Communication

A War of Words: What the Current MBI Crisis Can Teach Us All

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.

(Spoiler alert.)

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.  

35 thoughts on “A War of Words: What the Current MBI Crisis Can Teach Us All

  1. As a doctor of literacy, I whole-heartedly agree with my friend and fellow-professor Kelli Worrall. Words matter. More than ever, we must be critical readers and thinkers and teach critical media interpretation to our students.

  2. While I agree with you for the most part, MBI depends heavily on outside contributions from people who believe in the ministry and mission of the organization. These people had every right to know what was happening. As one who has supported MBI, I am glad that so many things were brought to light. Things that are kept “in the family” are often unresolved. Things that are brought to light, more often than not, are resolved. There were no good options in this case, but the best solution was reached. May God have great grace on MBI.

  3. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. My first response when I heard was to pray for wisdom and discernment for all who heard the words…to pray for the students who are innocently thrust in the middle of all the confusion. So thankful for professors like you and Peter who care so deeply for the hearts of students. I continue to pray for them and for you as you seek the Kingdom first.

  4. Thank you for the Christian perspective. Good to know there are some “Christ’like “people in the church yet. M Smith Skin kle ’55

  5. Well said.
    There is also a certain grace to be silent. Just as in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. A fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. In our age of social media, there is little self restraint. Both barrels blazing is often the case.
    Words of wisdom from our forefathers as well, “Whoever answers before listening is both foolish and shameful.” Prov 18:13
    Facts are silly little things. The real facts are known by few.

  6. Thanks for modeling what a wise and gracious response to a divisive situation looks like. This is the best article I’ve read in the wake of the events.

  7. Thank you for speaking peace into this, Kelli. For some reason, a line from L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time came to mind. You don’t have to understand everything for it to be; likewise, we don’t have to understand all aspects of a situation before we respond with love and grace.

  8. Thank you for this post. While it was written to perhaps address specific concerns, I love the fact that it has an infinite number of applications in life. I can only imagine how much heartache, bitterness, misunderstanding, and even tears could be avoided by following these 5 principles. I can remember a few years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long) when Midday Connection was cancelled. (Didn’t always agree with all the hosts opinions & views, but I enjoyed connecting with sisters in Christ.) I sensed there was more going on than was said, but never heard the whole story. We still continued to support Moody. Now, once again, I don’t really know what is going on, but that’s ok. I, like you, am saddened that the “dirty laundry” has been hung on the line for the world and the enemies of Christ to see. But, our God is a redemptive God! He can do things in & through this situation for His glory and the furtherance of the Gospel!

  9. “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply– and how good is a timely word!” Proverbs 15:23
    Thanks for sharing, Kelli!

  10. Although I mostly agree, and feel your thoughts are right under normal social circumstances, I’m not confident that changes would have been made without the public whistle-blowing part. If (if) doctrinal drift was being papered-over, whether out of sentiment, or wishful thinking, or deception, or just being sick-to-death of that group who scream “liberalism!” at everything, it still needed to be corrected. If extravagant money was being spent on administrators in unseemly ways while faculty was going without, that needed to be corrected. If enrollment was steadily dropping and efforts to bring the numbers back up were failing, then new people are needed. A pattern of failure at one’s job can’t be tolerated.

    On the other hand, let me tell a story that might be encouraging. When I heard through a local alumna that Moody’s music program was struggling, I felt gripped. I felt strongly moved to begin praying for Moody. Then I felt just as strongly moved to send a financial gift to Moody’s music program (I told them about this through their FB page). I take these grippings as marks of the Spirit of God pushing me. Which means, the Spirit of God was pushing a Christian (me) who doesn’t live in Chicago, had never heard of a certain blogger, and who isn’t a MBI grad, *before I had heard about any of this* (that’s the important part). Personally, I think it’s remarkable, because it says that God is completely aware and He is stirring up some people (like me) to act on MBI’s behalf.

  11. As a mom of two alumni of MBI, it saddens me to read of the struggles now happening. Thank you for your wise words. Please know that I will continue to pray for wisdom, discernment, and clear Christ-centered direction as MBI picks up the pieces and continues to minister to students and the world at large.

  12. I am proud of my wife and her wisdom, but I am more proud of the God who keeps her going. I am grateful for the conversations we have in our home, but my gratitude overflows when I think of God’s grace in times of trial. May God help us to extend grace and mercy in our community. Truth must be spoken – but it must be spoken in love.

  13. For all children of the most high God those are key things to remember and abide by, if we can heed to this information regarding most difficult situations we may have to face or go through, we will be a blessing to ourselves, the church and the lost world. We want the world to see Jesus and not us in all things.

  14. Hi Kelli,
    As a Moody Grad and contributor of Moody, I want to say that while I appreciate your well-thought out words, I cannot believe that another well-respected communicator such as Julie Roys did not first pray, think, and examine her words and actions carefully before disclosing information. She, nor anyone else should not have had to come forward with these allegations, if it had been dealt with in a professional, quick, and God-honoring way- long before now. You mentioned in this article, “I am not going to replay the events, rehash the arguments, or take a particular side,” but it is definitely clear to me, (and I’m sure others), that you have indeed, taken a side. Sin of any kind, must be dealt with, as you know. We as believers – especially those in a higher position need to always “examine ourselves,” be wise and be accountable to others, especially with the resources that God has entrusted us with.
    While I don’t know all the facts, and I am sure many more will come out in time, we always need to pray for truth and transparency, no matter what that may look like. No student, professor or employee of Moody Bible Institute should have to live in fear and intimidation, when coming forth with a concern, insight, or action – if it moves us all closer to our Heavenly Father. As I once heard, “God will always do what it takes to remain on the throne. He will not share His glory with anyone.”

    As we all pray and seek answers, let’s not forget who we serve, and what He has called us all to do. ( I Cor. 15:58). I know God has great things in store for MBI, and you will all be in our prayers.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Jan. I can assure you that these points are not aimed at any particular person, and my concerns about our communication transcend all “sides.” They are reminders that I need to hear as much as anybody. Thank you so very much for your prayers.

  15. So appropriate and a great challenge in all ministries and relationships. Thank you for using your communication gifts for the Kingdom!

  16. Thank you. Well said. I have a great deal of respect for the mission of MBI and pray it will continue to take its stand for biblical truth. I also have a great deal of respect for Dr. Paul Nyquist as aman of integrity and spiritual leader. It is unfortunate he had to leave under a such negative circumstances.

  17. Kelli, thank you for these words of peace. As a Moody grad, it’s truly grieved me to see this “crisis” strewn across internet media. Even words that sound true have seemed out of place because they’re, like you said, outside of Moody’s walls. I’m praying that the peace of Christ would rule at Moody in this time, more than ever.

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