The Common Good
April 2005

Language That Unites

by Sandra Dufield | April 2005

Communicating across the red-blue divide.

After last fall'

After last fall’s election many of us walked around in a fog wondering how the Right had such an easy slide into so many voting booths. What is it about the Right’s message that makes it so compelling to so many people, and what is it about other perspectives that leave them so unheard?

As the election evidenced, many Americans respond best to claims of a sure thing. If those with other views are going to have influence, they need to address biblical social issues with confidence and certainty.

In addition to understanding our conservative brothers and sisters, we also need to rethink the way we speak to them, and we need to intentionally tailor our words in a way that will be respected and heard. Using what some refer to as "God talk" rather than social activist talk, we can identify how uplifting the poor is also a biblical truth.

We need to acknowledge the Religious Right’s morality staples and link these with biblical peace and justice concerns, remembering to constantly point back to scripture. Obedience and righteousness are motivators behind the Right’s dedication to the unborn and sexual integrity. Using this same language, we can make the case that peace and social justice are also obedience and righteousness issues. We need to make clear that Christ not only died on the cross for sins, he also left us an image and a life to follow. Christ exemplified how to live in this life with each other, how to respond to "the least of these."

MANY RELIGIOUS conservatives despise phrases such as peace and social justice, civil rights, the oppressed, diversity, tolerance, and exploitation of the poor. When seeking to influence, we need to be sensitive to this aversion. To communicate with those who speak a more conservative language, we’ll need to replace our familiar, comfortable vocabulary with terms such as immoral, evil, sin, righteousness, and God’s will.

Environmental concerns can be presented in terms of stewardship and protecting God’s creation. Issues associated with women’s rights can be communicated with phrases such as "full discipleship." We can clarify that an authentic pro-life position means speaking for and protecting all vulnerable, defenseless, and voiceless life. It means speaking up for and defending the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9). Those who consider themselves pro-life cannot with integrity claim to be so and also eliminate the social services that allow women to adequately, safely, and healthily raise their children.

Conversations addressing poverty, lack of health care, and inadequate child care can also employ family values and moral principles terminology because these things certainly threaten the survival and stability of children and families.

Using conservative language, we can point out how some conservative worldviews are ultimately more "secular humanist" than "Christian." For example, a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" approach to the poor is unbiblical because it’s rooted in a worldly survival-of-the-fittest mentality. We can show how supply-side economics ignores Christ’s call to place the poor at the forefront of our endeavors.

In the long run we may actually end up being thankful for the inroads the Religious Right has made regarding the language of public discourse. We’ll happily ride that "morality" wave, thankful for the chance to openly and boldly speak to God’s full scriptural message. We’ll bravely bring up those precious scriptures so often diminished and ignored. We’ll boldly but lovingly remind our sisters and brothers of God’s full call, holding them accountable with their own words.

Sandra Dufield is a freelance writer living in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania.

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