“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It has always been a nice concept, albeit an almost impossible one to live out. Let me tell you, when somebody calls you an “******* Cong” to your face, it hurts. It hurts a lot.
As an ABC (Australian-born Chinese), I’ve had to deal with a fair share of racial abuse. It has happened several times at the most unexpected places—at the beach, in car parks—and always results in a complex range of emotions, from subtle annoyance to searing anger. One time after a passerby in a shopping centre spat an insult at me I almost lost it. I wanted to have a crack at him. Part of me still does.
[Reckless words] not only can cause a great deal of hurt, but ruin the reputation of something really wonderful.
I’ll admit such a reaction isn’t very honourable; I’m just being honest. Words hurt. The pain is deep and long lasting. It’s no wonder the Bible describes reckless words as piercing swords (Proverbs 12:18) and deadly arrows (Psalm 64:4).
While being on the receiving end of some racial slander has been painful, I consider myself lucky. Other people have had to endure a lot worse.
Last year, ABC newsreader Jeremy Fernandez endured a 15-minute attack from a woman while travelling on a Sydney bus. After being called a “filthy, black paedophile”—among other things—in front of his two-year-old daughter, Mr Fernandez was kicked off the bus, with the driver claiming the altercation was his fault.
“Anyone who says racism is dying is well and truly mistaken,” Fernandez later tweeted. “It’s a sad thing when a coloured man in 2013 has to show his kid how to hold their nerve in the face of racist taunts.”
Being racist to anyone is shameful. Being racist to a leading Australian journalist is just plain stupid—he’s going to write about it.
These days the phone is even more powerful than the pen. A video of passengers on a Melbourne bus hurling racial abuse at a group of French backpackers went viral in 2012, making headlines around the world. Similar confrontations are posted all over YouTube, giving evidence to the claim that Australia is “one of the most comfortably racist places” in the world, as one popular social commentator recently put it.
Such a reputation is both disturbing and undeserved. In fact, a study released in 2013 by World Values Survey found both Australia and New Zealand to be among the most racially tolerant countries in the world.1 My own experience confirms as much, with the number of genuine, kind-hearted, “fair go” Australians I’ve encountered outnumbering the racial bigots more than a thousand to one.
But it just goes to show the negative impact a few reckless words can have. They not only can cause a great deal of hurt, but ruin the reputation of something really wonderful.
This should serve as a warning for us as Adventists. While we may not be in the habit of hurling racial abuse, we’re not above and beyond attacking each other with our words. I wonder how many people and pastors we have needlessly chased away because of some hurtful comments.
Then there are those among us who take the “remnant” and “chosen” status of the Adventist Church too far, using it as an excuse to speak ill of those who are different from us—Catholics, evolutionists and atheists alike. It all needs to stop. Too much is at stake—not just the standing of our wonderful church family, but also the reputation of Christ.
That’s not to say we need to subscribe to an “anything goes” ideology. By all means disagree, direct and discipline—but do so in a spirit of love. It’s what Jesus did (see Mark 10:17-23, for example), and we are called to do the same.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
The challenge is clear: build up, or shut up. Will you use your words for hurting, or for healing?
Linden Chuang is assistant editor of Record—digital.