Politics Current Events Christian Living

Why Christians Should Care about the President’s Words

Jemar Tisby

Christians, of all people, should care about words. Our entire faith is communicated through and founded on them.

The first verses of the first book of the Bible communicate the power of words. How did God create the heavens and the earth? The Lord spoke. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:1, 3).

When God wanted to make known the moral laws by which his followers would live, God put them into words. Moses came down the mountain with tablets on which were engraved the words of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).

The Bible speaks often to the importance of words. One proverb teaches, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). James writes, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

All Christians hold the responsibility of telling other people about Jesus and what he offers to anyone who believes (Matthew 28:18-20). In a word, this is called the “gospel” or “good news.” News that is communicated through actions, yes, but also through words.

Scripture itself, by which we learn all these truths, is a book comprised of words. Words that have been translated into hundreds of languages because Christians recognize the centrality of reading the Bible in one’s own idiom.

Most central to the Christian faith, the Messiah himself is the living word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Then, in the incarnation, the Word became flesh.

The Christian tradition has never left its followers in doubt about the importance of words.

It is because of Christianity’s clear teaching about the importance of words that Christians should care about how the President of the United States uses them. When the highest political official in the land uses words to libel, slander, mislead, demean, and dehumanize, Christians should be the first to call him to account.

Followers of the Living Word should care deeply when leaders use words to diminish life.

President Trump has incessantly used words to stir up his core supporters at the expense of everyone else. He announced his candidacy for president in 2015 by accusing Mexican immigrants of being rapists and criminals. He has used the word “invasion” to describe immigration from Latin American countries. He called Baltimore, full of people he is supposed to be serving, “a disgusting rat and rodent-infested mess.”

After yet another mass shooting, this time in El Paso, TX, a manifesto that authorities believe was posted by the killer echoes the language of the president. The president’s words and rhetoric have created an environment in which white nationalists feel emboldened in their bigotry.

Yet the president’s most faithful supporters, white evangelical Christians, often have the least to say about the harmful words coming from their leader.

In political terms, evangelical affirmation of the president remains high. Although the percentage has dropped, white evangelicals still approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president at higher rates than any other religious group.

The so-called “court evangelicals” such as Robert Jeffress, Paula White, and Jerry Falwell, Jr. among others continue to bless nearly every word and action of the president. In the midst of a slew of grievous tragedies, however, other white evangelicals have spoken out.

After three mass shootings in a single week, a conversation about white nationalism has erupted into the mainstream. Some prominent white evangelical leaders have taken to social media to register their opposition to the ideology.

Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist and the leader of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote on Twitter, “White nationalism is not just another ideology. It is a manifestation of an ancient evil. It is idolatry. It is Santanic [sic]. And the Bible everywhere confronts and condemns such wickedness.”

Adam Greenway, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also expressed his opposition to white nationalism on Twitter. Writing on behalf of his institution, he said, “I want to be clear that we condemn in the strongest possible form any and all ideologies of racial/ethnic superiority/inferiority…” Although he refrained from using the term “white nationalism,” he did connect ideas of racism to the shooting in El Paso, TX.

In all their pronouncements, however, what may not be forthcoming from many white evangelical leaders, including local pastors, is a specific denunciation of the president’s words. Perhaps they fear their supporters will interpret their criticism of the president as a criticism of all his supporters, many of whom fill their pews each week. It may also be the case that Christian leaders agree with the substance, if not the tone, of the president’s words so they keep silent.

Robert Jeffress said in an interview, “I think it is wrong to assign blame to any party or any candidate for this problem…This is the problem of evil.”

In contrast, progressive Christians have crafted a petition calling for all presidential candidates to participate in a rally in Greenville, NC. The statement came in response to chants of “Send them back” that occurred at a Trump rally in that same city on July 17, 2020. The crowd echoed a series of tweets in which Trump called for four progressive members of Congress, all women of color who are legal U.S. citizens, to go back to their own countries.

The petition pointed to the president’s role in fomenting bigotry.

“Trump and his enablers have decided to push racist words to cover their racist works in policy. He continues to tweet the racism and sow false fear, because he has no answers to unite people who need health care, living wages, and a clean environment. He knows he cannot win, even in the South, without a divided electorate and low turnout.”

General denunciations against hatred without naming the role the president’s words have played in the current racial and ethnic climate fall short. Some Christians have summoned the courage to write words they’ve never used publicly–“white nationalism.” But if they fail to mention the way white nationalists have taken the president’s words as sanction for their actions, they miss a critical moment to stand against racism.

If words matter to Christians, if they are indeed the key to understanding their own faith, then followers of Jesus should care enough about words to call them out even when they come from a president they support.

The president has not been reticent to insult individuals by name. He has not stalled in verbally excoriating his opponents. Neither can Christians who understand the significance of words compromise their convictions for the sake of political expediency.

Words have the power to harm or to heal. If Christians, as believers in the power of words, unite in calling political officials to the responsible, wise, and gracious use of language, then those words would be good news indeed.


10 thoughts on “Why Christians Should Care about the President’s Words

  1. Inioluwa Olaposi

    When do not speak to the presidency, it is important that believers recognize, confirm to, and promote the right usage of words. Speaking is also part of our actions.

  2. Thomas W.

    “You spread truth in love (unlike the verbose naysayers in these comments).”

    One should perhaps consider their own comment isn’t very loving; and thus, ruins the perception that Jemar is expressing “truth in love”, or that they consider themselves better than the “naysayers”.

    It is very easy to hide behind scripture to promote a false narrative; and though, I don’t believe Jemar does this purposely as he’s trapped in a false reality, he still participates in persuading others to join him in that false reality.

    A good indication of this is that there is clearly no love here for his white brethren, and especially not for Trump. He does not afford the same nuance and reasoning to others, as he does so to himself. And thus, he devalues them.

    1 Cor 13:1 – If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

  3. Ruth Brown

    Thank you for another excellent article, Jemar! In these troubling times, I have learned so much from your written and spoken word. You spread truth in love (unlike the verbose naysayers in these comments). I also love that you highlight the important work of Rev. Dr. Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign. Thank you! I joyfully listen, learn, and support the Witness.

  4. Thomas W.

    Ironically, despite all the quotes above, Jemar leaves out the Presdient’s own quotes in condemnation of white supremacy and racism. The lack of balance and fair commentary displays the bias and dissonance of Jemar, which has been onset since 2015.

    On top of that, Jemar spends far more time talking about white supremacy than Trump ever has.

    So who should we blame for rhetoric, if rhetoric is to be blamed? Do we assume conspiracy where we believe secret whistles abound, or are the ones who talk openly about it, far more to be blamed? And if this website and Jemar Tisby continue to push that worldview as loudly as possible…who are the shooters listening too? It’s not Trump.

    If the manifesto from the recent shooting is legit, it denies Trump has anything to do with the shooter’s actions. It also descends into eco terrorism due to the shooter’s far left views on the climate. As with the NZ shooter, it’s a hodge podge of beliefs, either accurate to the person, or quite possibly intended to troll the viral response and division it creates.
    But instead of taking the time to investigate further, Jemar carelessly knee jerks another article to bash white voters. As careless as the Charlottesville statement, as careless and prideful as he claims Trump to be.

    “Words have the power to harm or to heal.”

    Then lead with healing, not harm, please.

  5. Robert Penny

    I’m a supporter of the President Donald Trump, a sinner like me to be sure. I’ve always voted for sinners and flawed men and women. I didn’t vote for another flawed man, but I heard President Barrack Obama deceive the American people about the Obamacare proposal, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” There followed a great deception by a lying Congress to say that you’ve got to pass the Obamacare proposal to read it and not the reverse. I heard him say Obama didn’t favor same sex marriage when he in fact did. He whispered deceptively near a live mike to a Russian diplomat around 2011 that he could be more flexible in diplomacy in another year following his expected reelection in 2012.

    Over the last 2 years, the greatest Leftist hoax and an attempted coup de tat has been foisted on the American public, the Russia collusion investigation for which there was not a scintilla of evidence to begin with. The Leftist media promoted it zealously. Trump won the 2016 election fair and square and is a part of our powers that be that are ordained of God. Votes were recounted; the members of the Electoral College threatened.

    I voted for a warrior and champion against such lies of the Swamp–evils and lies of politicians, media, theories of political and social order that have moved our country away in counterproductive ways from its founders vision of a godly society and from a sanctity for human life itself. One of my chief goals in political discourse is the preservation and protection of the family and my ministry has been devoted to it. That’s why I’m pro-life and often vote Republican and against Leftist ideas of prochoice, socialism, and progressivism that leads to socialism. Current proponents arrogantly think THEY can do it better than the now defunct USSR and the pitiful and now dangerous Venezuela.

    Here’s where I’m coming from: I live on a street where we have people from India and Asia and several African American families, two families formerly on each side of me but now only on one side. I grew up in a lower middle-class white background and neighborhood, about 3 miles from the Southern University, Baton Rouge, LA, a historically black university, son of a refinery worker. Between SU and my subdivision was a subdivision I coveted, made up mostly of SU faculty and staff, about two economic cuts above ours. In high school, I sacked groceries for them at a nearby supermarket. For fun, I skinny dipped with white and black boys in the nearby Mississippi River and have been around blacks all my life. I lunched and prayed with white seminary students and the only black Presbyterian pastor in Jackson, Mississippi, during the civil rights era for encouragement. My campus ministry internship at Delta State University enjoyed a black student in our large group who later worshipped in our white Mississippi Delta Presbyterian church, the senior pastor of which was involved with prayer meetings with a black man from Mendenhall, Mississippi, during the civil rights era, that man we know today as Dr. John Perkins.

    Now retired from Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi, and after almost 50 years of varied Presbyterian ministry, I teach at African Bible University, Kampala, Uganda, and occasionally preach in alumni churches in Uganda. Any of my students would almost give an arm to live in the US and work at almost any fast food restaurants with their benefits. They can’t imagine enjoying such benefits like a regular 40 work week! You should hear some of their stories. Many have been through genocide in their villages, with dead bodies lying all around, polygamous homes, seen their parents and siblings maimed and killed, abandonment, living with grandparents, etc. They have real issues to worry about. That’s why I have trouble feeling sympathy with the issues that worry authors on this website.

    Trump’s critics say he is out of control when he is only really out of THEIR control as opposed to previous conservative Presidents and politicians. I’m glad he uses Twitter because I can get his exact words and context without the filter, interpretation, and invariable misrepresentations of his ideas and goals That’s nice.

    Yes, words are critical to the inth degree. Someone said that words are skins of thoughts. That’s why they need to be analyzed carefully for:

    Deception: Take the use of words like racism (or maybe just treating all people the same), white nationalism (or maybe just patriotism), or white privilege (or just the natural benefits of the majority). I don’t subscribe to the politically correct lexicon nor does Biblical evangelicalism. The latter is TRULY colorblind, but this website is not. Most of the time such terms are used by Leftist for lazy argumentation. Now I agree with all the denunciations of white nationalism, but I don’t see Trump as one who really uses that rhetoric and its false witness to say or characterize it as such for partisan purposes. He did condemn the Nazis and other white supremists in Charlottesville.

    Let’s take another passage in Genesis: with Adam, Eve and Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Satan’s deception came when he approached Eve to question what God said: Did God say? When Satan planted the doubt, Eve took the bait. Yes, and she added, and that we should not Touch it, a blatant lie. She had already defected from God. Adam came along and Eve took the fruit and gave to Adam. Then when God questioned Adam, he blamed GOD for giving him Eve and was defensive, in addition to blaming God. Two lies.

    Accordingly, Biblical evangelicals know there is a cosmic conflict going on between powers of this world and another world led by Satan himself and his minions. So, they are wary at the ballot box. In our current context, there’s a lot more going on than one man’s word, especially, if they are misrepresented and ill used for political gain, which is the rule in our context today. For any evangelical to do so is wrong on its face and should be condemned—and it’s not racist to do so even if it’s by an African American or not.

    I love all the Scripture that Tisby used, but here they are here used as a dodge or a cover for a false purpose of promoting a leftist cause, in the pattern of Barrack Obama. Words also need to be screened to find the context of political and spiritual warfare. The presentation of statistics here is impressive and I don’t doubt their authenticity, but really what is the point? Are we REALLY aiming for honesty? Where is Tisby going with this article?

    Let’s take his first quotation of Trump about Mexicans being “rapist and criminals” and use of the word “invasion” of border immigrants. What did Trump really say? Be honest, those are the words of a businessman then unskilled in public discourse and debate making his first efforts. They were loose words, but accurate in their thrust. He didn’t intend to call all Mexicans by those words. Again, it’s reported that 100,000 people per month cross our southern border. Invasion or the equivalent sounds pretty accurate Find the truth. President Clinton had the same zeal and President Obama began the separation of parents and children. That is what has happened and is happening. It’s not racist to point to rapes, killings, robberies, etc. Has Tisby given any thought about the victims?

    Trump didn’t call Baltimore citizens “rats or rodents”. He said there was an infestation of those creatures, the same thing Representative Elijah Cummings used twenty years prior as a video as I saw on Facebook reveals. Did Tisby know that? He may have an information source and news problem. He does if he uses 2 of the least watched and most biased news organs existing. That may account for the above misrepresentations. The assumption by the writer is that Trump is a racist, homophobe, etc. Dr. Ben Carson, who lived in Baltimore, testifies otherwise.

    But this kind of misrepresentation is why we have leftist mobs are at the homes of conscientious senators, judges, and other politicians who are telling the truth, not race baiting! What is Trump’s intent, but to highlight the gross problem that exists in many large cities controlled by black majorities. Trump wants change and he has given hope; two things President Obama didn’t know how to do. What if Trump was black—would Tisby have the same views? If Tisby has a zeal and care for the future of the black family, he should be glad. Hear what an experienced, truth telling African American man reported in recent column:

    The nation’s most dangerous big cities are Detroit, Oakland, St. Louis, Memphis, Stockton, Birmingham, Baltimore, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, and Milwaukee. The common characteristic of most of these cities is that they have predominantly black populations and blacks have considerable political power as mayors, city councilmen and chiefs of police. Energy spent on reparations should be used to solve those problems.
    As of 2014, U.S. taxpayers have spent $22 trillion on Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty (in constant 2012 dollars). Adjusting for inflation, that’s three times more than was spent on all military wars since the American Revolution. If money alone were the answer, the many issues facing a large segment of the black community would have been solved. (Walter Williams, African American economist, author, and distinguished professor)
    What does Tisby really want? More money for problems in the black community or just incessant complaining about what should be good news. What does this website want to do, plant guilt in ignorant white people? What positive good will that do? Why deny the good that the Trump administration has achieved: historically low employment, especially in the black community—jobs looking for workers? A good economy. Strong military and raised profile internationally. All this bodes well for everyone, including the black community. Trump wants REAL solutions, not rhetoric. It’s dishonest to deny it.

    This kind of political misrepresentation is so typical of the Left, whether it is politicians, media, other misled evangelicals. Now it appears in an article and website called The Witness, where it seems their language or words are so tainted. What is their goal? It ought to be to help the precarious black family which is in shreds in so many ways. Do they want more political clout? Why? What has it done for African Americans? Do they want more funding?

    What do you do with the lifetime of social research of black economists Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, both former leftists and socialists and both distinguished academicians and authors of many books? They tell young blacks essentially that the issues are NOT about black and white in terms of race, but “green”, in other words one’s sound economic future. In other words, put away all the talk about race and concentrate on getting prepared to be self-supporting member of society, to my mind like the faculty of Southern University and other universities. Get a job and a life! Why whine about dignity issues? Generally, Williams and Sowell see all the poverty programs and US government entitlement programs over the last half of the 20th century and now as not only counterproductive but inimical to African Americans in every social realm. All have simply deconstructed the monogamous black family, the most healing element of any social order.

    I don’t hear any Asians or Eastern Europeans complaining in this way or having such a website. I’m probably just ignorant, but these two ethic groups seem to blend in and become mainstream. Why not African Americans since they are Americans? Why this website? Are African Americans always going to be needing a lifeline from the government? Asians don’t seem to. Williams indicate black family’s future is where you need to place your zeal:

    The reparations movement would be an amusing sideshow were it not for its damaging distractions. It grossly misallocates resources that could be better spent elsewhere. According to the state Department of Education, 75% of black California boys cannot meet state reading standards. In 2016, in 13 of Baltimore’s 39 high schools, not a single student scored proficient on the state’s mathematics exam. In six other high schools, only 1% tested proficient in math. The same story of low education outcomes can be told about most cities with large black populations. I’d like to see lawyers bring class-action suits against public school systems in cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Detroit and Los Angeles for conferring fraudulent high school diplomas. Such diplomas attest a 12th-grade level of academic achievement when in fact those youngsters often cannot perform at sixth- or seventh-grade levels. (Walter Williams, in a recent column)

    In conclusion, I want to say that I have read a few articles on The Witness and they all seem to have negative or racist slant. Don’t we have enough of that without one more voice online. If all the articles are like Tisby’s, I think The Witness ought to be called “The False Witness,” so readers would be attuned to the commandment it breaks and what it neglects. The devil is the father of lies.

  6. Jeff

    Now… Am I giving Trump a free pass? No. I didn’t vote for him, and don’t really like him.

    But if any of you – from Jemar on down – want to be taken seriously, and afforded credibility, you MUST do better than this. You MUST provide more than completely one-sided, blind partisan and racial hyperbole.

    If you WANT better you have to BE better.

  7. Jeff

    Sorry Aimee, but the video evidence of the event I referenced PROVES that the white cop acted in a completely professional manner, and that Professor Henry Gates was not only out of control, but refused to comply, went off on a foul-mouthed tangent, and actually threatened the officer.

    Professor Henry Gates acted stupidly, and in a racist manner.

    So let’s flip races for a minute. If the cop was black, and Henry Gates was white, he would have been fired from his college teaching position. Immediately. Of that fact there is absolutely NO question. But Professor Gates got a free pass on his racist tirade BECAUSE he is black. And he was turned into a folk hero by a black President, who himself made racist comments against the police officer. He then backpeddled by offering that ridiculous “beer summit.”

    You can admit it. There is undeniable video proof.

  8. Aimee

    Or, Jeff, it could be possible that white cop actually acted stupidly. Since we see weekly examples of racism by law enforcement being exposed now that cell phone cameras are revealing what always was there, it is disingenuous to say that this reality is no longer understood or that it is based in being “anti white” rather than “anti racism”. Black lives matter has always meant black lives matter too because as we have daily reminders, they matter far less, especially in interactions with law enforcement. Your determination that to point out these offenses by those committing harm to others and to the integrity of their profession as an anti cop narrative shows how willfully ignorant you are of the actual point Jemar is trying to make. If you are actually pro law enforcement, you would want these people held accountable and behavior named wrong when it clearly is demonstrated to be so. It’s much easier it seems in your above comment to offer a whataboutism, whether accurately framed or not, than to actually deal with the issue at hand. Next time you comment on this post actually deal with your condemnation or justification of Trump’s words and actions (ie. the topic), anything else reveals having little of substance to offer.

  9. Jesse

    That incident happened in 2009, I don’t think Jemar even had a platform to publish an article before 2012.

  10. Jeff

    I seem to have missed the article you wrote, when President Obama declared that the “white cop had acted stupidly,” and began an anti-white-cop narrative in America that has resulted in countless cops being ambushed and shot to death.

    I assume you wrote that article, because a President’s words matter, right? Words lead to action, right? And fair is fair, right?

    Or have you now become nothing more than a shill for the DNC?

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