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Words have power to bless or curse, analysts say

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 17, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Country singer Taylor Swift was upset by singer Kanye West’s behavior during the MTV Video Awards Sept. 13. A UMNS photo courtesy of Mind’s-eye.

Public displays of rude behavior seem to roll out daily, leading many of us to wonder if civility and good manners are dead or at least on life support.

The Internet, television and newspapers are ablaze with opinions on the intemperate remarks of musician Kanye West, tennis star Serena Williams and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson.

How should their actions be judged?

The church and the world must hold each other accountable “for the stewardship of words,” says United Methodist Bishop Ken Carder, professor of Christian ministry at United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School.

"What is needed is a transformation of character--hearts and minds that evidence respect for the dignity and worth of every person as a beloved child of God, humility that acknowledges the limitations of our own perspectives and commitment to a vision that transcends political polarities,” he said.

A few incidents of bad behavior do not portend the fall of civil society in America, says nationally syndicated columnist Amy Dickinson.

The church and the world must hold each other accountable “for the stewardship
of words,” says United Methodist Bishop Ken Carder. A UMNS file photo by
Kathy L. Gilbert.

Civility may be in decline this week, “but next week probably not,” she says.

“Honestly, I think we're going through something now and people are acting a little haywire. But I think it's a mistake to make grand and sweeping statements based on what Kanye West does. And that's because Kanye West always does what he did the other night. He's sort of a jerk, unfortunately. But a great musician.

“Wilson's statement doesn't concern me too much -- anyone who enjoys watching the workings of British Parliament couldn't possibly be fazed by this outburst. And Serena -- well, I hate the cursing, but I don't think it's anything John McEnroe didn't do 30 years ago. And we all survived,” Dickinson says.

Dickinson, a United Methodist and author of the Ask Amy column, adds, “The United Methodist Church should do what it does best—worship, share and be in community in a Godly way.”

All these public figures behaving badly present a great opportunity for pastors and congregations to talk about respect, she says.

“And of course we parents can and should continue to mentor our kids at home, starting when they are very young and continuing as long as they will listen to us.”

The Rev. Mark Terwilliger of Beach Lake (Pa.) United Methodist Church used the example of Williams’ tirade to illustrate a sermon on “taming the tongue,” based on James 3:1-12.

Columnist Amy Dickinson. A UMNS photo courtesy of Tribune Media services.

“In the case of Serena, Kanye and Wilson, all spoke without giving themselves enough time to process their emotions,” he says. “Our words do not just come from out of our mouths, but increasingly our e-mails and our Facebook feeds are products of impulse. Would people be able to tell from what we text to others that we are disciples of Jesus Christ? Everybody's mothers probably have said, ‘If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.’”

Words can hurt, Carder says.

“Contrary to the proverb, ‘Sticks and stones may break bones but words will never harm me,’ words can be weapons of mass destruction,” he says. “The church is the one institution that has as its basic purpose to embody the reconciliation wrought in Jesus Christ. How we deal with our differences and disagreements is as important as the specific decisions we reach.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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