“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I used to say these words, as I’m sure others have or have even repeated to children, when words were weaponized to do harm. It’s a catchy phrase, but it’s simply not true. Words can hurt and more, they can give people permission to hurt. Our language, the words we choose to use when speaking about one another, matters so much because words can hurt so much.

As a pastor, I believe that it is close to impossible for a human being to hate another human being without something first reducing (or dehumanizing) that person into a one-dimensional, hateable caricature.  Words, malicious and vile, are a quick and effective way of dehumanizing. In this way, it’s hard to hate someone when you know the name of their dog (when you can relate to them as a person) but it’s easy to hate them when you call them a dog.

At UT we have experienced the grave effects of malicious words that are weaponized and used to veil the beautiful complexity of children of God into something easy to hate. Racist words on Snapchat (and then amplified on Twitter), antisemitic words and symbols painted on our beloved Rock, homophobic words painted on and hurled through the window of the Pride Center, all words that seek to flatten the beauty that God created in each person and make it easier to hate. Words like this hurt, they hurt those who they seek to dehumanize and they hurt the wider neighborhood that is our campus community.

At UKirk, we grieve with the university community when we hear and read such words. They are wrong. They are hurtful. They are sinful. We believe that dehumanizing words are an affront to what God intends for the world, a world in which all people are able to see themselves as neighbors and fellow children of God. We hope that you will join us as we seek to expose the sin that is dehumanization and seek to be reconciling partners on campus. I hope that we can be more considerate and thoughtful about the words we use to describe others, choosing words that highlight beauty and diversity rather than tear down. After all, I believe that one of our main roles as God-breathed human beings is to learn how to increasingly see other God-breathed humans as neighbors to be loved rather than caricatures to be feared and hated.Words matter, friends. I hope that each of us will continue to expose the sin that is dehumanizing language and choose words that help us see the mark of God in our neighbors as we travel this amazing and terrifying journey called life.

Your neighbor,

Rev. Andy Morgan
Campus Minister
UKirk at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville