Whether on my blog, after worship, in meetings, or during casual conversations, I always try to encourage those around me to speak with honesty and openness. I am by no means saying that such a task is easy or that I have mastered it; I too struggle with it, just as everyone else. Such a practice is something that we are constantly growing in—never perfecting it. Yet, with each step we take in honest and open speech we grow in our relationships with others and God. Hearing those around me speak their thoughts and feelings openly in an honest nature allows for me to learn and grow with them. Truth telling, empathy for others, and maturity in one’s faith are a few of the many gifts that grow out of this type of communication.
Unfortunately, the church has not always advocated for open and honest speech. History reminds us of countless times when people were reprimanded, excommunicated, and even murdered when their honesty and openness was felt as threatening by the church and its leaders. In January 1521, Martin Luther, himself, was excommunicated by Pope Leo X for not recanting his fiery writings against the corrupt actions of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church during that time. At other times—even to this day in some varying denominations—the church has given the appearance of encouraging honesty and openness, but when those with differing views speak up they are condemned and censored for diverging from the established orthodoxy. Liberation theologians are more recent examples of those who—in attempting to speak honest and relevant gospel-centered words in their context—were censored by the larger church. Far too many people have been pushed away from the church and denominations formed out of such divisiveness—further fracturing the one Body of Christ. The church as a whole suffers when honesty and openness are sacrificed.
The church is not a place of unquestionable conformity monitored by fear mongering. We are not expected to be uniform in all of our beliefs. Salvation is not found in adherence to specific doctrinal stances. People differ in their thoughts and beliefs—whether it is complex like politics or religion, or something else appearing far simpler. Within hours of moving to the Midwest for seminary, I was quickly taught that people also differ in their speech and practices—from the way a person contracts the words “you” and “all” to something as miniscule as which shoe you put on first: right or left. These differences in both belief and expression make the church a beautiful tapestry of variety. This is yet another reason why now is a good time to be the church.
Called to live and serve in community, I believe honesty and openness (not fear and silence) are crucial in cultivating life-giving community. Jesus’ own community of disciples did not agree on everything. Many times we hear them either disagreeing amongst themselves or being at odds with the things Jesus said or did. Yet, trusting their leader, Jesus, this group of followers was able to continue in their mission. Trust in Christ binds us together far beyond our differences. In Ephesians 4:15 we hear the Apostle Paul talk about “speaking the truth in love.” This call to maturity for the sake of unity is many times “easier said than done” (no pun intended). Sometimes we are unable and other times simply unwilling, to BOTH: “speak the truth” and do so “in love.” We can feel like we must choose one—whichever is superior: truth or love. Occasionally, we find ourselves in ethical dilemmas—great or small—that do not allow for both. In these times we are pressed with the question: Truth or Love? Some people choose to speak in love (or perhaps more appropriately: kindness), at the expense of truth, in hopes of saving face and not hurting someone’s feelings. Others go with truth, at the expense of love, in hopes of being genuine to themselves and others. Neither approach is better than the other—both have their gifts and flaws.
Daily we are faced with the question of how we will speak and respond to others. The choice is always ours to make. Will we come to the conversation (or lack thereof) with honesty and openness, or with fear and silence? Will we bring our thoughts and feelings forward for the sake of learning and growth? Will we, as a community, receive whatever is spoken, or shun and retaliate? Finally, are we willing to try and speak “the truth in love” as the Apostle suggests, for the sake of the larger Body of Christ? These are questions we must ask ourselves—questions we answer one way or another. Forgiven, made new, and claimed as a child of God by the power of the Holy Spirit in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, how will YOU respond?