Let me preface this article by saying that I just took a personal assessment that described me as being someone who always starts with the question, “What is the right thing to do?” Funny, because I said those exact words to Matt before we went to sleep last night. I said, “I so desperately need the truth about what’s happening with race and injustice in our country, so I can know what the right thing for me to do is.”
So if you’re sick of me talking about this all summer it’s because I’m obsessed with understanding how I’m connected to what’s happening in my country and what I should be doing about it, as a follower of Christ. If you’ll stick with me on this last article, then I promise I’ll give the subjective a rest for a while.
When George Floyd was murdered and riots broke out, I went to summer school. Every single day since his murder, I have been following the counsel of Proverbs 4:5a, to “get wisdom, get understanding.” (NIV) I’ve been zealously reading and listening to black voices. In the mail today, I’m expecting a book by Booker T. Washington, called Up from Slavery, because a podcaster I listened to said it should be on the shelf in every American household, which made me feel sad that I hadn’t read it already. My plan is to honor my black neighbors, by continuing to learn from them.
But I have come to one solid conclusion that is of utmost importance: language is powerful, and we have the freedom to filter it. I touched on this in my last post, but it’s so important in our whole lives, not just in the subject of race relations, that I feel compelled to say more.
There is language behind what we see on the news and in our social media feeds.
If we are not cautious, extremely cautious, the language of our times will win control of our thoughts and of our hearts and ultimately of our actions (and the thoughts, hearts and actions of our children.)
I’m a Spanish teacher. In a few weeks, the first assignment I will give my students will be to write down new vocabulary and the definitions of each word. My challenge is for you to do the same. Write down the vocabulary you hear swirling around current events and ask yourself what each word or phrase means.
During my summer personal education intensive regarding racial tension in our country (I feel like I should get college credits for this, considering the energy I’ve expended), I came across the word “whiteness.” Then I heard “white fragility,” “white supremacy,” “white guilt,” and “white privilege.” As a good student, I’ve asked critical questions:
Where did these terms come from? Who invented them?
What do these terms mean?
Are these terms helpful or destructive?
Are these terms based on biblical truth or are they lies?
That last question stops me in my tracks. I’ve been listening, listening, listening, but how much of what I’m hearing has solid footing in Bible truth?
When I pick up the word “whiteness” and hold it up to my ethnically Jewish Bible, I can’t find that word. “Whiteness” is not in the Bible. Where did it come from?
Somebody invented it.
How about “white fragility”? Not in the Bible. It’s a phrase made up by men.
“White supremacy”? Not in the Bible. It’s a phrase made up by men.
“White guilt”? The word guilt is in the Bible but never paired with the word “white.” According to the Bible, guilt is a human condition and equally employs all ethnicities.
Do you see the insidious control language is commandeering in America right now? But we are free! We are free to open our Bibles and think critically about new language coming at us, to see if it is in line with Scripture or if it’s a fabrication of men. We are free to choose the language we will use -good, solid, biblical language. We can speak of love, compassion, generosity, service, comfort, goodness, humility, patience, mercy, justice, grace, and kindness. This is the language given to us by the Prince of Peace, and it transcends history and ethnicity and current events.
The Psalmist sings, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105 NIV) In complex, troubling times, God’s words light our path -God’s words, not man’s words. Let us keep our Bibles open and not cave to manipulative rhetoric of current culture. We are free to choose what language we will embrace and what language we will discard.