What to Do When You're Insulted in Public


"When He was reviled, He did not revile back; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but He entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23).

Public speakers and entertainers know hecklers can be their best friend. By their response to someone interrupting and insulting, a speaker can win over an audience. That is such a given that some comedians have been known to pay hecklers to attend their performances and ply their trade.

In his book Mud Hen in a Peacock Parade: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven, retired seminary professor Dan R. Crawford tells of a put-down he received in the most public of gatherings.

As the youthful campus minister for the Baptists on the campus of the University of Texas, he was informed one day that at this year's graduation exercises, it was "the Baptists' turn" to pray the invocation and benediction. So Dan got the job.

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That day, as the crowd gathered on the mall in front of the University tower and the about-to-be graduates marched in, Dan noticed the words of John 8:32 inscribed in stone over the door: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." In the processional, Dan marched between the president of the university and the guest speaker, who was also the president of a famous institution. (He was given the title for his book that day when a friend commented on how plain he looked in his black, unadorned robe amid the gaily decorated stars of academia in their robes of many colors.)

In his invocation, Dan "quoted the verse inscribed over the door and thanked God for the pursuit of truth, in which the university was engaged and also the truth that sets us free." A few minutes later, the guest speaker, the distinguished president of an august institution, said, "Now I must correct the Rev. Mr. Crawford from his prayer earlier. Truth is relative. It is not embodied in any person."

Dan notes, "Most were asleep when he made this bold statement, but he sure got my attention." Then, he adds, "I stopped worrying when I remembered I was also responsible for the benediction." (Alas, he does not tell us what he said in the benediction. So—I texted him to ask. His response at the end of this.)

A public comeuppance. Ever get one of those?

I hope you do. And I hope it's as out of place and as mean-spirited as the one my friend Dan Crawford received that day. If it is, if you are unfairly attacked by someone misusing his/her position of trust before a large audience, here are some observations on your response.

One. Choice.

If it does happen. If someone in a public forum shows himself to be a jerk (I'm sorry, but that's the only decent word that fits here) and pulls the kind of stunt the commencement speaker did that day, then you have a choice.

You can either use the benediction (if you happen to be praying such) to respond and set the speaker in his place (hey, you have the last word), or you can be the hero of the hour.

Two. Class.

The classy thing for you to do when someone tries to embarrass you (or set you straight or bring you down) in public is to sit quietly and show no response.

Three. Confirm.

The worst thing—the absolutely worst thing you can do—is to respond in kind, to give as good as you received. That would be childish and immature, and all it would do is confirm in the minds of the onlookers that the putdown was correct.

Four. Convert.

You are not going to make a convert of the offending speaker, and that is not your goal. However, there were hundreds of listeners still awake in that commencement crowd of several thousand that day in Austin, and they are the ones Dan Crawford could win over, if he did the right thing.

Five. Course.

The right thing is not to defend and not to attack. Just stay the course. Be yourself, show some class and you will impress the right-thinking people in the audience who were horrified that the speaker would take advantage of you in that way.

The Lord Jesus was on trial. People were hurling lies at him. "... many false witnesses came forward ... At last two false witnesses came forward and said, 'This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days."' Then the high priest stood up and said to Him, 'Do you answer nothing? What is it these men testify against you?"' But Jesus remained silent" (Matt. 26:59-63).

Jesus kept silent. When people were accusing and taunting Him on the cross, jeering at Him and spitting upon Him, the Lord prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34a).

Back to my friend Dr. Dan Crawford. "What did you actually pray that day"" I asked. He responded:

In my younger, less politically correct years, I prayed in the benediction, "Thank you, Lord, for being the truth at the end of graduation, even as you were at the beginning, in spite of what some people think."

Students applauded, even in the midst of my prayer. It was, however, a rather solemn recessional, as I walked between the commencement speaker and the president of UT.

When I asked, "Looking back, what do you wish you had said, if anything different?"

He responded, "Oh, had I been older and wiser, I might have toned it down a little, but I think I would stick with the general rebuttal. After all, I was right, even if the speaker was the president of another university in the state, one known for its academic standing and poor football teams."

We laughed, but he refused to name the institution.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.

This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.

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