Tone Matters by Christina Knowles

In my English classes, we are always talking about tone when we read and analyze a piece of literature. Literary tone refers to the attitude and presuppositions of the author on a topic. The author’s voice, word choice, and even the plot and characterization reveal an implied attitude in a work. We read between the lines and apply this tone to reveal more about the author’s purpose, his intentions, which may or may not be conscious intentions, but, nevertheless, shed light on deeper levels of meaning within the text. I have recently noticed that tone is sometimes glaringly obvious in social media conversations, and this tone may reveal more than we want it to.

Lately, well for some time really, there has been a lot of bashing of our fellow human beings in the social media because of differences in viewpoint. It may be politics or a general worldview, but most often it seems to be focused on what people have labeled “The Religious Right” and the “Liberal Agenda.” Recently I wrote a blog defending Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay and called Christians to be kinder and more understanding of him regarding his Twitter scandal faux pas. As a result of that, I was harshly criticized. Among other things, I was told that I “name-call like a Liberal” by one Christian, and that I am “obviously not a Christian” by another. I didn’t call anyone any names, and I guess I am liberal about some things, not everything. I am a Christian. I find it rather ironic, yet unsurprising, that I would be harangued about an article condemning haranguing, which ultimately proves my point.

But, unfortunately, this critically harsh environment has become the norm. It is not just acceptable to attack those with whom you disagree, but it is now fair game to berate fellow Christians who simply ask that we remember to be nice. It’s as if “being nice” is seen as joining the “enemy.” Almost every time I turn on a television talk show or “news” show or listen to talk radio, I hear angry, sarcastic people, who appear to be willing to do anything to get their points across, leaving a path of destruction behind them. I am so weary of hearing incensed people accusing other people, who disagree with them, of being hateful when they are being just as hateful. I just want to call “time,” and make everybody shake hands or something. When I bring up the idea of being more loving and understanding, I get told that Christians have an obligation to stand up for truth, that the truth hurts, or I start getting prophecies about the end times and am basically told, “We’re at war.” Well, I don’t know many people who come to know Christ, looking down the barrel of a gun held by a representative of Christ. So I’d like to ask a small favor, and I promise to do this as well. Let’s stop being defensive for a minute and honestly ask ourselves some real questions.

If you are a Christian, examine your motives when you become politically active. What are you really trying to accomplish? Are you seeking to glorify God, obey His commands, create a righteous Christ-like, God-honoring society? You may think you are, but let’s really examine the heart–the literary tone. What are your real intentions and attitudes hidden between the lines?

I don’t think Christians should hide their political beliefs, go along with culture, ignore their biblical beliefs, put up with discrimination, or anything like that. But when Christians engage in angry mob attacks on other Christians for honest mistakes or even doubting or questioning their faith, does this please God? Is this how Jesus would have dealt with them? Or would He sit down and lovingly tell them the truth and reason with them?

Looking beyond the surface of what we say when we confront others may reveal more of our hearts than we realize. How we say things matters as much as what we say. According to Matthew 15: 18-19, it says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (NKJV).What is your true intention when you rebuke someone harshly? Is it to put them on the right path or to prove yourself right? Sometimes I think the anger seems to come from a feeling that someone is endangering the Christian worldview, that their ideas, actions, or words are undermining the work of Christians and causing them to lose ground in a culture war that can really never be won. I don’t mean that Christians should give up fighting for good causes or standing up for God’s word, but reacting in an unloving and angry way because we are losing a battle we know won’t be won, even according to bible prophecy, is fruitless and harms the true calling of a Christian, which I believe is to spread the Good News of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and forgiveness to individual people, awakening one heart at a time, which is the only way any real change can happen.

If that is our intention, then what purpose does insulting, back-biting, and angry outbursts serve? Do you seek to change the world by force? By bullying, ridicule? By passing laws? No one has ever changed anyone by legislation. Jesus never tried to change the government or the culture as a whole, but focused on one individual life at a time. When an individual has a real change of heart, then his whole life changes. If enough individuals change, then society may change. However, ultimately, we know that society is destined to be more and more corrupt before the end; therefore, our primary goal should be individuals anyway.

The tone of some of the people out there who supposedly represent Christians implies that what they are really concerned with is themselves. They want to live in a world that they believe follows their worldview, they do not want their children corrupted, they do not want to see or hear about offensive things, or have to struggle with raising children in a world that does not respect their views. All of these things are understandable, but do they reveal the heart of Christ? Again, I am not saying they shouldn’t speak truth, vote, rebuke fellow Christians in love, but political activism, fighting for our “rights,” should not be our primary concern or ever get in the way of showing God’s heart for souls.

Why not focus on building relationships and having one-on-one loving conversations with people who have learned that they can trust us not to attack them? Unless bringing the good news of Christ to people who don’t know Him is not really your concern. Ask yourself honestly, “Am I more worried about myself and the kind of world I want to live in and raise my family in than I am in the souls of people around me?”

The kind of tone you are using when you confront people who do not act in accordance to biblical belief, whether Christian or non-Christian, matters because it is either confirming God’s love or denying it. Do you confront fellow Christians with condescension because you know more than them? Do you respond in mocking sarcasm because you desire to put them in their place?

When it comes to social and political issues, do you enjoy listening to destructive talk shows that perpetuate an antagonistic attitude to people who have a different worldview than you, and do nothing to solve the problem, but create division and conflict? Is your confrontation of people in the world loving and honest, or is it motivated out of anger, frustration, or disgust? Do you care about helping people or do you just want to be right?

In the end people who do not know Christ are judging Him by our representation of Him, by the tone of our voices. We may be exactly right in our words and interpretations of text, but our tone shows that our hearts are not right. This is an on-going struggle, and we are flawed, only human, but let us not be Pharisees as well. While we are calling out other Christians, Jesus is calling us out for our lack of love. Let us daily examine our own hearts, so that what proceeds from our mouths, or our keyboards, reflects a pure heart.

When I became a Christian, I was amazed at the words of the song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” Ironically, it was the Jars of Clay arrangement that I listened to. But my prayer is that someday we can represent the words of this song in the world:

 We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

And we pray that our unity will one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side

We will work with each other, we will work side by side

And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand

we will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand

and together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land

and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love–Lyrics by Peter R. Scholtes.

 This song was inspired by John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (NKJV). Well, that’s all I have to say on the matter for now, and I hope I said it in a tone of love.–Christina Knowles





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