Monday, 11 January 2010

Speaking the truth in love

I’ve been made to think in recent times about what it means for a Christian to be committed to ‘speaking the truth in love’ to other Christians, whether individuals or groups. 

Often it seems to me that, in the name of ‘godliness’, we chicken out truth telling. No doubt there a grain of sensitivity behind all this: after all, we don’t want to cause others unnecessary pain through our blabbering. On other occasions, we are aware that a particular audience just doesn’t need to hear our gripes and pains. But, looking at my heart, I know that often I fail to tell the truth to others because of my ‘fear of man’.

This fear can even be institutionalised in some Christian circles. We believe that there are certain things that we just can’t say. There is an unwritten code which dictates that talking about finding situations (or people) difficult should be not done, or only alluded to, even when we believe that we have been objectively wronged. I guess I’m not the only person to have seen this lead to an ‘elephant in the room’ syndrome where, for example, certain individuals or churches or organisations aren’t mentioned by name – although everyone on the inside knows exactly who or what is being talked about.

I wonder whether, in situations like this, any good comes at all from this approach. The veneer of words merely used to obscure painful realities rarely does anything positive. On the other hand, it can lead to cynicism, caricature and further suspicion. Motives are analysed and re-analysed – and the issue at hand remains unresolved. All in all, hardly a great model for loving others.

What is the answer? Surely it is to speak with humble honesty. I need to consider who I need to speak to about the problem, and likewise those I don’t need to speak to (for instance, it may be a matter for church elders, but not the broader church membership as a whole). I need to be certain of my acceptance by God (whether I am right or wrong), which frees me from being driven to be approved by others. I need to admit that, because of my sin and fallibility, I may be wrong and uncertain in my judgements. I need to admit that I might be part of the problem. I may need to admit to myself my confusion and confess that I don’t know the way forward. And then I speak, with graciousness and humility, to those who need to know, and don’t speak to those who don’t need to know, giving the situation time and prayer to change.

The cynicism which goes with 'the elephant in the room' is ugly and leads to a lack of truth and love between believers. But, with God’s help, we can surely speak honestly and specifically, leading to real change.