The Pejorative Use of Words

“Words mean things. When you put them together they speak,” once observed Samuel R. Delany, the award-winning Science Fiction author.

Politicians, Political pundits, publishers, poets and of course, preachers make use of words to prove a point, push an agenda, or to provide insight. They may be used to challenge preconceived notions.

However, words can be used in a pejorative way to belittle a belief, ridicule a religion, or to denigrate another person.

Yesterday a read a headline from the New York Times that read as follows:

“In Narrow Opinion Supreme Court Rules For Baker in Gay Rights Case”

The story was about the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple who maintained that it violated his conscience and religious convictions.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled in favor of the homosexual couple, as did the state court. However, it was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. By the headline, you would think it was a 5-4 decision. “A narrow decision.”

Actually the court ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips. The Times and other media outlets used the word “narrow” referring to the basis of the decision. Our purpose is not to discuss the issue of religious freedom. My friend and preaching colleague, Shane Scott,did that on his blog yesterday in a well-worded post.

It occurred to me that the media would not normally use the word “narrow” to report a 7-2 decision by the Court. The use of the word conjures up the notion of being “narrow-minded” as this case and the issue of homosexual rights have been discussed in recent years.

Christians who hold a Biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman are thought to be “narrow” in their thinking. Business people whose moral and religious scruples guide their decisions are derided for being bigoted. Preachers who proclaim God’s law on marriage are looked at as unenlightened, unintelligent, and outdated. Yes, as “narrowed minded.”

Those who are opposed to abortion are characterized as “anti-abortion,s instead of pro-life. Some of us remember the word “anti” being bantered about among brethren to cast some preachers and churches in a negative light.

The pejorative use of words can often be subtle with a simple word and a contemptuous tone of voice. “She’s just a housewife.” He’s just a janitor.” Or we may speak of a person’s race, ethnicity, or national origin in words that are insulting and degrading.

Men and women too often use words in a negative manner about each other that are demeaning. “That’s a woman for you.” Or with a look of disgust and stretching the word into two or three syllables simply say, “Men.”

The use of words reveals an attitude and the condition of the heart. They speak to what we feel, think and believe. The Bible teaches the importance of the words we say.

Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned” (Matt 12:37).

The words of a disciple of Christ ought to be “gracious” and “seasoned with salt” so we respond to each one in the right way. (Col 4:6)

The wisdom literature in the Old Testament has a lot to say about the words of the wise and the words of the fool. A good and positive word builds up. Encourages. And edifies. A negative word tears down. Discourages. And divides.

Furthermore, I would remind us that being “narrow” is not necessarily a negative thing. Truth is narrow. Jesus characterized the way to heaven as difficult with a “narrow gate.” As opposed to the “broad way” with the “wide gate” that “leads to destruction: (Matt 7:13-14) Truth is narrow. Jesus characterized the way to heaven as difficult with a “narrow gate.” As opposed to the “broad way” with the “wide gate” that “leads to destruction. (Matt 7:13-14)

So, while political pundits and news outlets seek to polarize us with the pejorative use of words, let us be kind to one another. Using words that convey the spirit of Christ and the intentions of a pure heart.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


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4 responses to “The Pejorative Use of Words

  1. Larry & Gayle Benderman

    AMEN brother….

  2. rlb

    Thanks Ken for the reminder to be more “Christ like” in our speech and communication!

  3. Tim D Torno

    Thank you, Ken!

  4. Larry Hafley

    Thanks, Ken, for your thought provoking article.  Great job, brother!  

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