Words Matter

December 01, 2009

Recently, several religious leaders wrote an open letter to Virginia's Governor-Elect Bob McDonnell encouraging him to publicly oppose comments made by Pat Robertson, who recently voiced strong attacks on Islam. The religious leaders entitled their letter "Words Matter." Included in it are these two passage:

While we believe that Rev. Robertson does not speak for you or for all Americans of Christian faith, his words matter because they come from someone who has a longstanding relationship with you.

... We believe that it's unfair to expect our political leaders to be held accountable for every foolish word that a supporter happens to say. But in this case, when the supporter is among your leading associates, it's important for you to tell Virginians directly, and not through a spokesperson, that you do not agree with words of hate, intolerance and bigotry.
McDonnell has numerous ties to Robertson, who was a big donor to McDonnell's recent campaign. McDonnell graduated from Robertson's university, served on its board, and has appeared as a guest on Robertson's "The 700 Club." This raises questions about how much McDonnell must separate himself from Robertson's controversial remarks (and there will probably be more of them during McDonnell's term). During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama faced attacks because of controversial comments by his pastor and John McCain faced attacks because of his association with controversial preachers John Hagee and Rod Parsley. But even for non-politicians this should raise issues to consider. How should we respond if someone of our faith does or says something that makes us look bad? How connected do we need to be to someone before we feel the need to repudiate what they have said or done? These are some of the issues I tried to deal with in my book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!). The fact is that words do matter and when a prominent religious leader speaks it can impact the view that others have of all people of that faith.

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