Several years ago, when I was working for Mission to North America (MNA) as Special Needs Ministries Director, I was on my way out the door for a trip to Atlanta. With a glint in his eye, my younger son Tim (who has Down syndrome) looked at me and quipped, “Remember: MNA means ‘Mom’s Not Around!’” Whether that remark was shared in the spirit of “It’s boys’ weekend at the Hubach house” or, “You travel too much Mom,” I’m still not sure. If you are a Mom, however, you can guess how I heard it.
Words matter. Their meaning matters. Their delivery matters. And all of that matters because the people to whom those words are directed matter.
In January each year, many Christians celebrate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. But what do we mean when we say “sanctity?” And how ought that to inform our not only our message, but our delivery?
“Sanctity” is actually very close to the word holiness. In particular, it is akin to the “quality of being sacred, or by law (especially by natural or divine law) immune from violation.” When we speak of the sanctity of human life, we are often focused on calling out the violation of abortion and, instead, promoting the biblical warrant of protecting human life—from conception to natural death. As Christians who uphold the authority of Scripture, we ought to always protect the vulnerable—including the unborn—so that they might be “immune from violation,” the ultimate violation being the experience of intentional death. May we always remain faithful to this.
At the same time, however, we need to carefully share our message of being pro-life—”for the life of my neighbor”—in a way that is immune from violation as well. Have you ever thought of your words as a weapon? Have you ever considered that good concepts can be presented in a way that actually “undoes the goodness” via the violence of language? In a world of tweets and texts, it is very easy for us to lose sight of this. Snark can creep in. Our words can suddenly become curt, sarcastic, cutting, demeaning, and brutal. Rather than focusing on private righteous action, we can find ourselves simply trying to illicit a public raging reaction—one that unquestioningly affirms the validity of our view, while harshly discrediting that of another.
In the third chapter of the book of James, we are reminded that “. . . the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell . . . With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (vv.6, 9-10).
My brothers. My sisters. This should not be.
Can you think of a time in the last year that you went on a “righteous” rant?
In a tweet?
In a phone message?
In an email?
I can. I have.
If so, who were you envisioning as the object of that communication?
Someone who, like you, has sanctity—and should be immune from violation?
Someone who, like you, is an image bearer of the Triune God?
Someone who, like you, desperately needs God’s gift of grace?
Or, instead, did you picture an enemy?
Or a person who is despicable?
Or a person who is hopeless?
Jesus reminds us, in Luke 6:45, “. . . For what the mouth speaks, the heart is full of.” What were our hearts full of when we each embarked on our “righteous” rant? What are our hearts full of today?
Living a life transformed by the grace of God means that we honor the sanctity of human life by being for the lives of our neighbors in multi-faceted ways. These ways communicate that we are striving for every, single, human being to be kept “immune from violation”—as much as possible in this fallen world. Immune from intentional death. Immune from disrespect and rejection. Immune from poverty and disease. Immune from racism. Immune from being “cancelled” in any way, shape, or form.
So, as you celebrate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday this year, let us not forget about the violations that the tongue can bring into relationships. Instead, let us genuinely seek to engage others on the immense value of human life. Let us approach others as fellow image bearers who are desperately in need of the grace of God—just like you and I are. Let us point others to the same Jesus who, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we sincerely seek to model—the One who is “full of grace and truth.”
About the Author:
Steph served as Director of Mission to North America’s (MNA) Special Needs Ministries from 2007 to 2016. She currently works as a Research Fellow in Disability Ministry in partnership with Covenant Theological Seminary. She also serves on the Lancaster Christian Council on Disability (LCCD). Steph is the author of Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability and All Things Possible: Calling Your Church Leadership to Disability Ministry. She has been published in ByFaith magazine, Focus on the Family magazine, and Breakpoint online magazine and has produced a Christian Education DVD series based on Same Lake, Different Boat. Steph and her husband, Fred, have been married for 34 years. They have two deeply loved adult sons: Fred and Tim, the younger of whom has Down syndrome.