Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

An urgent call to ‘speak tenderly’

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published December 11, 2014  | En Español

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.”

We all listened to those words from the prophet Isaiah last Sunday, and their meaning must have been exceptionally poignant in their proclamation for those who heard them in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City; Cleveland, Ohio; and a number of other places throughout our nation where people have been stunned, disappointed and confused by the recent events that have claimed the lives of young Black men.

“Speaking tenderly” has become so much more difficult in many settings where bitter and insulting words have flooded the airwaves and the Internet. Speaking tenderly seems to have been in short supply during the past few weeks—and yet it clearly is a much-needed reality.

Speaking tenderly does not mean glossing over the truth. Speaking tenderly does not mean making excuses. Speaking tenderly does not mean failing to admit deeply felt sentiments of anger, frustration and wrongdoing.

Speaking tenderly, however, at all times does mean recognizing that we are speaking to another person who possesses a God-given dignity and inviolable human worth. Speaking tenderly means that human decency belongs equally to all people—to victims and their families, to police officials and their families, to those who engage in protests and their families. We must learn how to speak tenderly to all those engaged in these events—something that perhaps had others managed to do so more effectively before these events might have averted the tragedies that we must now face together.

People can speak tenderly even when they communicate intensely felt emotions and hold vastly conflicting opinions. Nonetheless, speaking tenderly may well have become a vanishing art in our society: from members of churches that publicly harass families as they bury their fallen military relatives; to the rhetoric of talk shows that brutalize those whose political, social or economic opinions vary from those of the host or producers; to rap artists who degrade women in their lyrics; to disgusting violence that inserts itself in too many products from our entertainment industry. Speaking tenderly does not often win Emmys or ratings contests, or national accolades. Yet speaking tenderly makes all of us more human and more hopeful—as Isaiah must have intended when his prophetic voice uttered those words.

The conversations that must now follow those painful events, which have managed to demonize victims, protesters and public officials, need Isaiah’s prophetic voice as perhaps never before. We must tone down the rhetoric that inflames as much as or more so than it enlightens.

We must speak the honest truth to one another and listen humbly to one another with a respect that relies on civil discourse and speaking tenderly. Our world may have misplaced our ability to speak civilly and tenderly and insightfully to one another.

Therefore, it was very helpful to have Isaiah’s words proclaimed for all the Church to hear this past Sunday. Maybe we all should read them once again before we undertake the review of these events and set about renewing a spirit of trust and justice in our nation that has grown too accustomed to hostile words and actions, which have robbed us of a hope that we can be better in the future than we were in the past. At least that’s what the prophet Isaiah told the captive nation of Israel—that such would be their future, and by extension ours here in the United States. A hope of a better future is ours if we can set aside what might well be our own captivity to violence, hatred, suspicion, injustice and despair, and discover how to speak tenderly to one another.