Words and symbols can prompt action. Advertisers bank on this. A Christian agency would think long and hard before sending any of its representatives into an Arab land today under the name The Crusaders. Nor is it necessarily helpful for us to use "war talk" or culture-war rhetoric in this country at a time when a tiny minority of Americans have been talking about the "imminency" of a very real and violent civil war. It is incumbent upon us to refrain from rhetoric that might unwittingly inflame passions, needlessly discourage, or wound. We exercise this self-restraint regarding certain speech because we adjudge specific words inappropriate for particular times and circumstances.

If there is any group of Americans who should take the lead in promoting civility in discourse, while at the same time standing up boldly for Christ, for righteousness and justice, it should be Christians. Francis Schaeffer reminds us: "We are to love our fellows, to love all people, in fact, as neighbors. All people bear the image of God." Moreover, the Christian knows that he or she will be held accountable for words uttered. Our speech is often a window into our souls (Matt. 12:34-37).

It is true Christ used vipers and other such expressions. But for us, these terms are less viable. Christ knew the hearts of those whom he described. Moreover, he wept over Jerusalem. He may have had a tear in his eye when he used strong speech. We, however, are not graced with our Lord's omniscience. Sometimes our use of strong language can cloak bitter feelings against our enemies, the very ones we are called to love (Matt. 5:44). Our rhetoric can erect unnecessary barriers between us and them.

In his classic discussion of how spiritual pride can blindside us and ...

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