The eternal consequences of bluffing it

Boris Johnson has waded into fresh controversy. He, somewhat unhelpfully, announced that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a British woman currently imprisoned in Iran – was there ‘teaching journalism’. Officially, according to her defence, she was there on holiday.

What possible harm could that do, I hear you cry? Well, in Iran, ‘teaching journalism’ is typically deemed to be training in ‘propaganda against the regime’. Ah, but she’s already in prison. This surely wouldn’t make things worse, would it? Except Mr Johnson’s comments were cited against her as she was threatened with an extension on her current sentence.

Here is Mr Johnson’s clarifying comments:

Interesting that he recognises his ‘comments could have been clearer’ rather than simply admitting he has made a serious error with his words and has potentially extended someone’s almost certainly illegal detention. Considering the Foreign Secretary has written extensively on Churchill, one might assume he is aware of the phrase ‘loose lips sink ships’. Whoops indeed!

This episode is a potent reminder to those of us in pastoral ministry that we need to be careful with our words. There is a reason why teachers will be judged more harshly (Jam 3:1). Our words have the potential to do great damage; even greater harm than an increased sentence in an Iranian prison (if the Iranians in my church are any measure, that is of itself more than a little terrifying).

Those entrusted with teaching responsibilities can lead whole congregations astray with their words. The consequences of their words can be eternally devastating. There is the potential to misrepresent the gospel itself; doctrinal impurity; the twin dangers of antinomianism and legalism; pitfalls abound.

The problem with Boris Johnson-esque bluster is that it tends to have serious consequences when we are caught out. We can end up turning people away from the gospel altogether and leading them away from Christ. It is a timely reminder that words matter and are not inconsequential.

Pastor, I hope you have prepared well for Sunday.