By DANNY MINTON
It was April 6, 1945, just off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. The U.S. naval forces were preparing for an eventual attack on the island with many of the U.S. fleet off the shores. One of those ships was the USS North Carolina, the ship which my dad served on during the last few years of WWII.
On this particular day, the fleet faced attack while protecting a carrier. A “Kamakazi” had honed in on the fleet, and all ships began to fire at the incoming plane. My dad’s best friend, Carl, decided that he wanted to get into the action so headed to director #5 that housed the 5-inch guns. My dad, who worked with the 16-inch gun radar, left his lookout post and headed to his battle station.
Within seconds of the approaching “Kamakazi,” with the aircraft firing low, a nearby U.S. ship fired directly into the North Carolina, striking director #5, killing Carl and two others. The shrapnel from the explosion scattered in the air, striking my dad in the leg as he made his way to his battle station below deck. Those injured and killed that day were the victims of the carelessness of their countrymen, the results of “friendly fire.”
It’s unfortunate, but church life is full of friendly fire. People say things that hurt others or come across in such a way that someone feels hurt or threatened. We all do it from time to time, often not even realizing how we may be coming across to others.
A comment comes across as criticism; words meant to be constructive are often misconstrued and taken as negative or hurtful. People get their feelings hurt over simple things that are said thoughtlessly or carelessly. Things are said with good intention but would have been better off just kept to ourselves. These are not hateful words or sayings, but words spoken without thinking of the impact they may cause.
These are “Friendly Fire” words, and although we mean well, there is damage to those in the way. The Bible tells us to be “slow to speak,” a wise statement that we need to heed. Saying things on the spur of the moment, answering emails too quickly and giving your 2 cents worth at the drop of a hat can lead to hurt feelings and misunderstanding.
It’s important to teach people that what we say and how we say it has just as much effect on being Jesus as how we act. Christianity is a total package of action and words. On the other hand, it is also important to “listen” and make sure that we understand where the person is coming from when they speak to us. Are we hearing what they are saying or putting ourselves in the position to be hurt? Carl should not have been in director #5. He was killed by not being where he was supposed to be. He put himself in that place. Likewise, if we are not careful in how we listen we too can end up being vulnerable to being hurt.
An estimated 21 percent of WWII casualties (dead and injured) were the result of “Friendly Fire.” I wonder what percent of hurt feelings, arguments and church issues are caused by a careless or misunderstood word? It may be “Friendly Fire,” but friendly or not it is still deadly.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.–Ephesians 4:29
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ