They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk and evil suspicions~ 1stTimothy 6:4 NIV
I did something stupid this week. I totally knew better. But for some reason I still don’t completely understand I did it anyway.
I engaged on the internet.
It all started innocently enough (it always does). A friend posted an article about Robert De Niro’s f-word infused anti-Trump harangue at the Tony Awards on Sunday night. I have been preoccupied with several big writing and speaking projects lately and haven’t stayed on top of current events like I usually do. As a result, I wasn’t even aware of the hullabaloo surrounding Mr. De Niro’s comments.
So, I was curious.
After reading the article I scanned the comments section of the post (first big mistake). In one of the comments a guy (I will call him “Tom”) compared Robert De Niro’s sweaty, wild-eyed, profanity-laced tirade to a speech given by Franklin Graham a while back where he stated (among other things) that our country is in a battle between good and evil and that the soul of our nation is at stake. “Tom” went on to say that Franklin Graham was essentially calling half the people in our country “evil” because half the country (give or take) is opposed to Trump and his policies. “Tom” inferred that Robert De Niro and Franklin Grahams speeches were more-or-less morally equivalent. He didn’t say it outright but he also implied that we all ought to slow the roll on judging Mr. De Niro.
Because I am a clueless doofus sometimes (and because I genuinely believed in my heart-of-hearts this guy must be confused) I calmly explained to “Tom” that Franklin Graham was not saying half the people in America are evil. He was simply saying that some ideas are evil and that we are in a battle for the heart and soul of the country. Then I went on to say (like a clueless doofus) that saying someone believes an evil idea doesn’t necessarily make them irredeemable (second big mistake).
It turns out my words were not as calming (or helpful) as I hoped (Proverbs 10:19). “Tom” jumped all over the word “irredeemable” and things got really tense really quickly. He said that it sounded to him as if I was saying that anyone who didn’t share the same beliefs I had were “irredeemable”. He then demanded that I tell him what beliefs made a person irredeemable.
I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but at this point I was beginning to get an inkling that “Tom” was not seeking to understand or to be understood. He simply wanted to back me into corner and force me to call him evil.
I wasn’t in the mood to bite at that hook so I simply informed him he was wrong rather than evil and that there was a huge difference between being evil and wrong (third big mistake). This turned out not to be calming or helpful either (I already owned-up to being a clueless doofus). Needless to say, things did not end well and “Tom” and I did not become “friends” on social media.
I did have an epiphany as a result of my conversation with “Tom”.
I know at least one reason why we have become so divided. We have lost our way because we don’t discuss ideas and beliefs anymore. We don’t debate good and evil or right and wrong. Nor do we deliberate the outcome of policies or philosophies anymore. Instead we play ridiculous games of word-gotcha where we scrutinize people’s words, look for a way to attack them based on their words and debate the imagined meaning behind the words rather than the ideas, programs or philosophies in question.
It is ruining us all (2nd Timothy 2:14, 1st Timothy 6:4).
My exchange with” Tom” is a textbook example. “Tom” jumped on one word and read a whole truckload of subtext into that one word (irredeemable). He did not want to know what ideas I felt were evil. He certainly didn’t ask what I thought might be done to improve things in our country. He simply jumped directly to the notion that I was calling him evil. For the record, I wasn’t suggesting that “Tom” is evil. I was honestly attempting to clarify what Mr. Graham actually meant for “Tom”.
Word-gotcha is a legitimate problem but is a problem we can do something about. If you find yourself engaging with someone who attempts to trap you into a debate over the “real” meaning of a word you used DO NOT let them do it and DO NOT engage in the game.
Call them on it.
Explain in very simple terms exactly what they are doing and then inform them respectfully that you refuse to engage in silly games of word-gotcha. Let them know (in a kind and loving tone) that you would love to discuss issues and ideas but you simply will not discuss what you really meant by a particular word. Be polite, be willing to engage on the actual issues, be willing to hear a viewpoint you don’t agree with, be loving, be Christ-like but also be firm.
Our civilization might actually depend on it.