Belfast Telegraph

Why our leaders must remember of the damage words can cause

By Alf McCreary

If anyone doubts the power of religion in the modern world, they should look out for the serious fall-out in the Middle East and elsewhere, following President Donald Trump's ill-advised decision to nominate Jerusalem with its holy sites as the capital of Israel.

Religion is too often dismissed in the secular Western world as of decreasing relevance, in what many critics of the Church believe is our post-Christian society.

However, in other parts of the world, religion continues to convulse nations.

Good religion can heal human beings and society, but bad religion mixed with bad politics brings death, destruction and untold misery, as we have discovered during the long Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Donald Trump has shown yet again how the views of a single individual in a position of immense power can shape the world for good or for ill.

It is too early to judge whether the multi-twittering Trump will be regarded as a total disaster, but so far he has done nothing to win friends outside or inside the USA, apart from his blinkered core supporters.

Trump seems to enjoy attention so much that he simply cannot stop tweeting, and many other twitterers are the same.

There was a time when leaders of Church and State measured their words more carefully, but in the Twitter age almost anything goes.

Take, for example, the tweet by the Anglican Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow who last week asked Christians to pray for Prince George, aged four, "to be blessed one day with the love of a fine young gentleman" because if the future Supreme Head of the Church were gay it would be the quickest way for the English Church to allow same-sex marriage.

The Scottish Episcopal Church voted narrowly in June to allow same-sex marriage, but it is still banned in the Church of England.

Such comments from a senior Scottish Anglican beggar belief. How cruel it is to introduce such thoughts about an innocent child, and what an insult it is to ask Christians to pray for such a thing in the name of same-sex marriage.

Dean Holdsworth may have been tweeting tongue-in-cheek, but his comments were in poor taste and will have offended people of every Christian denomination and of none.

His unwise and unfunny tweet is a further illustration of how public and private discourse have now got out of hand in the world of Twitter.

President Trump uses Twitter deliberately, and often questionably, but there are many other public figures who are keen to rush to share their often inane views with the world, whatever the personal cost.

Thankfully not everyone is so smitten. This week I was glad that the leading Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed Twitter as a trivial form of communication. Some weeks ago an Alliance Party friend of mine (I still have some!) told me that I had been in the centre of a Twitter storm after my critical comments about the installation dinner for the Lord Mayor of Belfast.

I'm glad to say that the Twitter storm passed over my head, and I am none the worse for it.

The slates are still on my roof and the central heating is still working.

However, in this age of mass communication, the standard of public debate has coarsened considerably. In the past week or so numerous insults have been exchanged on both sides of the Brexit debate, and this shows no sign of lessening.

The situation is now so bad that the Prime Minister seems to lack any control of her party or Cabinet where people's contradictory opinions are paraded in public daily.

The position is now so serious that the public has lost respect for political and Church figures. The results of a recent Ipsos MORI poll revealed that politicians remain the least trusted of any group, and that the trust in senior clergy has decreased from 85% in 1983 to 65% today.

What can be done about this? There is some good advice in the New Testament Epistle of James, who wrote that "the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark."

Will politicians, clergy and other twitterers take this advice to heart? I wouldn't bet on it.

Belfast Telegraph

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