Is it any coincidence that the latest issue of the magazine Weavings; A Journal of the Spiritual Life is titled “Learning Discretion”? I’m sure you’ve had enough of shock radio host Don Imus’ indiscretion and have already moved on. I watched the Tennessee women’s basketball team beat Rutgers for the NCAA Championship on April 3 and remember how impressed I was by the tenacity and determination of the young Rutgers team.
The next day Imus referred to the Rutgers women as “nappy-headed hos.” If I were a regular listener to talk radio, I probably wouldn’t have been surprised. Many radio talk show hosts feel free to use vile language, derogatory names, and racial, sexual and gender stereotypes, all in the name of freedom of speech, ratings and fun.
Unfortunately, Imus had no idea that this time he crossed a line, for Americans responded to one of their most popular radio personalities with immediate outrage. It was a cheap shot, picking on a highly respected women’s basketball team by using inflammatory racial and sexual stereotypes.
In the team’s first news conference after the incident, one player said, “I’m not a ho. I’m a woman and … I’m somebody’s child.” The dignity and graciousness of the Rutgers women was a stark contrast to Imus’ flippancy.
Lest we be too filled with moral indignation, it would behoove us to learn from this incident and take a hard look at ourselves. How many times have we been guilty of saying inappropriate things, speaking before we’ve really thought through what we wanted to say, and thoughtlessly hurting another person by our words.
We seem to be living in a time when it is acceptable to say whatever is on our minds, no matter whom we hurt in the process. Conversely, we often remain silent in the face of offensive language rather than gently challenge the speaker. Such behavior seems especially prevalent in churches. Because we equate being a Christian with accepting people for who they are, we are reluctant to hold parishioners accountable for careless and demeaning language. I’ve seen terrible church fights result because we have condoned gross indiscretions and the misuse of words, all in the name of love.
I myself have been guilty of using insensitive language in sermons and conversations and have caused others to experience pain. At times, I’ve spoken hastily or haven’t spoken at all, causing injury to others. I’ve dominated conversations without allowing others to have their say. I shudder whenever I read Matthew 12:36, “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter.” I am not proud of my indiscretions and have had to ask for forgiveness many times from God and others.
Our calling as pastors is to holy speaking as well as holy living. We lead from the heart by what we say as well as what we do. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Wise tongues show discretion, which means being judicious in our speech or conduct. Did you know that the words “discretion” and “discernment” share the same root word, discretio? It is when we create space to listen to God and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we are able to show discretion in our speech and actions. We must never underestimate the modeling we provide for our congregations in how to speak responsibly and graciously.
As you go about your daily responsibilities as pastors, I invite you to ponder these questions.
- Is it always wise to share everything that you are thinking?
- Are you willing to remain silent and seek holy wisdom before saying whatever best promotes love?
- On the other hand, are you willing to speak out when your voice desperately needs to be heard but when it would be easier to remain silent?
- Before immediately responding in a tense situation, do you take time to discern so that you can speak and act with grace and discretion?
- Do you create an atmosphere in your congregation where respectful conversation is the only acceptable conversation?
- Do you set the example by apologizing when you speak harshly without thinking?
- Do you set aside your own preferences to keep everyone at the table and help people listen to one another?
- Do you ever talk with your congregation about how they talk with each other?
When advertisers and politicians weighed in, CBS suspended Imus for 2 weeks without pay, then finally fired him on April 12. That same day Imus and his wife met with the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Coach C. Vivian Stringer issued this gracious statement after the meeting, “We, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights basketball team, accept – accept – Mr. Imus’ apology, and we are in the process of forgiving.” She also said, “It’s not about the players as black or nappy-headed. It’s about us as a people. When there is not equality for all, or when there has been denied equality for one, there has been denied equality for all.”
I encourage you to read the May/June issue of Weavings. I might even send a copy to Don Imus.