By Stanley Abell

See the hands that build
Can also pull down
The hands of love 

Exit ~U2

Remember the old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” I don’t know that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the validity of this statement one way or the other… until recently.

Last week I saw this short documentary titled “Validation,” which is a film about the impact our words and how we use them has to empower, affirm and validate people… or, not.

The film’s unlikely hero is a parking lot attendant who not only validates parking tickets, through is words, he validates the people who hold the tickets. Pretty soon people are clamoring to be in his line for validation. “Mam, you have lovely cheek bones. Sir, that is a great suit for you, wow! You have the most lovely smile.”

In the film, people’s days, weeks and lives are transformed (validated) through the power of the parking attendant’s words. This is the upside of the story… words of affirmation and validation can uplift and transform.

The dark, underbelly of this story is from a post I read on Facebook Monday. Words of belittlement and hate can tear down… and kill. Someone had reposted a story by Rachel Held Evans titled “Marc Driscoll is a bully. Stand up to him.” We posted this story yesterday… you commented.

Words, indeed, have great power. My favorite Irish poet puts it this way lyrically, “See the hands that build can also pull down… the hands of love.” There are many discussion points here; however, I’d like to stay (for once in my life) focused, and keep the conversation between the ditches. We could debate about homosexuality. We could debate on the differences between Progressive and Evangelical view points on Biblical truth. We could.

We are, though, going to focus on language. Mark Driscoll purportedly represents “the hands of love (Christ).” Driscoll is the preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, which has a huge physical and virtual following. Honestly, I don’t know squat about Mark Driscoll or his church, so I can’t and won’t pretend to speak on his theological views, which have been noted as aligning in the Evangelical camp (*see “What we could debate about” above).

Again, I want to focus on language. A man who claims to be a representative of the hands and voice of love, apparently, frequently, uses language that anything but offers a message of unconditional love, hope and compassion. Again, I don’t know anything about his past, only his present:

I’m not sure exactly what book of the Bible this comes from? I only looked for it in the New Testament. Perhaps it could be found somewhere in the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament? Oh no, wait, I know where I’ve heard it before… It was in the locker room during my 8th grade year of junior high. However, anymore, even boys in junior high have enough sense to know these kinds of childish antics aren’t acceptable.

“Effeminately anatomically male worship leader.” Really? Seriously? It is this kind of seemingly benign language that gave permission to torture, beat and kill Matthew Shepard. It is this kind of language I have hear followers of Driscoll dismiss as no big deal and overblow as long as he is theologically on-point.

My tradition, The United Methodist Church, is bi-polar with our official language regarding homosexuality. In our Book of Discipline we say on one hand homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” On the other hand we say, “Homosexuals are people of sacred worth” (*see “What we could debate about” above).

Here’s my deal… How on earth can one proclaim love in one’s heart and spew hate with one’s mouth. If there is anything on the planet incompatible with Christian teaching THAT is it. We teach our children not to verbally bully. Was Pastor Driscoll absent at school that day?

BTW… While even though I didn’t look through the Old Testament for the pastor’s words, I did happen to remember this old proverb…“Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.” Proverbs 12:18 (The Message)

Sticks and stones…. words. The words of our mouth are the songs of our heart. What song are we singing?