I love to read the sermons of old preachers, especially those whose words have outlived them. A favorite of mine is J. Wallace Hamilton, who once preached a sermon titled “Blunders, Bombers, and Builders.” His general point was that whereas the soldier is engaged in times of war, it is diplomacy that is needed in times of political conflict. King David would not be the one to build the temple because the art of war does not lend itself to the development of worship or political stability (1 Chronicles 17:1-5; 22:5-11).
The current atmosphere of political debate, often described as culture wars, is more one of battle than of building. We are tempted to automatically take on the role of warrior. But that role is costly, even prohibited, if we plan to build the church and the society in which we reside. These times call for builders, not bombers.
The scriptures point out that we each have this ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Intriguing, then, is an article in the January/February edition of the Harvard Business Review titled “Breakthrough Ideas for 2010.” One of those ideas is “independent diplomacy.” In summary, it suggests that we have become confined to thinking that only nation-states can do diplomacy, or secondarily only non-state organizations. Carne Ross points out that individuals can also be conveyors of diplomacy.
We underestimate the power of a single voice. We know how much a comment from an individual can hurt us, yet we don’t consider how much our singular voice can help others. In the present political and cultural atmosphere, we are constantly reminded that it doesn’t take much to be incendiary, and we constantly forget another voice can be inspiring just by the grace it chooses to exude.
I used to marvel at Norman Vincent Peale’s ability to energize me when he was 90 years old and I was 40. It was not his deep theology that lifted my attitude and action. I already had the deepest wonder of the incarnation to give me hope. But it was Peale’s consistent stories of people who overcame obstacles without having to put down enemies that kept me from turning into a bomber rather than a builder.
Our culture and our churches are in dire need of leaders not bowed or provoked by negative voices. Leaders aren’t just those who speak for huge organizations or segments of the population. Leaders are individuals who will bridle their tongues (James 1:26) to steer the conversation in a more helpful direction.
The absence of such leaders put our culture, our churches, and our families in danger of linking our advancement with fighting rather than cooperation. We say we want good, we say we want love, we say we want peace, but how often our talk tends toward what is negative and personally destructive (1 Peter 3:10). What will it take to generate more builders?
Each of us has the option of developing an attitude of attack or diplomacy. Each of us can choose to defer to a large group approach only or use one of personal influence. The voice that chooses diplomacy rather than attack will attract others who are sick of living life always angry. And it will rise above the numbers mentality that God dismissed when God decided that the Messiah would establish the kingdom one person at a time.
The question is not how many it takes to change a country, but, rather, how many does it take to turn a conversation? The audience is not millions; it’s One.
When this article appeared, Dr. Joel C. Hunter was senior pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Florida.