The Moral Authority Of A Gentle Answer

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This week, I am honored to be releasing my fifth book called A Gentle Answer: Our Secret Weapon in an Age of Us-Against-ThemThanks to the generosity of my publisher, I will release a handful of modified excerpts from that project in coming weeks.

The book was written not only for individuals, but also for small groups, campus ministries, and entire churches, denominations, and networks who are trying to figure out how to navigate the current polarized, and sometimes hostile, climate in which we find ourselves. Each chapter is followed by questions for reflection and discussion, for this very purpose.

Lastly, if what you read here resonates with you, I would be grateful if you could share it with others!

Much love, Scott


“A gentle answer turns away wrath.”
– Proverbs 15:1

“This generation is the first to turn hate into an asset.”

When Dr. John Perkins, the 89-year-old Christian minister and civil rights icon/activist, said these words at a recent leaders’ gathering in Nashville, things I’ve been feeling about the current state of Western society came into sharper focus. For many years now, I’ve grown increasingly perplexed over what feels like a culture of suspicion, mistrust, and us-against them. Whatever the subject may be—politics, sexuality, immigration, income gaps, women’s concerns, race, or any other social concerns over which people have differences—Angst, suspicion, outrage, and outright hate increasingly shape our response to the world around us.

John Perkins knows suffering. His mother died when he was a baby. His father abandoned him when he was a child. His brother was killed during an altercation with a Mississippi police officer. As a black man during the civil rights era, he endured beatings and imprisonments and death threats. Since that time, Perkins has faithfully confronted injustice, racism, oppression, and violence while also advocating valiantly for reconciliation, peace, equality, healing, and hope.

If anyone has a right to be bitter, if anyone has a right to “turn hate into an asset” and use it to his own advantage, it is John Perkins. Yet, instead of feeding the cycle of resentment and retaliation, he spends his life preaching against these wrongs while advocating for forgiveness and moving toward enemies in love.

With the moral authority of one who practices what he preaches, Perkins’ life is a sermon that heralds reconciliation and peace between divided people groups. He has built his life upon the belief that his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has left no option except to advance neighbor love through the tearing down of what Scripture calls “dividing walls of hostility.” This is an essential task for those who identify as followers of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life not only for his friends, but also for his enemies. Jesus is a God of reconciliation and peace, not a God of hate or division or us-against-them (Ephesians 2:14-22). He is the God of the gentle answer.

While some do not understand what it feels like to be ostracized, belittled, or persecuted, Dr. Perkins remind us all that every person bears the Image of God and is a carrier of the divine imprint. Because of this, every person is also entitled to being treated with honor, dignity, and respect. The inherent dignity of personhood makes the prophet’s description of neighbor-love that much more essential in our dealings with one another: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness” as an overflow of walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Hurtful behaviors such as violence, scorn, gossip, and slander injure both victim and perpetrator. The hurtful behavior certainly devastates its target, but the hate that lies beneath eats the haters alive, clouding their thinking, crippling their hearts, and diminishing their souls. In the end, those who injure become as miserable as those whom they injure. Those who vandalize someone else’s body, spirit, or good name also vandalize themselves.

Perhaps for this reason, the Bible is careful to warn that all anger, including the constructive righteous kind, should be arrived at slowly and not from a reactive hair trigger. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” the apostle James writes, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).

In being slow to anger through a spirit of meekness, we express the image of God in us, who, being both perfectly righteous and the universe’s chief offended party, “forgives all [our] iniquity” and “crowns [us] with steadfast love and mercy” and “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:3-4, 8, emphasis mine). If God’s default response to human offense is to be slow in his anger—even the righteous kind—how much more should this be true of us, even when expressions of righteous anger may be entirely justified?

Jesus renounced outrage and advanced the power of a gentle answer throughout his ministry. In one instance, as they were traveling through a Samaritan village, Jesus’ disciples were met with rejection, hostility, and scorn. Feeling offended and incensed by the Samaritans’ inhospitable posture and disregard for their Lord, the disciples James and John, the so-called “Sons of Thunder,” suggested that Jesus retaliate by calling down fire from heaven to consume them. Jesus responded to the two brothers by rebuking them (Luke 9:51-59).

John Perkins’ response to the injuries perpetrated toward him and other people of color honors our Lord in ways that the Sons of Thunder did not. Rather than calling down fire on his enemies, Perkins concluded that the best and only way to conquer outrage was with what he called a love that trumps hate.

“Yielding to God’s will can be hard,” Perkins wrote in 1976. “And sometimes, it really hurts. But it always brings peace…You have to be a bit of a dreamer to imagine a world where love trumps hate—but I don’t think being a dreamer is all that bad…I’m an old man, and this is one of my dreams: that my descendants will one day live in a land where people are quick to confess their wrongdoing and forgive the wrongdoing of others and are eager to build something beautiful together.”[1]

Building something beautiful together will require participation from all sides. For those who are prone to injure, the call is to repent and to engage in the noble work of renouncing hatred and exercising love.

For those who are vulnerable to becoming injured, the call is to participate in the noble work of resisting bitter and retaliating roots of anger while embracing truth-telling, advocacy, and forgiveness.

For all of us, the universal call is to lay down our swords, listen, learn from our differences, and build something beautiful. Shall we get started?

 

This essay is a modified excerpt from Scott’s latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us-Against-Them. Used by permission from Harper Collins.

 

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[1] John Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), Kindle edition.

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7 responses to “The Moral Authority Of A Gentle Answer”

  1. Janice says:

    Timely and wise, thank you for this nugget today. I am thinking today about Pentecost and what that means in this divided and painful time. May the Spirit be upon us in a fresh and mighty way, helping us to see our own faults and being filled with grace moving us to love one another in word and deed.

  2. Wendy Glover says:

    Beloved and Loving Heavenly Father, May your 💡, life, and love displayed through your Word and expounded in this book woo us to You. Through your Spirit radically convert our hearts from division to unity, from hate and selfishness to loving joy in action to those who differ with us so that Christ is exalted and glorified as never before in this Dis-United States of America!

  3. Daniel Schulman says:

    I shall definitely buy this book. Today, 6/2, I just heard you practice what you are preaching, on the Bob Dutko radio program from Detroit. You extracted a calmer, wittier, more thoughtful, even philosophical version of the often grumpy host, without the use of either tongs or forceps.

    He is actually enjoyable to listen to when he gets like that; I often have to turn him off and pull the barf-bucket closer to me when he gets small-minded. I’m an Investment Manager professionally and I respect that he is a good journalist, and I balance sources because my main interest is always not only the truth but if possible the truth ahead of others. However, when Mr. Dutko editorializes, I find less value.

    Readers of this blog, what I specifically mean is how on a number of occasions Scott clearly DEMO’d the exact practice he was advocating. A perfect example is when Mr. Dutko was starting to self-revv up on a personal peeve, and he posed to Pastor Sauls a challenging question as to HOW TO DEAL with all that urgent distressing whateverness.

    And the response came back “stay centered in the love of Jesus in your heart”, or some formulation like that. Which is the only answer he could give, because it’s ALWAYS the only answer. And sometimes it can sound like a platitude (or even on some lips BE a platitude) but Scott couched his reply in simple imagery of “not embarrasing God” or his name or works, and in a tone similar to that of a mom’s admonition “..and don’t do anything that would embarass your Uncle”. “But how do I not embarass my Uncle?” “Don’t worry you’ll figure it out.”

    Exactly. The Christian walk is tough, but it’s also not rocket science. And Mr. Dutko chuckled, and was “re-centered”. He immediately lost that high adenoidal mid-throat tightness (like an adolescent schoolgirl) which is a reliable marker that he’s “revving up”, and was deterred from “emitting exosomes” of self-righteousness over the airwaves.

    Well done and right on!

  4. […] is how I found “A Gentle Answer: Our Secret Weapon in an Age of Us Against Them”, a book by Scott Sauls which, miraculously was just released this […]

  5. […] “Yielding to God’s will can be hard,” Perkins wrote in 1976. “And sometimes, it really hurts. But it always brings peace…You have to be a bit of a dreamer to imagine a world where love trumps hate—but I don’t think being a dreamer is all that bad…I’m an old man, and this is one of my dreams: that my descendants will one day live in a land where people are quick to confess their wrongdoing and forgive the wrongdoing of others and are eager to build something beautiful together.” […]

  6. Daniel Schulman says:

    Why? Why does “it always brings peace”…? That hasn’t always been my experience. Other practices and experiences have always brought me peace, but yielding to God’s will to me seems more of a variable than a constant. If God’s will for me is discernable and it’s not optional and I don’t execute as guided, then He smites me.

    God has been most generous of his smitings of me, and I’ve not always felt peaceful afterward. For example, sometimes I review and second-guess my past actions, convinced I could have been less smitten if less stupid. Generally worthwhile cogitations, perhaps– but not necessarily peaceful.

  7. Aaron Joseph Hall says:

    Scott, I love your writing. I am excited to read this new book!
    As always, your blog posts speak volumes to me.
    Hope you and your family are well.
    God bless you brother!

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