Something I learned somewhere along the way is how important words are. Not just which words we use, but how we use them and when we use them and why we use them matters. More than those elements, however, stands one point that perhaps carries more weight than any other - who says the words matters greatly.
Let me give you an example. A child can hear another child criticize them. They might get mad, or they may just shrug it off. But let that child’s parent say the same thing, and the impact has a much different and potentially longstanding effect on that child. A teacher can share encouraging words that spur a child on to greater things, while one who belittles a student’s worth can crush the spirit.
I would imagine this is why when seeking input from others, we tend to go to those closest to us as opposed to complete strangers and mere acquaintances. We value the words of those who love and respect us. Their words matter, not only because of what they say, but because of who they are.
As a pastor, I try to take this to heart, because my words (in some circles, at least) carry a little more weight than the average man on the street. That has nothing to do with me, mind you. It is not because I have proven myself a wise sage who should be sought out for advice. It is simply because my position in the faith community causes people to look to me and my kind as ones they should be able to count on and go to. That is a tremendous privilege and a more significant responsibility. I do not always get it right, but I am always mindful of how carefully I must choose my words, because words can heal or hurt.
I am not prone to be political. Theology and human interaction, not politics, are in my wheelhouse. That said, I want to share my thoughts on the president’s recent address to the Boy Scouts. I remember attending the 1981 National Jamboree at Fort AP Hill, Virginia. President Reagan did not address either of the Jamborees during his two terms, but had he done so I imagine it would have been a very different kind of speech.
Being an Eagle Scout and a former Jamboree attendee, I was troubled by what took place. I read the address in full, and I have been watching the fallout. My reaction has little to do with the political leaning of the speech. As I said, I am not a politically outspoken person. But regardless of one’s position, there has to be a hint of question about the appropriateness of it. I really wish he had remembered the weight the words of POTUS carry.
Here is the first thing that came to my mind when the story broke. “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Those familiar with Scouting will recognize this as the Scout Law. I don’t speak for anyone else, and thankfully don’t have to answer for others’ choices. If I am ever asked to address a group of Scouts, who are young and wide eyed and impressionable, I pray that I have the wherewithal to abide by the simple “law” by which they try to live. May our words be words that heal.
The Rev. Randall Monk is the lead pastor of Ekklesia Faith Community in Grovetown.