We love a good controversy. Red cups are apparently the controversy of the day. Remember that time the whole world started talking about a dress? Take a look here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. What made that dress so provocative in the conversations of the internet world was the fight over my truth versus your truth. Could anyone be right? One article concluded that the dress is no color because color itself is a secondary quality – completely experiential. That same article seemed to lump religion into that category of experiential subjectivity.
My point in writing today is not to convince you of the color of the dress. My perspective is irrelevant in light of the creator’s testimony. J. D. Harrison recognized this and interviewed the designer of the dress, Peter Christodoulou, in this article. What did Christodoulou say about the color of the dress? It’s blue. There is an authority, the creator of the dress, and the authority has testified to the fact that he made the dress from pigmented fragment which is generally and traditionally recognized as blue. To argue otherwise with this information available hints toward boredom, belligerence, pride or a very likely combination of all three.
Eventually people stop caring about the color of a cup or a dress, but they remember how you conveyed your convictions on the issue. One article reported that 16 couples had ended their relationships over the color of the dress. What a ridiculous result considering the relevance of the dissension in the first place. Still, the question remains: Can one stand firm in conviction on a topic much weightier and, perhaps, more complex than the color of a dress without severing relationships in the process?
At this point, you might be thinking of interactions that you’ve had with me as I stood for things that I believed to be true. You might be thinking, “I can’t believe this guy is writing this article.” Ok, I’ll admit – this is a huge area of opportunity for me, which is business speak for failure territory. You see, I have truly believed, and still do in times of weakness, that if I could just rephrase or perhaps double down on an argument that I have found to be convincing, then the other party will tuck tail and admit defeat. Therein lies the problem – it’s not a battle. It’s not a game. Most of the truth claims on which I stand are deeply personal, relational, and socially controversial. I have hurt relationships because of public comments I have made. How can I do better? How can you do better?
It would seem that the answer to these questions for many is that all truth claims are prideful by nature and should be avoided at all costs (which is so convincing an answer for those who have arrived at this point that the answer becomes a truth claim in itself). The answer for others is to share all of your thoughts with everyone at all times as if each is the only reasonable or morally acceptable answer while shunning or publicly humiliating all who disagree. These might say, “I’m only offensive because you’re offended. This sounds like a you problem.” These two answers cover the spectrum that Paul addressed in his letter to the church at Ephesus (4:15) when he promoted “speaking the truth in love.”
If one decides not to speak truth under the guise of love, then he is not truly loving. Imagine a foreign aid worker who has worked first hand with children who are starving. Would you expect her to petition for funds and volunteers in order to alleviate childhood hunger? Is the loving thing to tell no one because others may not believe that this hunger is their problem or because they may not have the funds to help? Conversely, if one decides to speak the truth with no regard for empathy or relationship, then the proclamation is devoid of love. Rather than saying nothing, the newly informed advocate for child nourishment might stand in the steakhouse screaming at customers to abandon their child-starving ways. Is this a better approach than saying nothing?
Truth exists. For Christians to call compassionately for the salvation of others, we must be willing to acknowledge the sins for which salvation is necessary. The creator has spoken through the Bible. There is an authority from which to make claims. Still, the foundation of the conversation must be one of empathetic love. As those who live in grace, cry out with grace. As those who live forgiven, cry out for repentance. As those who have been loved, love. The balance is emotionally difficult and fraught with many instances of failure, but should not be abandoned. We must love enough to speak truth. We must speak truth in love.