I have a general sense that wherever possible we try to use Biblical terminology. This means we say words that people often find offensive. For example, we, as Christians, should not be afraid to call transgression of God’s law “sin,” rather than “a mistake” or “missing the best.”
I think an area where this can get awful hairy is that we need to be careful to define terms. For example, when I grew up I believed the definition of adulterer was someone who was married who cheated on his or her spouse. I now believe differently (Matthew 5:28). So if you had called me an adulterer, I would have been offended at least partially because I didn’t really believe I had committed adultery according to the Biblical definition.
But the problem was not with you, it was with me. I was the adulterer by the Biblical definition of the term.
So here’s today’s rub. Recently, a writer named Karen Swallow Prior (KSP) wrote an article where she proposed calling a woman a murderer who has had an abortion is not only inflammatory, but is unchristlike.
Deut 5:17 You shall not murder.
Much kerfuffle has occurred as the result; and if you click that link now, you will be the beneficiary of some clarifying comments by KSP which I find helpful in clarifying her meaning.
My concern is twofold. 1) I believe the gauging of the terminology is being subjectively measured based on the reaction (inflammation?) of the objects of the terms using an unbiblical pragmatism and 2) I find the entire concept contradictory and hypocritical. I will try to flesh these out briefly and if there is disagreement I’ll provide clarification later. 🙂
I am also going to reserve my comments for the use of the term ‘murder’ in reference to abortion and ‘murderer’ in reference to those who have had an abortion, paid for an abortion, performed an abortion, or coerced or approved of someone having an abortion. #OxfordCommasRule I understand the argument about the other potentially inflammatory terms KSP brought up in her article and may be sympathetic to those.
1. When KSP refers to certain terminology as inflammatory, I believe what she means it that the word ‘murder’ is unnecessarily inflammatory. Certainly a professional writer of high intelligence isn’t against ANY language that could be inflammatory, right? I can’t even imagine that. The very nature (may I say purpose?) of the written word is to evoke a response from the reader. So I think her point is that there are other terms that can be used to communicate the same thought or message which are not “trigger words,” so to speak.
For example, the Bible doesn’t use every possible descriptive term for a man “knowing” his wife when communicating the reality of what is going on when Bible couples made babies. There are certain ways to describe that thought which are, shall I say, more tasteful than others. So the same thought is conveyed without language which may incite the wrong thoughts in the reader.
But KSP offers no reasoning for why this term – ‘murder’ – is so inappropriate. She simply asserts that is it inflammatory language. Considering the Bible’s use of the word murder (repeatedly Luke 18:20, Mark 7:21, Mark 10:19, Matthew 23:35, Matthew 23:31, Matthew 15:19, Jeremiah 7:9), I would argue that there is nothing wrong with the term.
Exodus 21:22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Is there any doubt that God considers abortion murder based on simply Exodus 21:22-25 above?
Now’s here my conjecture: I think that we have a situation where someone is not fully trusting that it is God who draws people unto himself and that any people he draws will come. (John 6:44, John 6:37). This is an important theological point. If you don’t really believe that God sovereignly brings the elect to himself, and that it is His Word that is the power, then you absolutely need to find ways to improve upon the Biblical language to reach our culture. Not only for salvation’s sake, but for culture change.
But, if you believe that God’s Word is the power unto salvation, and God’s thoughts (revealed through His Word) are higher than our thoughts, then you cannot possibly believe you can use better language than the Bible itself uses.
In my opinion, the reason folks want to change the vocabulary is they believe there will be an effectiveness which cannot be achieved because of what they perceive as the usual reaction to God’s actual Word. Then there are people like myself, who are 100% OK with continuing to preach God’s Word and simply trusting Him with the results…even in the face of apparent ineffectiveness – basically: me not seeing the results I expect.
KSP references Prov 14:12 in her added paragraphs to the article – ironically committing the mistake warned about therein, in my estimation. It is KSP and people who believe as she does in this situation who are not trusting in the Lord’s provision for this battle and are trying to do things in a way which seems right to man. The mere fact that Jesus and the writers of the NT had no issue with the term is enough for me to say striking the term is not an example of the fruit of the Spirit in someone’s life. (James 4:2 for example). The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness doesn’t mean we will always find words that don’t offend or inflame. It is man’s way to deviate from Scriptural language…not to stick to stubbornly.
It is quite subjective anyway. As soon as we strike the word murder from our vocabularies, there will be another term which burns the consciences of the (warning, trigger word ahead) heathen which we will be asked to strike so we can better “have conversation.” Instead, let’s be ambassadors for Christ and simply proclaim His excellencies in His language and decry rebellion against Him the same way.
It is an unbiblical view of the power and sufficiency of God’s Word which I believe is the root of calling the word murder inflammatory and unchristlike.
2. I find the entire concept of the article contradictory and hypocritical.
Secondly, and finally, (I know, I said “brief”), I believe KSP commits the very same “atrocity” she seems so concerned about. Let me explain: the words that KSP used in the article, in fact, inflamed many people! In fact, I would say it was predictable that JD Hall would be inflamed by her article (no offense to JD meant, he should be inflamed).
But that point alone, I question whether KSP could even make that assertion? If it is so wrong to say something which can inflame – then she can’t even say what she said because that statement itself is inflammatory! Albeit I think that is foolish. I think it is OK to say inflammatory things, the question is whether those things are objectively true and/or reasoned from objective truth and Scripture’s teaching.
Does that mean we need to say ‘everything’ that is possibly true in every possible way we could say it? No. Does it mean we must never use words which are predictably inflammatory? No, I don’t believe so. Because that is what Christ did, did he not? He used terms which were inflammatory enough to get him killed! And He knew he was doing it and the reaction he’d get, yet he remained perfectly gentle and meek and all those things that are misunderstood about the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)
Maybe being gentle and meek isn’t the same as abandoning Scriptural terminology for the sake of a hearer’s conscience and sensitivities?
So here’s the question: if it is unchristlike to call someone who kills an innocent human being a murderer, how unchristlike must it be to call someone unchristlike at all? I mean for basically any reason? The fact is that we are to label people unchristlike for acting in a way which is contrary to how Christ acted or His Holy Spirit would direct us through His Word. But referring to crimes against God and humanity in plain terms is never something condemned in Scripture. If calling a murderer a murderer is unchristlike, then calling someone who is unchristlike “unchristlike” is a great sin!
So would Christ call someone unchristlike? Absolutely. But not in the worldview espoused by the KSP article. That Christ is only capable of inviting people over for no-strings-attached bar-be-cues and hoping the person will ask him where He got the gleam in his eye. So either KSP is right and her article cannot be considered meaningful or she is wrong, in which case her article cannot be considered meaningful.
I am not professing to know KSP’s heart; I’m not calling her a non Christian, nor do I even for a moment pretend she wouldn’t really want to end or at least outlaw abortion. What I am saying is the article in question commits logical errors and exhibits a view of Scripture which I perceive as “lower” than the way most of us think it ought to be perceived. I think it is a worldly influence which causes a person to abandon (at least partially) the Scriptural mandate to confuse the wisdom of the wise with God’s wisdom, and now our own.
That’s my 2 cents. I can tell you this from a personal experience. I would have loved if you would have not called me a racist prior to my salvation. I seriously found the term inflammatory. I hated hearing it. Yet that is what I was. And it really made no difference what you called it. I liked it and you were wrong in my eyes for calling what I did racism (despite the evidence). But God, who is rich in mercy, drew me to Himself and saved me. And once that occurred, the language didn’t bother me. My subjective feelings never really mattered, just God’s objective truth in the matter.