Speaking Truth in Love: A Call to Christian Humility and Civility
I am concerned with the lack of love with which Christians, or professing Christians, so often seem to speak. In Scripture we are repeatedly told to speak truth, but while that we speak truth is important, how we speak it is just as important. This is the part which we as Christian leaders often neglect when we teach our youth to be committed to truth and speak up and speak out without shame for what they believe. Consequently, we have discerning young people, who can identify error, and will be bold in speaking up, but not speaking in love. They will then spew, in their spoken and written communication, obscenities, malice and hate all in the name of Christ and truth! We cannot neglect this matter, for to do so is to fail to teach what it means to speak truth and it shows a lack of understanding of what it means to grow into maturity in Christ. Let me give you the passage out of which I am working here.
Until we all come to the unity of the faith . . . to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, . . . but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him, Christ-Who is the Head, in all things” – Ephesians 4:13-15
Unity in faith is a good thing, growing in our understanding of Christian truth so as not to be easily drawn away into false doctrine is a good thing, but as good as these are, we cannot claim to be anywhere near maturity in Christ unless we are doing so “in love.” I will go far as to say that if we do not speak the truth in love we are WRONG and disobedient to the Lord, no matter how much our words conform to His Truth.
Now here is why this is on my mind.
In the last year (2011), in Cranston, Rhode Island, a self-professed atheist student, Jessica Ahlquist, acted on her convictions to get a prayer banner removed from the walls of her high school which calls on “Our Heavenly Father” to bless the school. She said this verbiage makes her feel excluded at school because, “I am an atheist, I don’t believe in a heavenly Father and I wouldn’t like to see that posted on a wall in my school.” The ACLU, of course, rushed to her aid and helped her win her case. As of January, 2012, the banner has been ordered to be removed. This, of course, set off a firestorm and upset many people who are “Christians,” or who were glad the prayer was posted in their school and saw no harm in it. The atheist student, however, took the matter to court and the ruling was for the school to take it down. You can read about the case and watch videos here http://www.theblaze.com/stories/fed-judge-sides-with-teen-atheist-orders-public-school-to-remove-prayer-mural/
What we are seeing is a battle of worldviews and, I admit, a misinterpretation of the original intent of our nation’s first amendment. There are non-theists and even anti-theists, who want not just freedom “of” religion in our country, but freedom “from” religion, vying for a completely secular public space where there is no mention of deities or supernatural forces; which includes the elimination of “In God We Trust” from our money. The secularist desires that we focus on the here and now, what we have in “This world” (the root meaning of “secular”) and not look to any divine guidance in human affairs because it is meaningless or at best irrelevant. This, of course, is not at all what our founding fathers were seeking when they wrote those ten famous words; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That discussion, however, I may save for another post, because to appreciate these ten words, we have to consider the historical background of the entire amendment, and what Thomas Jefferson meant, several years later in referring to it, by his metaphor concerning “a wall of separation.” For those interested in this whole matter, I recommend that you read, Ten Tortured Words by Stephen Mansfield.
So in this particular post my issue is not with the atheist student, or the ACLU or the public officials who sided with her and had the banner removed, or the gross misinterpretation of the first amendment; my concern is with how the Christian, or professing Christian, students handled themselves once the prayer was removed; in short, it was not loving at all.
This became grievously clear to me when reading the blog written by atheist Jen McCreight, posted on January 13, 2012, which she wrote after the ruling, and more importantly the response by students opposed to Ahlquist. McCreight sarcastically entitled her blog, “That Christian Compassion.” Ouch!
In it she observes,
“Jessica Ahlquist may have won her legal battle to remove an unconstitutional prayer banner from her public school, but that doesn’t mean she can finally resume her everyday life. No, now she’s receiving horrible comments from fellow classmates, community members, and other angry Christians who are very, very offended . . .”
There’s the general anti-atheist remarks:
- “May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”
- “yeah, well i want the immediate removal of all atheists from the school, how about that?”
- “Jessica Ahlquist may have won her case, but she’s going straight to hell. #Godovereverything”
- “I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist f**k #TeamJesus”
And worse, the threats:
- “U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”
- “F**k Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”
- “definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”
- “Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #f-thatho”
- “literally that b**ch is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because shes knows someone will jump her #ahaha”
- “”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”
- “Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some s**t thrown at her”
- “I want to punch the girl in the face that made west take down the school prayer… #Honestly”
- “hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”
- “When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”
- “gods going to f**k your ass with that banner you scumbag”
- “I found it, what a little b**ch lol I wanna snuff her”
- “if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the s**t out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”
- “lol I wanna stick that b**ch lol”
- “nail her to a cross”
- “We can make so many jokes about this dumb b**ch, but who cares #thatb**chisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”
The full list can be found here. http://jesusfetusfajitafishsticks.blogspot.com/2012/01/ahlquist-screenshots-if-by-christian.html
McCrieght then states,
“I feel ill after typing these up. . . Not only does this make the threats toward Jessica very real, but it just depresses me. How are teenagers so full of violence and hatred?”
“Oh right. Religious brainwashing by their families and communities.”
You can read McCreight’s full, uncensored blog and follow her links here – http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/01/that-christian-compassion/
I am sorry if the list above offended you, but you, whether you are a Christian youth or a Christian parent, or leader need to see it, and I hope you are as appalled as I am with this outflow of utter meanness and hatred pouring from alleged Christians. I, along with the atheist blogger, McCreight “feel ill” after reading these horrific comments. To be honest, I am offended more at these responses than the ruling! How can anyone who names the name of Christ feel comfortable with such degradation of a fellow human being created in God’s image (which Jessica is, whether she believes or acknowledges it or not)? I have to point out the greatest irony of all this which is that these malicious posts of students objecting to having the prayer removed demonstrate that the prayer itself, which called on the “Heavenly Father” to help them “grow morally [and] be kind to our classmates,” seems to have meant nothing to them; having little to no effect in their lives. What, really, are they fighting for? Did they ever really pray it, or just once meditate through it? What’s the point in fighting for something that is obviously quite meaningless to you?
I realize that McCreight listed only negative comments in her blog, and there may be positive ones. I also realize that the ones professing Christianity may not really be Christians at all, but is it possible that some were? I know, personally, that I have heard genuine Christians seeking to follow Christ be less than Christ-like in their speech, especially toward those whom they consider liberals, secularists and unbelievers.
For sake of argument, let’s say that some were genuine Christian young people who posted those hateful comments. Not only is it inconsistent with the prayer itself, it is completely incompatible with a Christian posture in society. I do not understand where our young people are getting the notion that such malicious and obscene language is acceptable. McCreight talks about “religious brainwashing by their families and communities.” Perhaps she is correct, but I think more to the point is the lack of solid and deliberate biblical instruction on this matter of speaking the truth “in love” from parents and leaders.
McCreight mockingly and sarcastically entitles her post “That Christian Compassion” because she is right, we are showing anything but. A love for Jesus and truth does not justify unloving speech toward our fellow humans. Again, I say; that we speak the truth is important, but how we speak it is JUST AS EQUALLY important. It is not optional, but mandatory, and this kind of spewing is not consistent with being truly “Christian,” which means “belonging to Christ.”
For those who claim to belong to Christ, I want to place before you, and comment on, several biblical passages in which we are admonished in various ways to “speak the truth in love.”
Of course, there is the Ephesians 4:15 passage, perhaps the most famous for this principle, which says we are to “speak the truth in love.”
In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Paul instructs his protégé, Timothy. Here we see that the Lord’s servant MUST NOT be quarrelsome, BUT in sharp contrast have opposite qualities. He says,
24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,
In Titus 3:1-5a Paul instructs the following. Notice that while Titus is the leader receiving the letter, he is told to “Remind” the people of his church (thus all Christians), certain things.
1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us,
In Colossians 4:15 Paul tells these Christians:
5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside (non-believers), redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Emphasis Added)
Peter tells the persecuted believers to whom he is writing, in 1 Peter 3:15
15 But sanctify the Lord Godin your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
Finally, James instructs us not to be verbally abusive towards our fellow humans because humans are created in God’s likeness. James says in James 3:9-10,
9 With [the tongue] we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude [likeness] of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
Let’s make several observations about these passages:
First, we should realize that every one of them were written to Christians living as minorities in a world of paganism; persecuted minorities with no “inalienable” rights. Christians were minorities and had no Declaration of Independence, Constitution or First Amendment to think about, let alone appeal to! This is not to say that we should lay down flat and let the secularists have their way for truth demands that we make sure the First Amendment is properly understood and taught. But our country is still under more Christian influence than the Greco-Roman world in which the Apostles moved and ministered (and effectively so, I might add). We seem to think that the Gospel will die if the US becomes a secular state. Whatever happened to, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”? If you think about it, the first church’s days were more dark, anti-Christian, and far more dangerous than our own. (By “our” I mean we in the U.S., for there are plenty of Christians experiencing horrendous opposition, persecution and death in other countries as you read this). Yes, Paul would appeal to his Roman citizenship to get some legal leverage, and we should use the laws in place to our advantage to continue to freely practice our faith, and publicly express it, and even fight for our rights (whatever they happen to be), but this does not need to, nor should, be with hatred and malice. Based on the passages above, which is God’s authoritative word to us, we are, as believers, to:
(From 2 Timothy 2:24-25)
- Refrain from quarreling (Lit. – be non-combative; elsewhere, Paul tells us that the weapons of our warfare are NOT physical, but spiritual; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
- Be gentle to all (Lit. – affable or pleasantly easy to approach and talk to, friendly, cordial; showing warmth and friendliness to ALL, not those we like or agree with. Remember that our Master told us to “love your enemies.”)
- Patient (Lit. – patiently enduring evil, patient with wrong-doing; we have to endure, not necessarily seek to eliminate, what we consider wrong or evil to some extent, besides, if we are going to overcome evil, Paul tells us to do so with “good” by which he means acts of kindeness to those who persecute us – Romans 12:1–21)
- Be humble/meek (have a mildness, not madness, of disposition)
(From Titus 3:1-5)
- Be subject/obedient to rulers and authorities (We are not generally to be lawbreakers, even if we might think it is for a good cause. We should, as a rule, operate within the bounds of the law. There is a limit, of course, if our authorities should demand that we explicitly disobey God; then we must “obey God rather than man” but it is generally the case that our authorities do not ask this and we must obey them).
- Be ready to do good (Doing good means to be, as much as possible, a benefit and blessing to others, especially those in opposition – again, refer to Romans 12:17-21)
- Refrain from speaking evil of anyone (Lit. – blaspheme; yes, we can blaspheme fellow humans, because humans are created in God’s image. The implication here and more so in James 3 (see below) is that blaspheming humans is equivalent to disrespecting God).
- Be peaceable (Lit. – to refrain from brawling and contention)
- Be gentle (Lit. – moderate, equitable, civil)
- Be humble/meek toward all people (same as above – mildness of disposition)
Notice in this passage WHY we are to take this posture in our interactions with all people, especially those who do not know Christ; because we remember where we came from and what we are still capable of. We did not save ourselves through our own goodness, for we have none. God, in His rich mercy through Christ gave us, who deserve nothing, His wonderful salvation. Christians forget this too frequently and take a posture toward the world as though we are better than them. We are not better, we are only better off, and that is not because we deserve it. We are failing to show them the real difference that being Christ’s follower makes in our character.
(From Colossians 4:15)
- Our speech (notice speech) should be “with grace, seasoned with salt.” This means that our words, particularly towards those “outside” the faith, should not be hateful or hurtful, but filled with “grace” (unmerited kindness) and “seasoned with salt.” We should be kind, even when not receiving kindness, and we should use speech that makes people thirsty (like salty food does), giving them something to think about in a non-threatening manner, guiding them toward the truth by using reasoned argumentation, not emotional hate-speech (which will never work anyway). With the tools of reason and logic we should seek to be persuasive, and we will not be persuasive as long as we are abrasive.
(From 1 Peter 3:15)
Peter tells his audience, who are persecuted and oppressed Christian minorities scattered around Asia Minor, that in this context we should be:
- “Ready to give a defense to anyone who asks a reason for the hope you have.” We as Christians like this part, and emphasize it. This is our stock verse to call believers to “defend” the faith! But let’s remember, ours is a message of HOPE not HATE. We often come across in our defense as too hateful, rather than hopeful, I’m afraid. Remember, there is no hope, no real hope, for the atheist (Ephesians 2:12 – the word “without god” is literally a-theos – or atheist). Christianity offers hope, and we should joyfully live like we have it, especially when persecuted. Peter says earlier in the same letter that this is a “living hope” for eternal life and reward because of Jesus’ resurrection. Part of our defense for our hope is to clearly and logically argue the truth of the resurrection. If Christ is truly raised from death, He is the Savior and Lord of the world; He alone is the world’s ultimate and only hope.
Notice that Peter does not stop there, but tells us how to give the defense, “in meekness and fear.” Again I say, speaking and defending the truth is NOT enough. HOW we speak it is just as important. If we are not going to speak the truth in love to those who oppose God, we may as well just shut up!
- Meekness/humility (we saw this before in Paul’s words above, the meaning is the same here)
- Fear (meaning in this case respect toward God and even others to whom we speak; humans are created in God’s image, even if they do not acknowledge or believe it, and we must show them due respect in our speech. James says this in 3:8-13, as stated earlier. Reverence for God is demonstrated in respect toward those created in His image.
(From James 3:9-10)
- It seems to be James’ main point that we must keep constant watch on our tongues (what we say and how we say it) because of our inclination towards evil, hurtful. bad, speech; it comes so easily, and must be reigned in like a wild stallion.
- He gives the example that we will praise God with our tongues, and then, turn around a moment later, and with that same tongue, verbally abuse His image in people.
- He says these things “ought not to be” which is clear moral instruction. Our praise of God, and even our fight for Truth, is meaningless when we speak in an unloving – that is a hateful, spiteful, malicious ways, even to those who mock and deny Him.
As you consider these passages of authoritative instruction to those who call Jesus their Lord, there is NO WAY that the speech coming from supposed Christians and directed at Jessica Ahlquist can be justified; absolutely NO WAY. When we use such hateful, hurtful, threatening speech, whether we are talking or writing, because someone is attacking our beliefs, we are very far afield of those beliefs. Our beliefs do not merely supply us with content for our creed, but with characteristics for our conduct, and communication. If we say we believe the Gospel and Jesus and the word of God, we are lying to ourselves when we spew forth hate and threats in our own writing and talking in defense of that truth! This is ungodly behavior in the name of God.
Let us from here on out summarize our public presence and posture, whether we are speaking or writing, in these two words: humility and civility.
Humility is the quality of recognizing that I do not have all the answers and can be mistaken. It means I recognized that I am where I am because of the grace of God. Being humble makes me teachable, not defensive and hateful. Civility means that I treat others as equal citizens with a right to believe what they do and fight for those rights. I have the same exact rights, and fighting for them, especially as a Christian, does not mean spewing hate and malice toward those I perceive as threatening them, or taking them away. I must graciously and humbly seek to persuade others with reason and logic. If I fail and they win, I may continue to try, but I am never justified in doing so maliciously or hatefully.
In this blog space, we will sometimes raise very volatile and emotionally charged issues, like that of abortion. I must say that, on that issue, I am proud of the way my former students have been behaving toward those who may disagree with them.
If you ever want to write for our website, please know that humility and civility are required. We will accept no hate-speech or malicious and hurtful writing. We want you to express your hope and convictions in the kindest possible words. This does not mean that you refrain from rigorous logic and argument, for this is how we are to combat falsehood, but remember that everyone who posts here is created in God’s image and likeness, and that they matter and God cares.
If we fail in the areas of humility and civility, we fail, epically, to speak the truth in love.