The Bellowers, the Mellowers, and the Language of Thought

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4–5

Language is one tool by which we express our thoughts. We get it. No argument there. However, linguists and anthropologists are suggesting another relationship between language and thought: that the language we are born into shapes the way we think. It doesn’t limit what we are capable of thinking, but it does influence how we’re thinking about things. The research is fascinating. And growing.

Put another way in a phrase someone in the media repeats almost daily, words matter. And American Christians need to understand this in the cores of their being.

I came of age during some pretty tumultuous years. Protests. Riots. It was a loud and hostile time. It was a fearful time. Our schools were training us to “duck and cover” for when, not if, the USSR dropped a nuclear bomb on our heads. But Democracy vs. Communism wasn’t the only “Us vs. Them” going on. Polarity infected every religious, social, and political ideology. Language evolved rapidly as we used it to identify who was “us” and who was “them.”

Viet Nam. Civil rights. The women’s movement. The environment.The generation gap. The establishment. The anti-establishment. The hippie counterculture of drugs and free love. The church vs. rock and roll. The church vs. movies. And it all played out on the nightly news during supper.

Yet still, I am aggrieved by the current religious, social, and political ideologies that divide not just our country in general but, this time around, our faith in specific.

White, evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election by a margin of 80 percent. If you were among the 20 percent who did not vote for him, it was easy to see that you were a minority, and in this country, being in the minority means being wrong.

There are tens of thousands of Christian denominations in the world but it seems to me that right now in America, at least when it comes to talking about what divides us, there are basically two styles of Christianity. I’m not talking about doctrinal differences but differences in how we’re reacting to the chaos we feel (a chaos that I believe is really a crisis of faith and will write about another day).

In this regard, there are two styles of Christianity: those who are loud and those who are quiet. I call them the Bellowers and the Mellowers. In full disclosure, I am in the 20 percent that did not vote for Donald Trump and I am a Mellower.

I have a few white evangelical friends who voted for Trump and are Mellowers. I have more white evangelical friends who voted for Trump who are Bellowers. Lots of them. They do not and would not shout in my face the way they do on social media, where they don’t think twice about calling their God-loving, Messiah-believing brothers and sisters hurtful names, belittling their opinions, and judging them unfit both as Christians and Americans. Of course, Bellowers are found on both sides of the political aisle, Republican as well as Democrat, but in my case because my values generally align with the Democrats and run askew of the Republicans, the Bellowers who disturb my peacemaking on social media are from the right-wing of the Republican party. (Apparently, my Democrat friends must all be Mellowers. A happy coincidence for me.)

Fortunately, not one of the Bellowers calls me names, directly; not one belittles my opinions, directly; not one judges me an unfit Christian or American, directly. Unfortunately, however, I do see their status updates and comments to and about others. Their “likes” and “shares” flood my newsfeed with words like “idiot” and “libtard” and “fascist”and “whiner” and “snowflake” and “get a job” and “go live somewhere else.” I actually told some of these friends that I was hurt by what they said online and the responses were always the same: “I didn’t mean you. I love you.”

To be honest, my feelings are not that easily hurt by people whose opinions are so dramatically different from mine. What hurts me, though, is that far too often their vitriolic posts are bookended by memes about how they Love Jesus and God is Good.

I find this kind of hypocritical and false witness for God’s love extremely offensive.

I’m quite certain that I should find it offensive and would question the sincerity of my own committment to Christ if I did not.

This hypocritical witness for God’s love has silenced me more often than not because I am a Mellower and we Mellowers do not want to be mistaken for Bellowers.

I was raised in one of the historic peace churches and took to heart the call to peacemaking and nonviolence (verbal nonviolence as well as physical).  Believers generally find it very easy to abstain from physical violence but when provoked, verbal violence is a weapon quickly drawn. Mellowers genuinely abhor verbal violence, too, and our definition of it is probably much broader than that of Bellowers.

It used to be easy to consistently stand for peacemaking but it is getting harder. These are challenging, adversarial times that grow increasingly more challenging and adversarial. It’s easier to be rude and harder to be civil. It’s easier to live in fear and harder to live in faith. It’s easier to be inarticulately offensive and harder to be articulately persuasive. It’s easier to hate and harder to love.

The Adversary seems to be winning and I find that offensive. It’s offensive because we Believers are supposed to be the ones demolishing strongholds and arguments. Instead, progressive, inclusive Christians have mellowed to the point of falling silent.

Don’t make waves. Don’t pick fights. Don’t judge. Don’t be labeled a fascist socialist nutjob.

Ah. Perhaps that’s the real problem. Maybe Mellowers are not willing to be insulted and persecuted for His name’s sake.

Indeed. There is divine power in the spoken word. Words do matter.


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