First let me say these two guys I wish to use as an example of why “tone” really matters, are in the public eye, they have chosen to take their debates public, they have written and blogged about it. I would never engage on a blog post with someone who wasn’t out in the spotlight, who hadn’t already published, hadn’t already made their debates known.
They are also both pastors, so chuckling here, but I think that means we’re allowed to use them to edify and encourage the Body of Christ.
Another way of defining what the right “tone,” is, is actually “love.” Are you speaking the truth in love or are you simply motivated by a desire to be right? What motivates you, what drives you, a desire to win an argument and count coo? Ego, vanity, conquest, selfish ambition, like most of us other humans??
The Bible is really clear about this, by their fruits you shall know them. By this they shall know you are my disciples, by your love for one another. No love, and even your beautiful theology, your perfect doctrine, your song of men and angels, becomes impotent, mute, ashes.
So yes, tone really matters, love really matters, and most of us get it wrong a lot.
So first I have Pastor Wilson who writes, “The Slaves of Jonathan Edwards.” He’s not wrong, there is lots of truth in his article, the problem being this is the author of “Black and Tan,” this is a man fielding a lot of concerns from other Christians about his own antebellum romanticism, his denial of the horrors of slavery, his complete dismissal of those who actually do care about whether or not the God of the Bible condoned slavery.
You can be technically correct with your facts, deceived into believing you’re just “speaking the truth in love,” but your tone is still all wrong, because 13 year old Venus just wants to know what’s up with all the theological heroes of the Christian faith owning slaves? And while we’re at it let’s talk about the rabid anti Semitism of John Calvin….
Over and over again, Pastor Wilson is motivated by ego, vanity, conquest, selfish ambition, and a desire to be right, like most of us other humans. He really doesn’t care about how Venus might feel. Also, he feels quite entitled to not answer her, to not heal her heart at all. After all, she’s just a slave girl. She should simply be content with her lot in life, more grateful that not all slave owners were perpetual sadistic brutes. After all, it could always have been worse….
The problem is that Pastor Wilson makes it quite clear that he chooses to minister to the guilt, shame, and confusion of white Christians who idolize the teachings of Jonathan Edwards. Leah (or Venus) is nothing but a footnote in history, a name casually scratched on the back of a really good sermon, but whew, at least the sermon itself wasn’t damaged. That would have been a real tragedy.
If he actually cared he would be able to see that it wasn’t Jonathan Edward’s honor that needs to be defended, but rather Leah’s heart that needs to be healed.
Next we have John Branyan who wrote what I thought was a beautiful piece, strongly worded perhaps, but a truth felt by so many of us called, “A Open Letter to a Fallen Church Leader.” Just the other day I referred to all these fallen guys as, “Instagram models,” so obviously my heart is a bit hardened to forever watching these evangelizing Christians turn around, spin a 180, and evangelize their own deconstruction of faith.
In my opinion, Branyan has been unjustly attacked, pig piled on by other Christians quick to shame and punish him for his “tone.” I’m sorry that happened, but I am determined to harvest some good out of this crap sandwich and use it as a teaching moment. Our tone really matters, the condition of our heart is everything, and asking ourselves “who am I actually ministering to,” is critical. Branyan’s post ministered to all those who are going to be hurt by these fallen leaders. He was angry, he was cynical, he was protective, and there is nothing wrong with those feelings at all. But clearly his role in that situation was not restoration. He was not ministering to “fallen leaders.” And that’s okay, but you have to stand there truthfully.
90% of our communication problems as human beings comes from a lack of awareness or an inability to understand who our words are intended for, what motivates them, and what purpose they serve. Who are you speaking too??? (This is a really good life hack for Bible reading, too. Context matters, who is being addressed in this chapter and why??)
Also, what is more important to you, being right or preserving relationship?? Notice Jesus never said, you shall know them by their ability to speak the truth and to proclaim themselves right. Conversely however, preserving relationship is not always the goal! That is a really narrow path to walk, one that requires a great deal of discernment.
In the Magician’s Nephew CS Lewis wrote, “What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
Kind of funny in an ironic sort of way, over the months, years perhaps, I’ve tried desperately to invite both of these men into the gentlest conversation about that very thing, you need to pay attention to who your audience is and how they are going to receive your words.
You can’t control the people hellbent on misunderstanding you, but you better believe you are still responsible for who is receiving your words and how they are going to be perceived. The entire Book of James speaks about our tone, also known as the condition of our heart. This is absolutely critical for those of us in faith because it is through the condition of our own hearts that other people come to know what our Father’s heart for them even looks like.
Somebody smart once said, “self awareness is God awareness.” I really liked that because we are made in His image. The more you get to know your own self, the more you will get to know Him. In Jesus Christ when you find your flaws, you’ll find His grace. When you find your weaknesses, you’ll discover His strengths, and so it goes, this beautiful dance of getting to know Him, and getting to know ourselves in the process.
Let me add one last thing with all good humor, with all due humility, with amusement not bitterness, but neither of these men think I’m worth a bucket of spit. In all honesty, I simply wanted to invite them in to have a conversation about tone. Well, with or without them, we shall do precisely that, have a conversation about the importance of tone.