August 23, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week's session

Taming the Tongue
James 3:1-12

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I am holding this year’s United States presidential election at arm’s length (or taming my tongue, if you will). Most days, I am all but overwhelmed by what feels like more immediate challenges: the ever-changing plans for fall learning at our son’s public elementary school, the uncertainty of childcare for him and our two-year-old daughter come fall, my husband’s recent quarantine with a high fever followed by confusion after a negative COVID-19 test, my evolving syllabus for a timely young adult literature course that includes the disappointments of To Kill a Mockingbird and the bold call of The Hate U Give. But despite these challenges, Gordon Matties’s response to James 3 brings that looming presidential election closer.

In chapter 3 of his letter, James homes in unrelentingly on the hypocrisies of the tongue, voice, and word: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (3:9). We send our voices up in humble praise to God, but we send it out in meanness and anger to those around us, those made in the image of God, those carrying the “divine spark”—to borrow one of John Lewis’s beloved phrases. Matties calls this James’s interest in the “integrity of speech” (ABS, p. 70). James, according to Matties, “makes a claim that foolish and damaging speech is inconsistent with our created character” and “an insult to the maker” (ABS, p. 71).

In a recent editorial in The New York Times, Jennifer Senior suggests that the two major party candidates for president of the United States both have an “unvarnished, corkscrew speaking style” that has and inevitably will continue to be a problem for both.[1] Senior does distinguish between Trump and Biden, arguing that Biden’s “klutziness” comes with a deep appeal “to our better angels and hopes” while Trump’s comes with a deep appeal to “our demons and fears.”

I’m not in the business of publicly endorsing candidates, and I am not a political pundit. Again, I am holding this election at arm’s length, and like many, I’m trembling a little even dipping my toe into the sea of the election right now. But I do think Matties, by way of James, is calling us to be brave and to ask honestly and humbly who of our political figures speaks with integrity, wisdom, and a commitment to the Creator and the creation.

I am reminded of another editorial responding to the announcement that Senator Kamala Harris is now running with Joe Biden for vice president of the United States. While many, including many women of color, are cheering not only for Harris’s experience and her record but also her monumental nomination as the first Black woman and first Indian American woman on the presidential ticket of a major U.S. party, the writer, Frank Bruni, is obsessed and depressed by her voice:

She frequently zoom[s] past the poetry to the prose, more a steely lawyer rattling off lists than a soulful leader serving up inspiration. Harris the prosecutor can find the holes in your argument and make you tremble. But can Harris the history-making, vice-presidential candidate find the cracks in your heart and make you cry?

While Bruni wants emotion and a political poet, Harris gives direct, straightforward prose and argument—and he is disappointed. As an English professor, I am ever committed to the moral and social importance of the public poet, but as a careful reader of James along with Matties these last few weeks, I am also committed to the integrity of the straightforward voice, the integrity of Harris’s voice.

I am not interested in arguing that Harris or Biden or Trump is the embodiment of James’s wisdom-filled voice, but I do find myself asking again—and hoping you will ask with me—who of our political figures speaks with integrity, wisdom, and a commitment to the Creator and the creation? May we be bold enough to let faith and politics mix on this one.

—Kerry Hasler-Brooks,

© 2020

1. “Meet Young Joe Biden, the ‘Wild Stallion,’” The New York Times, August 15, 2020.

Kerry Hasler-Brooks is a professor of American Literature at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania. She researches and teaches at the intersections of race, gender, literature, and vocation and has written on diverse American women writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Maria Ruiz de Burton, Katherine Anne Porter, Toni Morrison, and Edwidge Danticat. She lives on an organic vegetable farm run by her husband, Nathan; loves to explore in the fields and woods with their two young children; and recently joined the 300-year-old community at Salford Mennonite Church, Harleysville, Pennsylvania, where she is learning to hear and practice anew the call of Jesus to radical peace, love, and welcome.

This article supplements Adult Bible Study, a quarterly Bible curriculum for adults. Adult Bible Study provides in-depth, challenging Bible study from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective, written by an intercultural group of pastors, teachers, professors, and leaders across Canada and the United States. Sessions include daily Bible readings, resources for additional study, and free downloadable resources.

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