From John Wesley’s Journal – “November 5, 1747: I began examining the classes, and every person severally, touching that bane of religion, evil speaking; as well as touching their manner of life before they heard this preaching; and by comparing what they were with what they are now (emphasis added), we found more abundant cause to praise God.
“That bane of religion…” “Bane” is no longer a common word, so, just in case we don’t know the meaning, it refers to that which spoils or destroys something. The bane of religion, according to Wesley is “evil speaking.” Evil speaking destroys Christian life. When was the last time someone asked you to evaluate your growth and/or progress in the Christian life on the basis of how you spoke about others? Imagine getting kicked out of the society for habitually speaking evil of others. Imagine getting kicked out of anything for any reason.
Pretty commonly, we recognize the corroding influence of the kind of talk we call “gossip.” But, if I get Wesley, evil speaking extends much further. I’m thinking about how Christians cut each other up across political lines, just for starters. It doesn’t matter if it’s church politics or national. For example, I know people who qualify as “Bush haters” (as in, they can’t stand “W”). I’ve heard them say awful, cutting things about him. I also know people who feel exactly the same way about President Obama, with similar hateful comments. And in both cases I’m referring to United Methodists!
Now, I’m not calling for us to make nice and pretend we don’t have differences. If you know me at all, you know that I’m no fan of making nice. I think we should have open, pointed, honest conversations. Loving someone means taking that person seriously enough to admit questions and disagreement. I have opinions galore. Sooner or later, you and I will most likely disagree on something. Obviously, we can agree to disagree on most things and not worry. However, sometimes we’re going to have it out, because we care about matters intensely.
But when we do have it out, can we not continue to love each other and talk to and about one another in love? Clearly, I’m using “having it out” in an overstated way. Yelling matches do no one any good. But neither does making nice.
I’m thinking a lot about spiritual maturity these days and feeling the pinch of Wesley’s analysis with regard to evil speaking. No one has asked me (in a long time, if ever) if I’ve engaged in evil speaking, but Mr. Wesley would. And I’d have to tell him the truth. And then I’d have to repent and do differently. Or I’d get kicked out of the society.
Speaking the truth in love and avoiding evil speaking takes practice. And sensitivity. And awareness. And practice. We United Methodists need to work on it. Big time.