I’ve just* looked in on a pretty ugly “debate” between Christians on another blog. I was tempted to weigh in myself, but it was evident that there was a lot more heat than light being generated. It was getting very personal, very nasty - and was clearly about more than the surface issue. Not very edifying for anyone. It happens so easily on the internet; words get typed, the ’submit’ button pressed - and it’s out there. I’ve sometimes done a children’s talk with a large black piece of paper and a tube of toothpaste. The children write a message with the toothpaste, then they’re invited to put the toothpaste back. It can’t be done, any more than the damage our words do can be taken back. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve regretted my use of the keyboard. St James was right in his epistle.
Here’s what John Wesley said in part of his sermon “On the Cure of Evil-Speaking”:
And how extremely common is this sin, among all orders and degrees of men! How do high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, learned and unlearned, run into it continually! Persons who differ from each other in all things else, nevertheless agree in this. How few are there that can testify before God, “I am clear in this matter; I have always set a watch before my mouth, and kept the door of my lips!” What conversation do you hear, of any considerable length, whereof evil-speaking is not one ingredient? And that even among persons who, in the general, have the fear of God before their eyes, and do really desire to have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.
And the very commonness of this sin makes it difficult to be avoided. As we are encompassed with it on every side, so, if we are not deeply sensible of the danger, and continually guarding against it, we are liable to be carried away by the torrent. In this instance, almost the whole of mankind is, as it were, in a conspiracy against us. And their example steals upon us, we know not how; so that we insensibly slide into the imitation of it. Besides, it is recommended from within as well as from without. There is scarce any wrong temper in the mind of man, which may not be occasionally gratified by it, and consequently incline us to it. It gratifies our pride, to relate those faults of others whereof we think ourselves not to be guilty. Anger, resentment, and all unkind tempers, are indulged by speaking against those with whom we are displeased; and, in many cases, by reciting the sins of their neighbors, men indulge their own foolish and hurtful desires.
Evil-speaking is the more difficult to be avoided, because it frequently attacks us in disguise. We speak thus out of a noble, generous (it is well if we do not say,) holy indignation, against these vile creatures! We commit sin from mere hatred of sin! We serve the devil out of pure zeal for God! It is merely in order to punish the wicked that we run into this wickedness. “So do the passions” (as one speaks) “all justify themselves,” and palm sin upon us under the veil of holiness!
I’m going to nail those last few sentences to my forehead! Wesley meant them about what I would call “gossip”, but I’m sure they apply to the way we conduct all our conversations, both real and virtual.