The Language of Division

There is a fundamental problem with discourse in America today: the language used in nearly all political and social dialog is as extreme as possible. As far as I can tell, it’s all in pursuit of gaining attention and page views, by pleasing a certain demographic. It’s either self promotion or party promotion.

As an example, the labels “Wuhan virus” or “CCP virus” (e.g. “Chinese Communist Party virus“) or worse “Kung flu” persist largely in right-wing publications such as The Epoch Times or Newsmax, or websites like Gab or Parler. As far as I can tell, the only people using those labels do so to make a political point. Every time they do, they emphasize political differences, and drive a wedge in conversation and relationship.

I don’t object to discussing the city of Wuhan, China, or analyzing the origins of the virus. I think such discussions are valuable. If in fact China’s military had something to do with creating the SARS-COV-2 virus, the world should know about it.

But those discussions and investigations need to be held on an emotionally neutral playing field. And they don’t require presumptive or baiting language. One might just as effectively ask “Was the SARS-COV-2 virus manmade?” as “Was the Wuhan virus created by the CCP?” Both questions might serve the same purpose of initiating conversation. But one will create division and thus stifle open and earnest dialog.

The importance of neutrality

I attend a church that has members holding a variety of political positions and also beliefs about the virus and its origins; sensitivity to differing viewpoints seems very important when in such a diverse crowd. So in that context, insisting on calling it the “Wuhan” or “CCP” virus is not even slightly neutral.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul writes “7But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 9Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (1 Cor 8:7-13 NIV)

In Romans 14, Paul writes “1Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” (Romans 14 1-3 NIV)

In both passages, Paul is talking about food, but his discussion is about the general principle of willingly self-sacrificing our own liberty when we know that another would be offended.

Fundamentally, it’s about preserving relationship, not being right.

Relationship, not Rights

It seems to me, then, that insisting on using language that we know may easily be divisive, even if we believe it’s factual, rejects the idea that relationship is the most important thing. It prevents brothers and sisters from discussing the challenges we face. It violates Paul’s principle.

In that context, choosing to NOT use divisive language is fundamentally self-sacrificial, even when there’s a clear disagreement even over something as important as doctrine, much less an earthly matter like COVID. The same discussions can be had without using divisive labels, so why not willingly refrain?

Essentially, when we use intentionally divisive terms, or publicly promote articles or links that use them, we’re cutting off our own voice from those who believe those terms to be insulting or racist. No matter how WE feel about the issue, the result is to break relationship and mute our own voice in their ears on all topics, not just that one.

I’m personally persuaded that this deliberately antagonistic dialog is more damaging to our nation, and to the church, than any of the issues being addressed.

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