Thursday, September 13, 2007

Words Mean Things

A year or so ago, I wanted to leave a response on a blog. Some people were making foolish statements about the pastor of the church I attended at the time, and I wanted to articulate a perspective that wasn't based in emotionalism. In attempting to post my response, I had to register to do so; part of the registration process was the opportunity to establish my own blog.

Now, I had prayed about doing just such a thing since blogging became a significant part of the Internet, though it had never been at the top of my proverbial list. This struck me as not merely a formality, but an opportunity God was presenting to me. And as you can see, I took it.

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to write about politics, pop culture, denominationalism, and more (yes, Celine Dion is in there). But between those who are aficionados of this blog and those who attack it, I've been drawn--even after being away for nearly six months--to writing about events at my long-time home church, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. More specifically, this blog has served as a way to respond to the increasingly shrill, fact-free, and emotion-laden words being indiscriminately lobbed at Bellevue like so many verbal Molotovs by otherwise well-meaning people.

You can post your favorite term for discussion, but let's start with the biggest Bellevue-buster bomb of all, the phrase "harboring a pedophile." Pretty damning phraseology, hmm? I mean, when should we expect Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC to visit Bellevue's offices?

Turn the phrase around. Let's say Pastor Smith is harboring Mr. Jones, who is (read along using your best movie-trailer-announcer voice) on the run, accused of a crime he didn't commit! In harboring Mr. Jones, Pastor Smith demonstrates a number of things about himself, including these:

1) He thinks Mr. Jones should not have to face the law.

2) He thinks Mr. Jones should be free to live his life as he has before.

3) He wants to help Mr. Jones maintain his freedom--and his lifestyle.

Quite a step out for Pastor Smith, wouldn't you agree? But let's say that Pastor Smith actually knows that Mr. Jones is a criminal, someone who is avoiding justice. In this scenario, "harboring" Mr. Jones means Pastor Smith wants Mr. Jones to be free to maintain his criminal lifestyle. Harboring Mr. Jones, if my faulty memory serves, actually makes Pastor Smith an accessory after the fact to Mr. Jones' crimes.

With regard to the Williams case at Bellevue, make no mistake that the use of the term "harboring a pedophile" are words thought to be an unstoppable weapon against Steve Gaines. Unfortunately, those words are a deception.

Mr. Williams, while admitting to despicably harming his son over the course of a year and a half, has never been remotely linked to assaulting another human being, particularly a child in the care of Bellevue. After the time frame in which he assaulted his son, Mr. Williams has never been linked to any form of child abuse at all, anywhere.

The loaded question has often been posed "Would you let him babysit your children?", and of course I would not--nor do I think that Mr. Williams should ever been alone in the company of children. Is that because I believe him to be an active, unrepentant pedophile? Not in the slightest; I also believe that recovering alcoholics shouldn't go to places where alcohol is served, and that recovering Democrats shouldn't visit the Daily Kos, listen to Air America, or watch CNN (except for Glenn Beck, but that's a different article).

Pastor Gaines didn't have any evidence to believe Mr. Williams was an active threat to any child, and certainly didn't desire to facilitate Mr. Williams' past behavior. If the anti-Bellevue club has a favorite branding iron, it would have to be the "harboring a pedophile" label. Too bad, for them, that it's a misrepresentation.

I'm blessed to see that The Bratton Report (I'm telling you, I just might have to have t-shirts made up!) has become a place where people of varying opinions with regard to Bellevue can, in the absence of any other legitimate place to do so, voice those opinions. Sometimes they're substantive, and sometimes they're so much Swiss cheese, but you can publish them--although you should be prepared to back them up.

"Why do you let him (or her) say that, Mike?" If I didn't, I'd be guilty of the same filtering I dislike in other sites. And in the words of the philosopher Montgomery Scott, "After all, we're big enough to take a few insults! Aren't we?"

Words mean things. They can communicate information about a subject, and about their author. (Often, that latter communication is unintentional, yet no less informative.) Words should be used precisely, and responsibly. When you're here, at least, please do so.

Or when you're anywhere, for that matter.