By Gary Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the power of words. The Book of Genesis describes how God created the earth, all that is on it and humanity by uttering words. Throughout history, the right words have brought hope in the darkest moments and the wrong words hatred and destruction. My own words have made a greater difference, for good or ill, than I ever imagined possible.

Sadly, we live in a time when the destructive force of words far outweighs their positive impact. This inescapable fact confronts me every day through social media, our political discourse and in our deeply divided United Methodist Church. Something has tragically changed. We have made the weaponization of words a routine part of our discourse.

When we choose to use words as weapons against others, we like to think we are speaking truth and rightly putting those who are wrong in their place. But the fact of the matter is that these words say far more about us than the people we are speaking about. This is because words provide a window into our soul. Choosing words that tear down, divide or inflict harm points to the reality that we are fundamentally out of kilter with God. In other words, it is sin.

This is especially true when we choose words we know will harm others. It is not acceptable to say that we do not mean what others clearly hear us saying. In fact, it only makes things worse. Quite simply, these are the very moments we need to come to grips with our need to repent and change how we speak about those with whom we disagree, those who are different and those whose life experience differs from ours.

This is true for every single human being. It is all the more so for those of us who know Jesus as Savior and Lord. And while the words we choose should never be an issue for those of us who seek to follow how Jesus teaches us to live, the reality is that it is. So we must address it. And we can – one person at a time and one word at a time. The next time you deal with that disagreeable person who doesn’t get it, ask yourself a question. What words will I choose that best reflect that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ?