December 12, 2015

In the wake of recent violence, many people are offering legal solutions that run the gamut from gun safety to immigration reform and, most certainly, the need for better mental healthcare. As a gun moderate, I see some wisdom expressed in these ideas, but those suggestions won’t be the focus of today’s column.

As a chaplain, I’m more interested in identifying the spiritual root of a problem. Jesus pinpointed the source of violence when he said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” Matt 15:11.

In other words, the foundation of violence is nearly always hateful, intolerant speech. Today, much of that speech is coming from the defiled mouths of our political candidates, religious leaders and media pundits on all political sides.

The root of the problem has never been the gun. The root of the problem is the hate speech that inspires the fear to purchase the gun. As long as we tolerate such intolerable language, we discourage dialogue and the bullets will continue to fly.

If we are to be a nation under God, it’s time to stand up, not so much for gun control or border controls, but to stand against those who incite animosity with hateful discourse.

The truth is that the killing process begins with words, long before guns are ever loaded. That’s why Jesus amplified the commandment “thou shalt not kill” when he said, “I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The moral fact is that words kill.”

No matter what your religion or political persuasion, as people of faith, it’s time to cry foul. Tell the hate mongers to stop promoting causes and start prompting conversations.

It’s time to stop listening to the radio commentator who gets his high ratings from calling people morons. It’s time to withdraw support from the presidential candidate who rises in the polls because he labels his detractors “idiots.” If your candidate is using inflammatory terms, peel off their bumper stickers, turn off your TV and think for yourself.

Years ago, in my freshman speech at Baylor University, my professor, Dr. George Stokes, had a lot to say about hate speech. During the first lecture of the semester he issued a stringent warning that went something like this:

“During this semester, I’m going to give you the most valuable tool in the history of mankind. I’m going to teach you how to persuade people through speech.”

Then the old WWII veteran tearfully added this warning: “However, if you misuse this power, my friends and I will hunt you down, just like we did that bastard, Hitler.”

I’d like to think the old professor was using his colorful Texas language to simply rephrase the doctrine of the Apostle Paul who said in Colossians 4:5-6, “Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”

Send comments to [email protected] or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain. Leave your recorded comments at (843) 608-9715. Visit my website at where you can download a free chapter from my new book, “Hero’s Highway.”