For most of my career as a pastor I have found little enthusiasm for the book of James. My suspicion about anything that smacks of “work’s righteousness” has kept me from seeing the bigger picture. Even the encouragement of my wife (herself a minister) and a dear friend and prayer group companion have not swayed me—perhaps until now. I am feeling more inclined to take James seriously, especially after reading a news story this morning.
Google.com reports that three members of the Westboro Baptist Church staged a protests at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. The group, which believes God is judging the United States for tolerating immoral behavior, points to the funerals of US servicemen and –women as particular signs of God’s wrath. As it was Memorial Day, three of their members were in Arlington. But an odd thing happened there. Among those who turned out to counter-protest the Westboro folks were self-professed members of the Ku Klux Klan. Cordoned off by themselves, the Klan members distributed American flags and spoke out against the Westboro supporters. I’m not sure what to say about such a turn of events. But I think James offers solid guidance. “…(L)et everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20).
James is offering a blueprint for civil discourse. Listen, gather the facts, weigh the available insight before expressing your own opinions. And when you do speak, let your words be measured, not angry, for angry words do not produce God’s will. There is nothing wrong with having opinions; make sure they are valid. There is nothing wrong with expressing them; be sure to listen more than you speak. There is no reason to get angry; anger leads to God’s will no faster than kindness and compassion. This message seems especially apt for the folks from Westboro Baptist and the Ku Klux Klan, groups well-known for their angry outbursts. But they are also meant for the rest of us. We, too, must listen, remain calm and hospitable, and trust God to be at work in ways that we can not know. I never thought the Ku Klux Klan and members of Westboro Baptist Church would lead me toward a deeper understanding of scripture, but I believe they have. Go figure. And then count me among those learning to appreciate the book of James.
Prayer: Lord, help us to speak less, listen more, and trust you above all else. In Jesus’ name. Amen.