This time I had hoped for more from Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton, but as soon as the slander left Don Imus’ lips, the Reverends’ political action machines kicked into gear. Lost within the grind of hypocrisy and indignation was the opportunity to teach the truth about words and the condition of their source.
Don’t misunderstand: consequence is a good thing. Eating the fruit of one’s own scheme is a natural result of our created order. Whether it is forced by special interest or imposed by the free market, consequence is inevitable. While Imus needed to be punished, his downfall cannot be the moral of the story.
I don’t know if Don Imus is a racist. Only he and God are privy to that information. I am certain that as with all of us, his words bear a direct relation to the condition of his heart. Until we deal with the state of the heart, the transgressions of our tongue will continue to cause pain to ourselves and others. And it is disappointing when such prominent ministers have so little to say about what God’s word says about our words.
Matthew states in the first Gospel that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” The writer in James approaches the issue from the outside in when he says the tongue corrupts the whole person and as a small spark to a great fire, it sets the entire course of one’s life ablaze.
The point is, there is a direct connection with the words that we say and the disposition of our heart. So when we excuse our hurtful words as an anomaly and not representative of the true us, we are wrong. Our tongue is a direct reflection of our heart and its fallen condition.
To focus only on consequences without addressing the cause is a missed opportunity to effect meaningful change. To deal with a matter of the tongue by simply forcing the mouth shut is to miss the diagnosis and offer the wrong remedy.
Man’s unredeemed heart is essentially evil, capable of causing great suffering through both words and deeds. Racial slurs, conceit, gossip and dishonesty are rooted in this fallen state. Until we surrender our heart to God, we will never be able to douse the fire of our lives caused by the spark of the tongue. That is the lesson Imus teaches us. It is the message we so desperately need to hear.
In the end, we would all do well to remember what every good student of human anatomy knows: despite its good fit, the foot bone is not connected to the mouth bone. Instead, when examined under the microscope of truth, we discover that the tongue is an extension of the heart.