CHARLESTON, S.C. (ABP) — For Mitch Carnell, the old adage — “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything” — doesn’t go far enough. He wants people in churches this Sunday to actually say something nice.The church Carnell attends, the historic First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C., is celebrating June 7 as its third annual Say Something Nice Sunday. The idea, based on a booklet Carnell wrote a few years ago, is for Christians to set aside for one day the conflict and discord that characterizes many churches and denominations and speak only words of encouragement and love.Carnell, a certified/licensed speech-language pathologist who leads workshops for businesses on improving communications and customer relations, came up with the idea after volunteering at the inner-city middle school where his wife was teaching in 2005. Helping students with their writing skills, he was struck by pervasive negativity among both students and teachers.

Say Something Nice Sunday, observed the first Sunday in June, is brainchild of Mitch Carnell, a member of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C.

Wanting to do something about it, he wrote a booklet titled Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter that he hoped would be used in public and private schools. That didn’t happen, but the city of North Charleston liked the book and bought copies for all its employees. The mayor of North Charleston declared June 1, 2006, the first Say Something Nice Day.

Seeing many Christian denominations at the same time on the brink of splintering over harsh rhetoric, Carnell talked to his pastor, Marshall Blalock, about the idea of having a Say Something Nice Sunday in churches. Blalock embraced the idea enthusiastically. From there it spread to Charleston Baptist Association and on to the South Carolina Baptist Convention, which adopted a resolution on “Unity in the Body” in 2007.

The Charleston Atlantic Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) joined the effort, along with several Methodist and Episcopal churches. This year, Carnell said, the Catholic Diocese of South Carolina and the South Carolina Christian Action Council have joined.

On June 3 Carnell asked the Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee to draft a resolution encouraging churches “to designate the first Sunday in June of each year to emphasize Christ-like conversation.”

“The dream is to make it national,” Carnell said.

The First Baptist Church website offers resources for observing Say Something Nice Sunday. Suggestions include using it as an opportunity to recognize volunteers or honor church staff.

“We often forget how important a word of encouragement can be,” the website says. “The right word at the right time can work miracles.”

As a business consultant, Carnell has seen, up close, the power of words. In a 2006 newspaper article, he encouraged people to start the day by saying something nice to the first person they see because it can set the tone for the entire day.

“If the first person you meet in your day says something nice to you, you get a smile on your face,” he explained. “If the person says something ugly, you start out on a bad foot.”

Say Something Nice Sunday has been endorsed by Southern Baptist leaders including former Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page and Jim Austin, current executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

The idea also has its critics, who say it waters down the gospel.

Donald Hank, a conservative activist and contributing columnist to WorldNetDaily.com, ridiculed the idea by comparing it to someone saying Adolf Hitler liked his dog, so he mustn’t have been all bad.

James Smith, editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, said in a 2008 editorial he hoped Say Something Nice Sunday wouldn’t spread to Florida and the Southern Baptist Convention, because churches using it might unwittingly be promoting a “Gospel Free Sunday” instead.

“A faithful pastor cannot preach the gospel to unbelievers, let alone exhort and, dare I say, rebuke, backslidden and unregenerate church members, while satisfying a politically correct standard of niceness,” Smith said. “This is the sort of niceness we could do with less of in our churches and nation.”

Undaunted by critics, Carnell said Say Something Nice Sunday isn’t about being “politically correct.” He believes it is consistent with words in the covenant of First Baptist Church in Charleston — “we will be careful to conduct ourselves with uprightness and integrity, and in a peaceful and friendly manner, toward mankind in general, and toward Christians of all descriptions, in particular” — that were adopted in 1791.