Speaking the truth in love

Speaking the truth in love

In October 2015 Germaine Greer faced a petition signed by more than 2000 people calling for the cancellation of a lecture she was scheduled to give at Cardiff University. The petition was a response to Greer stating that she did not believe that transgender women are truly women.

Whatever you might think of her opinion, it raises an important question. Should some ideas be refused a voice because they seem unpalatable or offensive?

The reality is that most important discussions demand that we run the risk of causing offence. Why? Because questions around important topics such as religion, politics, ethics and human nature involve addressing deeply held convictions. The conclusions we reach on such issues also have profound impact on the way we relate to one another and order our society.

However being offended is not necessarily a bad thing.

Some of the most helpful things people have ever said to me have felt hurtful or offensive in the moment. Yet they have often driven me to self reflection and in turn to make helpful changes in my life.

Likewise, some of the least helpful times in my life have been when people have not said hard things to me, even though they needed to be said. They kept the peace, and I was happy for it in the moment but poorer for it in the long run.

The times when I have most appreciated the hard words of others is when those talking with me are motivated, as the Bible puts it, by 'speaking the truth in love.'

There are plenty of people who have motivations other than love.

Controversy sells, and plenty of politicians and media personalities who are more than happy to say outrageous and offensive things for the sake of getting people's attention. Other people simply want to be seen to be right and have no real concern for the impact of their words on others. Still others may speak in anger or hatred with the hope that they will upset someone.

Such people often do far more harm than good.

What a difference it makes when people are motivated by love! We are far more willing to take in what they are saying. We become willing to change our beliefs, thoughts and actions. We will even be grateful for their willingness to take the risk of saying what we may not have wanted to hear.

The most profound example of this in my own life was when I was preparing to be married. As we discussed what the promises in a Church marriage service meant, the minister was willing to tell me that I had misunderstood the Christian faith. He was willing to offend me so that I might rightly understand who Jesus is.

Few things could be more offensive than the message of the Bible, rightly understood. Not bland misunderstanding of its message, that nobody is perfect but God loves you so just do your best and all will be fine.

The truth of what the Bible says is both far more offensive and far more amazing than that. That each of us are sinners. That our sin is so serious before God that nothing less than the death of the Son of God could pay for them. Yet such is the mercy and love of Jesus that he would willingly pay that price.

Had those in that Church not been willing to risk offending me with the hard truths of God, I would never have been able to understand the amazing love and mercy of Jesus. Had I not been able to understand his love and mercy rightly, I would have been stuck in what I now realise was a dangerous mistake.

In fact I will be eternally grateful for those willing to speak the truth in love.

David Robinson is the vicar of Holy Trinity Anglican Church Glen Innes