Put God first in everything you do

In a public speaking class I teach, I often use famous speeches to demonstrate the power of the spoken word to students. At the top of my list is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the March on Washington in 1963. Then, there’s John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address and Winston Churchill’s “This Was Their Finest Hour” speech.

I also use a commencement address delivered by actor Denzel Washington at Dillard University in 2016. His message to the graduating class is pretty straightforward: “Put God first. Put God first in everything you do.” It’s one of the most inspiring speeches you’ll ever hear in an era when commencement addresses are notorious for being bland and boring.

The last time we listened to the Denzel Washington address, one student tracked down a transcript to share with the class. (To hear the speech, go to

The problem was that God’s name had been deleted throughout the text and replaced by asterisks. Is the name of God so offensive that it has to be censored by high-tech digital vigilantes, who are working tirelessly to make the world safe and secular for the rest of us?

In modern America, it’s dicey to mention God in public, especially on college campuses or in the workplace. We live in Orwellian times when it’s perfectly acceptable to use foul language and say offensive things, but mentioning God can get you in trouble with the thought police, and before you know it, you’ll be put under surveillance. There’s no free speech if you have to look over your shoulder every time you mention God.

Imagine for a moment that you’re looking down on this sorry planet—somewhat like God, who is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of this piece of rock and its inhabitants. Now, imagine you see countless dimwits who are arguing about why it’s offensive to say “God” because…because why? Because it might anger an atheist? Because a politician or lawyer or journalist or professor says it violates the separation of Church and State? Or because it might “trigger” some unbelievers to cover their ears and run through the streets screaming in terror?

Our parents used to say there were three topics that polite people don’t bring up in conversation—religion, sex and politics. Someone didn’t get that memo because all you ever hear about nowadays is politics and sex. Religion is the only topic that’s verboten.

A friend of mine recently discussed career opportunities with a student I knew, and they had a Zoom session because of COVID. As it turned out, the young woman, who is from a devout Catholic family, was sitting beneath a crucifix. My friend spotted it and cautioned the young woman about the importance of having a “neutral background” during teleconference interviews. Why? Because people might be offended by Christ on the cross and employers don’t want to hire someone who’s “too religious,” someone who might create problems for the Human Resources department by evangelizing or—heaven help us—mentioning God.

Recently, I had a telehealth session with a doctor who asked me what I do to reduce stress. “I exercise. I meditate. I do some awkward yoga poses,” I responded. “And I…pray.”

There was an awkward silence. That “pray” idea went over like a lead balloon. The doctor, who had been nodding her head in agreement with everything I said, stopped nodding when I mentioned prayer. It would have been more socially acceptable if I had replied, “I use recreational marijuana.” And I wasn’t sitting under a crucifix.

There’s a war being waged and many of us are trying to ignore it. It’s a war between people who want to remove God from society and those who should stand up for God every chance they get. Each of us has to ask, “Which side am I on?” There’s no sitting on the sidelines anymore.

Never forget what Jesus said: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my Father in heaven.” There’s a lesson in those words for all of us who claim to be Christians.

The time has come, as Denzel Washington said, to “Put God first. Put God first in everything you do.” And don’t be afraid to tell people.