Backpedaling and Public Christianity


Russell Moore’s had enough of Pat Robertson. And frankly, I don’t blame him.

Over the last several years, Robertson’s repeatedly brought shame to himself and to the larger evangelical community for his increasingly thoughtless and foolish remarks, the most recent being his response to a woman who sent in a question on how to respond to a man who refused to marry her because she had adopted internationally.

I’m no fan of public controversy within evangelicalism. Controversy rarely, if ever, brings glory, honor and praise to Jesus. Nevertheless, there is a time to confront arrogant foolishness as Moore has done, which provoked a response from Robertson clarifying his position.

But here’s the thing that’s bothering me—Robertson should never have had to clarify his position in the first place. Why? Because he, like all of us, should have remembered the repeated, emphatic warnings in Scripture about how we use our words, among them:

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” ( Prov. 12:18)

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21)

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:5-10)

We need to take these warnings seriously. Our words have incredible power—the power of death and life, the power to set ablaze the course of our lives. Our words have the power to either confirm our testimony or make a mockery of it. They either bring honor or reproach to Jesus.

Simply, how we speak matters.

We need to take great care in not being too quick to give an off-the-cuff response to anything. As much as we are able, we need to think carefully about what we are going to say in any and every situation. I realize that mistakes happen; sometimes we let something slip against our better judgment, me especially. Only the Lord is fully aware of how much folly has come from my mouth. But when we see ongoing patterns of foolish talk coming from our mouths, should we not consider seeking assistance and accountability?

For those who in very public positions, like Robertson, if we finds ourselves consistently saying things in a way that, perhaps, we didn’t intend, it may be a sign that we need to step out of the spotlight entirely. Would that not make more sense than constantly having to backpedal, issuing statements that amount to “What I said is really the opposite of what I meant.”

There is no spiritual gift of backpedaling. Jesus is not honored by it, anymore than He is honored by the rash and foolish words that require us to do so. Instead, let’s strive to use our words well, prayerfully bringing them under the control of the Holy Spirit for the sake of Christ and the good of others.

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