For our most recent date night, Peter and I went to see Darkest Hour, a movie that retells (and reinterprets) the story of the early days of Winston Churchill’s time as the British Prime Minister.
Hitler’s army has defeated Belgium. It has almost brought France to her knees. And Hitler has his sights set on England’s shore. The threat becomes such that, one by one, members of the war cabinet plead with Churchill to enter peace negotiations with Germany.
Churchill repeatedly refuses. He believes that Britain can and must stand her ground.
But as the pressure mounts and more soldiers are lost, he begins to waver.
At that crucial point in the movie, two interactions bolster his resolve—a conversation with the King and a visit to the London Underground, where he asks the British people what they think their country should do. To a person, they tell him, “Fight!”
In the final scene of the film, Churchill stands before a still-divided Parliament and delivers one of his most famous of speeches.
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
When he finishes, the entire room—both the Liberal members of Parliament and the Conservative—rise to their feet and erupt in applause, united in their support of the man and his plan to stand strong.
“What just happened?” someone in the upper gallery asks.
And borrowing an actual, eventual quote from President John F. Kennedy, the great response comes: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
As some of you know, it has been a difficult season for Moody Bible Institute, where both Peter and I have the privilege of teaching.
I am not going to replay the events, rehash the arguments, or take a particular side. I don’t see much benefit in doing so, and I am well aware that I don’t know all of the facts.
But as I’ve watched the war of words that escalated last week and left many casualties, and as the community we love is still reeling from several sudden events (“What just happened?”), God keeps impressing upon my heart and mind several simple—yet shockingly overlooked—principles.
So amidst the maelstrom of news articles and blog posts and Facebook threads and random tweets, here is what I—as a mere Communications professor—feel led to add to the mix.
These points aren’t rocket science, I know, but I think they just might be five lessons that many of us can relearn, regarding how to use the gift of language that God has given.
1. Steward well your words.
They have power beyond what you might ever imagine. Power to tear down, and power to build up. Power to wound, and power to heal. Power to motivate, and power to deceive. Eternal power even. So don’t fling them around flippantly! Rather, carefully and prayerfully, consider each and every one. Check your timing and your tone. Speak truth—yes—but always, always do so in love.
2. Think critically.
Don’t believe everything you read, and carefully consider each source. Don’t accept one person’s opinion as fact. Don’t immediately, emotively, or inadvisably “share” information with all of your “friends.” Don’t spread untruth. Instead, take the time to vet the content. Verify the reports. Go straight to the party in question when at all possible. Research well and widely. Ask key questions. Listen carefully to the answers. And then, finally, form a thoughtful position that you speak into the world with grace and clarity and strength.
3. Address your differences directly.
Take your concerns straight to the other person—in a calm and well-considered way. Understand that, even if they hear you, they may not agree. They may not do exactly as you ask. They may not move immediately. This is not license, then, to go on the attack. The final step in the Matthew 18 method of conflict management is not “slander the other party on social media.” Do not escalate the conflict with caustic and careless communication. Compromise and collaboration will likely be required. We must all be willing to continue the conversation, to act with humility and grace, to admit when we’re wrong, to apologize and forgive.
4. Consider your audience.
Remember who is watching and hearing and receiving your message—the Church, the world, the next generation. Those who will learn from your good judgement, as well as your bad. Those who wish you well, and those who don’t. Those who will understand complexity and nuance and history, and those who won’t. One of the things that grieves me most about the current crisis at MBI is how the names of some of my colleagues, the Institute as a whole, the Church, and even Christ have been dragged through the mud. This did not have to be. Our internal battles did not need to be broadcast. Our people and their positions did not need to be tried in the court of public opinion. Keeping these things private and taking care with our communication is not always secretive or deceptive or a PR spin; it is often just wise.
5. Have a conversation with the King.
Prayer is by far the most powerful communication tool that we possess. It is our greatest weapon of spiritual warfare. It is our shield from our true enemy. So pray. Pray before you act. Pray before you speak. Pray before you share. Pray for the other party. Pray with the other party. Pray wisdom and compassion for them. Pray for sin to be revealed. Pray for your own heart to break. Pray for truth and love to prevail. Pray for peace.
Please pray for Moody Bible Institute today. Pray for our leaders. Pray for our faculty and staff. Pray for our students. Pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would continue to be faithfully proclaimed to all who need to hear, and that God will continue to use MBI for His good purpose.
Finally, pray that we might all grow in grace and in our ability to curate our communication in a Christ-honoring way.