences that made the political changes possible.

So let’s travel upstream to find some of the possible sources behind the current changes. 

Note: Since many read this blog from different parts of the world, please understand that my analysis is mainly focused on upstream changes in the United States.

Four potential sources 

1. The emphasis on tolerance and equality

I don’t recall hearing the word “tolerance” when I was in school. But things were far different for my children. Tolerance has been one the most emphasized social standards over the last several decades. One of the primary purposes for promoting tolerance has been to avoid offending others by treating all people with equality. Is it possible that this emphasis has shaped public discourse on controversial issues? Fear of offending has become a far more significant guideline for moral opinions. I realize that a distorted and politically correct version of the older more noble virtue of tolerance has been promoted but it has had a profound influence in the way young people respond to morality and religion. (see: Tolerance)

2. The availability of information

We have access to far more information than ever before in human history. If I doubt what you tell me, I can “google it.” This puts a new kind of pressure on public speaking and private conversation to get the facts right. Information also enlarges perspective and creates suspicion about the possibility error. People tend to filter ideas, opinions and theories through more of a worldwide grid. This can make one more reticent about anything that seems too dogmatic or exclusive. 

3. The reaction to ill-informed dogma

This might be a bit speculative or colloquial but I think that in the 1980′s and 90′s, there was a resurgence of dogma in a kind of reaction to the Woodstock culture. The rock-n-role sexual revolution of the 60′s and 70′s led to a renewed emphasis on morality and moral majorities in many contexts. With the reaction to what was considered a permissive and free love era came emphasis on standards, convictions and absolute beliefs. In some places, a legalistic attitude took over and people became very judgmental and hypocritical. It seems (at least in some places) that we’re experiencing a reaction to the reaction with a clear movement away from perceptions of self-righteous moralizing. 

4. The influence of the university

Some sociologists postulate that the universities in the US have often taken their cue from European influences. So it is argued that the philosophies of existentialism, moral relativism and even nihilism (from Europe) have invaded our college campuses and produced the predominant outlooks of modernity and post-modernity in our young people. When young people go to a university, they often come from more limited and controlled environments with limited influences. The range of diversity they encounter at the university is a bit of a shock that’s hard for some to absorb. Universities are places where becoming broad-minded is an educational objective. I have not doubt that some of these influences have significantly contributed to the reticence among young people toward dogma and absolute truth.

Four potential dangers

1. Cynicism

When absolute opinions must be avoided to promote tolerance and protect civility, people tend to become more cynical. Have you noticed how quickly cynicism becomes the default setting for many people? Many operate with a filter of suspicion as protective screen to keep from being duped or at least from appearing to be. It is common (especially among young people) to suspect deceitful or evil motives behind firmly held beliefs. Those who hold to any form of absolute truth are more quickly suspected of oppressive or imperialistic agendas. 

2. Self-contradiction

There are times when two opinions cannot logically both be correct. There also times when important choices must be made between differing viewpoints. Yet it has often been noted that in the transition from modernity to postmodernity, the two areas granted authority to speak in absolute categories (science and math) lost their authoritative seats. With postmodernity came a refusal to grant anyone the right to make truth claims that all people must accept –even if they came from science. Of course, it’s hard to accept that 1 + 1 could equal 2 or 3 or whatever you wanted it to equal. But postmodernism came with a radicalization of relativism to all areas of knowledge.

Changes of tone in public dialogue shifted toward uncertainty in an aversion to absolutes just as universals became more deeply part of the social narrative. This is especially the case when it comes to religion and morality. An extensive survey found that teenagers in the United States had a one word response to absolute opinions on religion and morality — “Whatever.” Yet should we be able to agree that a religious practice like jihad is intolerable? And how can we make laws and exact punishments without absolute moral decisions?

3. Neutrality and indecisiveness 

Part of leadership is the ability to make tough decisions when popularity is at risk. The president (for example) is also a Commander and Chief. He cannot remain neutral or indecisive on issues that affect the well being of the nation. When people are uncomfortable with conclusions and prefer endless discussions, they risk avoidance of necessary difficult decisions. Leaders must be willing to offend some people if the right and best choice requires it.

4. Fear and manipulation 

People can easily be manipulated by those in power when they’re controlled by fear of offending. Vocal and militant groups will seize the weakness of indecisive people to promote their agendas. This often leads to duplicity in people as they publicly affirm what they privately disapprove — but fear speaking up. As strange as it might sound, indecisive people are more vulnerable to totalitarian governments.

Spiritual concerns

Few teachers spoke with more authority on matters related to God and morality than Jesus. And we should understand that Jesus taught in a time when people feared offending the dominant religious leaders. But He forthrightly challenged the deceitfulness of the establishment.

Here is a simple but profound truth: If there is a God and He has spoken, we are obligated by His words. If Jesus is God than he did not lie or deceive in anything he taught. When he said, “ “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” he was not offering a suggestion or a personal opinion. 

These tone changes and postures toward truth statements are part of what makes the work of those who preach more challenging. Preaching and proclamational ministries can easily come off as socially rude to people conditioned to think in the most subjective terms possible. Certainly those who preach should be aware of prevailing cultural conditions and be wise in the way they communicate (see: Colossians 4:4-5).

Yet, when we teach Scripture, we cannot treat as mere recommendation what is presented with binding authority on all people. We can tone our teaching thoughtfully while remaining faithful to the truth. Pastor Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC has been an excellent example of how this should be done. We must always seek to be postured with gospel-based humility toward all people (see: Titus 3:1-7). 

Steve Cornell

The State of the Union and of our National conversation

President Obama is no doubt one of the best orators we’ve had in the White House. Yet he chose a tone in his State of the Union that hurt his communication. He conveyed more of a sense of aggravation and alienation than cooperation and negotiation.

Apart from what I think about the content of his speech, his delivery was not effective. I am certainly not opposed to firm and direct communication but in public speaking the tone chosen must meet the occasion. One can speak firmly without sounding like you’re peeved at others. 

The president often sounded like an angry liberal who is fed up with conservatives. His tone seemed to play to a narrow part of his base rather than to a diverse nation. There is a growing cynical and condescending tone making its way into the Democratic Party that should trouble concerned members. 

In critiquing the president’s speech, I need to pause to acknowledge that a US president must have one of the most frustrating jobs in the world. The challenges and pressures he faces are greater than most understand and the obstructions in politics would drive anyone crazy. I don’t think I would have the patience for this job. There are not many who could hold up under the strain of endless spotlight from media and endless criticisms from every possible angle. We must not forget that the president is human. So I don’t offer my critique to be overly critical of a man who should be often in our prayers.

Yet when a president has an opportunity to speak to a nationwide audience, he should use a presidential tone and avoid divisive tones that convey bitter partisanship. President Reagan was a master at this. Even when he laid a dig into the other side, he did it in such winsome ways that often his critics couldn’t keep from smiling. I think President Obama faces an additional challenge of slipping into an all too common Ivy League tone of condescending cynicism.

The president’s tone at the State of the Union made me feel that he was taking things too personally. One of the basic principles of leadership is to distinguish the personal from (in this case) the presidential. In ministry, I distinguish the personal from the pastoral. There are some things that are aimed at me not because of who I am but because of my role. If a leader allows opposition and attacks to be taken too personally, he easily becomes sidetracked and begins to play to his critics. A leader should be secure enough to authentically consider criticism without being controlled by it.

National conversation

The tone chosen by the president made me think of some of the tone changes that have become part of public discourse in the last several decades.

If you listen closely to conversation and debate (particularly among the younger generation),  you’ll hear more of the language of moderation and tones of negotiation. You’ll hear common phrases that invite conversation rather than foreclosing on it. You’ll hear words of invitation and dialogue rather than conclusions and dogma.

It’s become common place to couch opinions in a language of possibility and personal preference more than matter of fact. The old “tell it like it is” tone isn’t nearly as acceptable — particularly in educated circles. Consider a few of the more common expressions that have become part of public discussion and analysis:

  • “So that’s a really good question and I guess what I want to say is …”
  • “So I think what you’re saying is….”
  • “Sort of… Kind of….”
  • “I guess we could say that ….”
  • “If I understand you correctly, it seems like you’re saying…”
  • “So if we take it this way of looking at it, then we perhaps we would have to conclude that…”

The most popular words are “so,” “perhaps,” “seems,” and “guess.” The most popular phrases are “kind of” and “sort of.” Did I miss any? Listen carefully for how often these are used when people express opinions or offer analysis of issues. I suppose this trendy way of speaking was common for many years in philosophy clubs and departments where truth is ever circular.

I appreciate tones and phrases that invite dialogue and debate rather than foreclosing on it. This could be because I’ve worked in a university town for almost thirty years. It also could be because I came from a background much more influenced by a kind of ignorant dogma. It’s easy to see how announcing the dogma of absolute opinion, is a conversation stopper and a way to ask for an argument with those who disagree.

But why has this way of speaking become more mainstream? Are there dangers behind too much openness when facing critical issues that require hard decisions?

I can think of a few possible sources behind these changes. My analysis is mainly focused on changes in the United States.

Four potential sources 

1. Emphasis on tolerance.

I don’t recall ever hearing the word “tolerance” when I was in school. Things are far different for my children. Tolerance has been one the most emphasized social standards over the last several decades. One of the primary purposes for promoting tolerance has been to avoid offending others. Is it possible that this emphasis has shaped public discourse? Fear of offending has become far more significant. 

2. Availability of information

We have access to far more information than ever before in human history. If I doubt what you tell me, I can just “google it.” This puts a new kind of pressure on public speaking and private conversation to get the facts right. Information also enlarges perspective. People tend to filter ideas, opinions and theories through more of a world grid. This can make one more hesitant to be dogmatic about his opinions and perhaps to be more inclusive and compassionate on a larger scale.

3. Reaction to ill-informed dogma

This might be a bit speculative or colloquial but I think that in the 1980′s and 90′s, there seemed to be a resurgence of dogma in a kind of reaction to the Woodstock culture. The rock-n-role sexual revolution of the 60′s and 70′s led to a renewed emphasis on morality and moral majorities in many contexts. With the reaction to what was considered a permissive and free love era came emphasis on standards, convictions and absolute beliefs. In some places, a legalistic attitude took over and people became very judgmental and hypocritical. It seems (at least in some places) that we’re experiencing a reaction to the reaction with a lean away from moralizing. 

4. Influence of the university

Some sociologists postulate that the universities in the US have often taken their cue from European influences. So it is argued that the philosophies of existentialism, moral relativism and even nihilism (that trace their beginnings to Europe) have invaded our college campuses and produced the predominant outlooks of modernity and post-modernity in our young people. When young people go to a university they often leave more limited and controlled environments with limited influences. The range of diversity they encounter is a shock that’s hard for some to absorb. Universities are places where becoming broad-minded is part of the educational objective. I have not doubt that some of these influences have contributed to the reticency  among young people toward dogma and absolute truth.

Four potential dangers

1. Cynicism

When absolute opinions must be avoided to promote tolerance and protect civility, people tend to become more cynical. Have you noticed how quickly cynicism becomes the default setting for many people? Many operate with a filter of suspicion as a protective screen to keep from being duped or at least from appearing to be. It is common (especially among young people) to suspect deceitful or evil motives behind firmly held beliefs. Those who hold to any form of absolute truth are more quickly suspected of oppressive or imperialistic agendas. 

2. Irrational self-contradiction

There are times when two opinions cannot logically both be correct. There also times when important choices must be made between differing viewpoints. But It has often been noted that in the transition from modernity  to postmodernity, the two areas granted authority to speak in absolute categories (science and math) lost their authoritative seats. With postmodernity came a refusal to grant anyone the right to make truth claims that all people must accept –even if they came from science. Of course, it’s hard to accept that 1 + 1 could equal 2 or 3 or whatever you wanted it to equal. But postmodernism came with a radicalization of relativism to all areas of knowledge.

The tone changes toward uncertainty became more common as aversion to absolutes and universals became more deeply part of the social narrative. This is especially the case when it comes to religion and morality. An extensive survey found that teenagers in the US had a one word response to absolute opinions on religion and morality — “Whatever.” But should we be able to agree that a religious practice like jihad is intolerable? And how can we make laws and exact punishments without moral decisions?

3. Neutrality and indecisiveness 

Part of leadership is the ability to make tough decisions when popularity is at risk. The president is also a Commander and Chief. He cannot remain neutral or indecisive on issues that affect the well-being of the nation. When people are uncomfortable with reaching conclusions and prefer endless discussions, they risk avoidance of necessary decisions. Leaders must be willing to offend some people if necessary.

4. Fear and manipulation 

When people are controlled by a fear of offending it can easily be manipulated by those in power. Vocal and militant groups will seize the weakness of indecisive people to promote their agendas. This often leads to duplicity in people as they publicly affirm what they privately disapprove but fear speaking up about. As strange as it might sound, indecisive people are more vulnerable to totalitarian regimes.

Spiritual concerns

Few teachers spoke with more absolute authority on matters related to God and morality than Jesus. Of course, we must recognize that he taught in a time when people feared offending the dominant religious leaders. But Jesus forthrightly challenged the deceitfulness of the corrupt establishment. It’s a simple but profound truth that if there is a God and he has spoken, we are obligated by His words. If Jesus is God than he did not lie or deceive in anything he taught. When he said, ” “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” he was not offering a suggestion or a personal opinion. 

These tone changes and postures toward truth statements are part of  what makes the work of those who preach more challenging. Preaching and proclamational ministries can come off as socially rude to people conditioned to speak and think in the most subjective terms possible. Certainly those who preach should be aware of prevailing cultural conditions and be wise in the way they communicate (see: Colossians 4:4-5). But when we teach Scripture we cannot treat it as mere recommendations when it speaks with binding authority on all people. We can tone our teaching thoughtfully but still be faithful to the truth. Pastor Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC has been an excellent popular level example of how this should be done. 

I am sorry for the length of this but for the brave few who read it, I’d love to know what you think. 

Steve Cornell

Watch your tone!

It’s not always what you say but how you say it.

Do you tend to use a negative tone in communication? Did you grow up in a home where you were exposed to negative or cynical voice tones? 

Slow down and Listen to yourself. Be honest with yourself.

When one of the tones listed below is prominent in your way of communicating, it points to deeper issues — heart issues that must be resolved. 

12 destructive tones

    1. Condescending
    2. Bossy
    3. Angry
    4. Snobby
    5. Frustrated
    6. Impatient
    7. Defensive
    8. Moody
    9. Distant
    10. Disrespectful
    11. Cynical
    12. Whining

One of the best ways to change our communication is to replace destructive tones with constructive ways of speaking to each other. An obvious example would be to replace gossip or slander with positive words about others. Words of appreciation and encouragement are excellent alternatives to the dark tones of grumbling and whining. 


Use the formula E429 to remind yourself of God’s will for our speech. This formula is based on Ephesians 4:29 –  

“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

Steve Cornell

 

Words and tones are windows to the heart

How we talk to and about each other says a lot about the quality of our relationship. This is one reason why it’s important to do a little inventory about the way we use our words.

Church leaders should teach people right ways to speak to one another (and honorable ways to speak about others) if they desire to preserve the joyful unity of Christian fellowship. Believers are called to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) and some of the most destructive forces threatening this unity are related to speech.

The first practical problem in the early Church involved verbal complaints.

“But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1, NLT).

One of the earliest New Testament letters to Christians has a good bit to say about speech. In the first chapter we read,

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (James 1:26, NIV).

Think of the possible things that could have been said in the second part of the verse: “If you claim to be religious but… do not go to Church, do not read your Bibledo not pray, etc… These are important parts of living a godly life, but I am not sure many would have expected to read: “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue…” Just before this, we read about the need to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV). 

Restraint and Reflection:

Restraint and reflection are needed virtues when it comes to speech. Those familiar with the book of James know the focus given to the power of the tongue in chapter three. There we learn about the difficulty of taming the tongue and the importance of reigning in that powerful little muscle. There we learn that controlling our speech (words and tones) could help bring discipline in other areas of life.

Out of the heart:

Jesus takes matters to a deeper level by showing that our words reveal our hearts.  “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:35). An example of this in the Old Testament comes from the life of Joseph and his brothers. 

 “Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe. But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him” (Gen. 37:3-4).

It’s not at all surprising that people with hearts full of hatred find it impossible to speak kind words. This connection between heart and speech should encourage us to look for heart conditions behind the ways we speak. Our speech (words and ways of talking) is a window into our hearts. 

We should also look closely at the ways of speaking passed on to us from family backgrounds. If you grew up in a home with lots of yelling,  don’t be surprised if you default to the same tone of voice. If you grew up around a lot of verbal negativity or cynical speech, you’ll have to work hard to avoid it. 

A helpful exercise:

Discuss the possible heart issues behind each of the forbidden ways of speech listed below. Then look closely at the list of 12 tones of voice and discuss the possible heart conditions behind each one. Attach specific Scriptures to counter each tone of voice and the possible heart conditions behind them.

Forbidden speech:

1.   Lying (Ephesians 4:25; I Peter 3:10; Psalm 34:13)
2.   Slander (Titus 3:2; James 4:11)
3.   Gossip: (Proverbs 6:16-19; 11:13; 16:28)
4.   Complaining: (Philippians 2:14; Jude 16)
5.   Vengeful words (I Peter 2:23; Romans 12:17-19)
6.   Malicious or hurtful words (Ephesians 4:31-32)
7.   Angry words (Ephesians 4:31-32)
8.   Hasty words (James 1:19; Ecclesiastes 3:7)
9.   Flattery (Proverbs 24:26-28; 29:5; Rom. 16:18)
10. Cursing people (James 3:7-10)
11.  Boasting (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Watch that tone:

Tone of voice can make a big difference in communication. Honest words spoken with wrongful tones are often self-defeating. Scripture says, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Although I would never argue for single-toned speech, some tones are clearly unacceptable. Some tones are destructive to good relationships and some even misrepresent and dishonor God.  Consider the following wrongful tones:

1.  Condescending
2.  Bossy
3.  Angry
4.  Snobby
5.  Frustrated
6.  Impatient
7.  Defensive
8.  Moody
9.  Distant
10. Disrespectful
11. Dark
12. Whining

Required speech:

One of the best ways to change our speech patterns is to replace inappropriate ways of talking with godly speech. An obvious example would be to replace gossip or slander with  positive words about others. Words of appreciation and encouragement are excellent alternatives to many of the wrongful ways of speaking (Ephesians 4:32; 5:18-21). Praising God (Hebrews 13:15) is a potent form of speech that can set a clear tone for the rest of life. Those in authority are called to confront, correct and punish as well as to affirm those who do good (see: I Peter 2:13-14).

E429:

Use the formula E429 to remind yourself of God’s will for our speech. This stands for Ephesians 4:29 which says, 

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Steve Cornell

“Let all that you do be done in love.” (I Corinthains 16:14)

Mark Regnerus and the third rail in academic research

A friend informed me today of a disturbing controversy involving Mark Regnerus, a tenured sociologist from The University of Texas at Austin.

Regnerus dared to objectively research the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships. His study (published in Social Science Research) found that young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships are more likely to face a variety of emotional and social problems.

Due to complaints from a gay blogger, the professor now faces allegations of scientific misconduct and an investigation by the University of Texas (the very people who approved the study). Regnerus is discussing his research on his blog.

MarkRegnerusUTDo you ever get the feeling that tolerance will only be granted to those who agree with gay marriage? If you dare to express any measure of disagreement prepare to be accused of ignorance, fear, bigotry and hate .  

UT-Austin Investigates Regnerus for Gay Parenting Study by Jeremy Weber

The University of Texas is investigating allegations of “scientific misconduct” against sociology professor Mark Regnerus over his recent high-profile survey of children whose parents have had same-sex relationships.

A panel of UT professors will examine Regnerus’s methodology in response to a complaint by a blogger on LGBT issues that the study was “designed so as to be guaranteed to make gay people look bad” and was funded by conservative groups, according to the Austin American-StatesmanThe Journal of Social Science Research, which published Regnerus’s study, has also received criticisms of the study’s methodology.

Regnerus, whose study found that young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships are more likely to experience emotional and social problems, told the American-Statesman that his methodology was developed by a team of leading family researchers and approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board.

Mark Regnerus, Thoughtcriminal

A gay blogger formally complained to the president of the University of Texas in Austin that a study led by sociology associate professor Mark Regnerus was, yes, homophobic. The study’s guidelines had been previously approved by a university panel. 

A SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC RESPONSE TO THE REGNERUS CONTROVERSY

“Same-sex marriage is one of the most contentious and vexing issues now facing our nation. It is perhaps in part for that reason that the new study on same-sex parenting by University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus, which finds that young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems, has been subject to such sustained and sensational criticism from dozens of media outlets, from the Huffington Post to the New Yorker to the New Republic. These outlets have alleged, respectively, that his research is “anti-gay,” “breathtakingly sloppy,” and “gets everything wrong.”

Although Regnerus’s article in Social Science Research is not without its limitations, as social scientists, we think much of the public criticism Regnerus has received is unwarranted for three reasons.

Sociologist Faces Backlash for Unfavorable Study on Kids With Gay Parents

A professor of sociology has come under intense attack after releasing a study that is damaging to gay-parents-headed households. 

Attacking Freedom of Thought and Scholarship By Maggie Gallagher

Will Saletan’s question about a “Liberal War on Science?” is beginning to look prophetic. Will the academic community react against political attacks on scholarship like this? Or will liberalism trump the guild? Stay tuned.

Sociologist Comes Under Fire from Activists for Gay-Parenting Study by Karla Dial

“When the journal Social Science Research published a study by University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus last month saying children raised by parents in same-sex relationships have more negative outcomes than those raised by married mothers and fathers, the news didn’t just make headlines nationwide — it made waves.”

“Now, the school is in the early stages of pulling together a board of inquiry to investigate allegations of academic misconduct — brought not by a fellow academic, but by a gay-activist blogger.”

A crusading news media

“Seriously, people, don’t you ever get sick and tired of being propagandized?” So asked Rod Dreher. He then (IMHO) correctly noted:

“There is zero chance that anything that reflects negatively on gay culture or the gay experience will be aired in the mainstream news media. 

Additional note: Christianity Today recently interviewed Professor Regnerus on his research into the sexual attitudes and behavior of young adults – and published a cover story on his argument for early marriage. He also participated in a panel discussing on how best to encourage premarital abstinence.

Steve Cornell

Why is there so little tolerance?

The current political atmosphere in the USA is an embarrasing example of a failure to promote the virtue of tolerance. For at least the last two decades, public education and mainstream media have emphasized and promoted a value identified as tolerance. This form of tolerance has even been required in many aspects of public life. Yet society seems less and less tolerant. The bitter partisanship of political rivals is a steady reminder of how divided we are as a nation. Perhaps this is politics as usual but the tone, posturing and polarization seems far worse. 

It would be worth it to ask whether tolerance is a virtue one can or should mandate. Has society actually advanced a form of intolerance under the guise of tolerance? 

When we feel a need to demand tolerance, it should alert us to a greater need to teach virtues that promote true tolerance. Virtues like respect, honor and neighbor love facilitate true tolerance whereas forced tolerance actually threatens these qualities.

Of course, among people who are different, a shared commitment to the value of honoring and respecting each other necessitates robust and respectful conversations about the common good. But when will we learn that the tyranny of tolerance forecloses on those conversations.

The popular version of tolerance has left many feeling like they’re under some form of societal coercion — forcing them to affirm a politically approved set of morals and values. Many perceive this to be a threat to personal liberty.

In a society that cherishes freedom, people want to know who gets to set the morals that everyone must tolerate. Who defines what we the people must accept as lawful and good? Once a law is made against something, obviously tolerance no longer applies.

What is this really all about?

Ken Myers picked up on this distortion of tolerance when he offered reflection on A. J. Conyers’s book, The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit.

Conyers suggested that, “The modern version of toleration is all about power—the power of individuals to be free from interference and the power of governments to guarantee individual autonomy by stripping all other sources of authority. Tolerance (as a modern doctrine) has little to do with the survival of minority groups and everything to do with the centralizing of power. Tolerance is not so much a virtue as a strategy. What happens to a society when the strategy of tolerance has been practiced for so long that no truths are any longer self-evident?”

We need to reeducate people on the true virtue of tolerance. Tolerance, as a virtue, can only function in contexts of actual disagreement. The virtue is unnecessary to those who surrender or minimize their differences.

Truly tolerant people treat respectfully those with whom they disagree. Where disagreements are deeper, practicing tolerance can be even more virtuous.

But forced agreement only threatens true tolerance. Tyrannical versions of tolerance lead to duplicity as people increasingly subscribe to one set of beliefs publicly and another privately. Is it surprising that this breeds resentment and sometimes violence? If you force a man against his will, not only is he of the same persuasion still; he’s likely to get mad.

In a civil society, laws must be enforced and not everyone will agree on those laws. In a free society, trouble is ahead when laws are made that unilaterally overturn the collective will of the people. We must improve at respectful and open dialogue over our differences. We must do a better job at teaching and modeling the virtues of respect; honor and neighbor love. These qualities support the true virtue of tolerance.

Discussion questions:

  1. Doesn’t sound strange to demand zero-tolerance toward intolerance with no exceptions being tolerated?
  2. How can people profess to love diversity when they hold to a strange form of tolerance that promotes a monolithic culture where everyone conceals differences to avoid offense?
  3. Does toleration for all religions demand that each be considered true? 
  4. It is possible to believe and teach the exclusive truth claims made by Jesus Christ without being intolerant?
  5. Are the people who accept those claims best positioned to show the true virtue of tolerance? 

For deeper reflection: 

“If, in fact, it is true that Almighty God, creator and sustainer of all that exists in heaven and on earth, has — at a known time and place in human history — so humbled himself as to become part of our sinful humanity, and to suffer and die a shameful death to take away our sin, and to rise from the dead as the first-fruit of a new creation, if this is a fact, then to affirm it is not arrogance. To remain quiet about it is treason to our fellow human beings. If it is really true, as it is, that ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself up for me’, how can I agree that this amazing act of matchless grace should merely become part of a syllabus for the ‘comparative study of religions’?” (Bishop Leslie Newbigin)

Steve Cornell

Words are windows into hearts

We can almost always be sure that people are talking in hurtful ways when things go wrong in a relationship.

This is one reason why it’s important to do a personal inventory about the way we use our words.

Another reason relates to local Churches. Teaching people the right ways to speak to one another (and about one another) is essential to preserving the unity of Christian fellowship. Believers are called to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Some of the most destructive forces threatening this unity are related to speech (James 3).

The first practical problem faced by the early Church involved verbal complaints.

“But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1, NLT).

One of the earliest letters to New Testament believers has much to say about speech. Evidently there was a significant problem because in the first chapter we read,

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (James 1:26, NIV).

Think of the possible things that could have been said in the second part of the verse: “If you claim to be religious but… do not go to Church, do not read your Bible, do not pray, etc… These are important parts of living a godly life but I am not sure many would have expected to read: “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue…”

Restraint and Reflection

A little before this, we read about the need to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV). Restraint and reflection are virtues when it comes to speech. And of course, those familiar with the book of James know the focus given to the tongue in chapter three. There we learn about the power and potential of the tongue. There we learn about the difficulty of taming the tongue. There we learn about the importance of reigning in that powerful little muscle. There we learn that the discipline of reigning in our speech (words and tones) could help us bring needed discipline in other areas of lives.

Out of the heart

Jesus takes matters to a deeper level in teaching that our words reveal our hearts.  “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:35). An example of this in the Old Testament comes from the life of Joseph and his brothers.

 “Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe. But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him” (Gen. 37:3-4).

It’s not at all surprising that people with hearts full of hatred find it impossible to speak kind words. And this connection between heart and speech should encourage us to look for heart conditions behind the ways people speak. Our speech (way of talking) is a window into what’s happening in our hearts. Words are windows to the heart. So our way of talking could be a warning sign of the need for inner transformation.

We should also look closely at the ways of speaking passed on to us from our family backgrounds. If you grew up in a home with lots of yelling,  don’t be surprised if you default to the same way of speaking.

A helpful exercise

Discuss the possible heart issues behind each of the forbidden ways of speech listed below. Then look closely at the list of 12 tones of voice and discuss the possible heart conditions behind each one. Attach specific Scriptures to counter each tone of voice and the possible heart conditions behind them.

Forbidden speech

  1. Lying (Ephesians 4:25; I Peter 3:10; Psalm 34:13)

  2. Slander (Titus 3:2; James 4:11)

  3. Gossip: (Proverbs 6:16-19; 11:13; 16:28)
  4. 
Complaining: (Philippians 2:14; Jude 16)

  5. Vengeful words (I Peter 2:23; Romans 12:17-19)
  6. 
Malicious or hurtful words (Ephesians 4:31-32)

  7. Angry words (Ephesians 4:31-32)

  8. Hasty words (James 1:19; Ecclesiastes 3:7)
  9. 
Flattery (Proverbs 24:26-28; 29:5; Rom. 16:18)
  10. 
Cursing people (James 3:7-10)
  11. 
Boasting (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Watch that tone

Tone of voice can make a big difference in communication. True words spoken with wrong tones are often self-defeating in their aim. Scripture says, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Although I would never argue for a single-tone as a Christian way of speaking, some tones are clearly unacceptable. Some tones are destructive to good relationships and some even misrepresent and dishonor God.

  1. Condescending
  2. 
Bossy

  3. Angry
  4. 
Snobby
  5. 
Frustrated

  6. Impatient

  7. Defensive
  8. 
Moody

  9. Distant

  10. Disrespectful
  11. 
Dark

  12. Whining

Required speech

One of the best ways to change our speech patterns is to replace inappropriate ways of talking with godly speech. An obvious example would be to replace gossip or slander with  positive words about others. Words of thanks and kind words of encouragement are excellent alternatives to many of the wrongful ways of speaking (Ephesians 4:32; 5:18-21). Praising for God (Hebrews 13:15) is a potent form of speech that can set a clear tone for the rest of life. Those in authority who must confront, correct and punish others are also commanded to affirm those who do good (see: I Peter 2:13-14).

E429

Use the formula E429 to remind yourself and each other of God’s will for our speech. This stands for Ephesians 4:29 which says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” “Let all that you do be done in love.” (I Corinthains 16:14).

Steve Cornell