Grow By Speaking Truthfully

“Telling the truth is an act of love, an act of resistance, an act of courage.

Its end is liberation, freedom, and, if possible, reconciliation.

But there can be no reconciliation without truth.”

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis

One of the weirdest things about being a pastor is all of the ways people react to hearing what you do for a living. If I’m being honest, sometimes, I try to fly under the radar when I meet someone, just so it doesn’t make things weird, because it almost always gets weird once that question comes up. The reactions can be all over the place, but they’re almost never neutral. Some people are excited to meet a pastor. They ask me if I’ve heard of their church or their reverend, and they ask me questions about what I do, or how I decided to be a minister in the first place. It’s nice to get a cheerful reaction, except when the person suddenly assumes that just because I’m a pastor I must agree with some judgmental thing they have to say, and then they say it. Then I’m the one who gets weird.

The most common reaction though is a sudden awkwardness. People might apologize for swearing, or for bringing up alcohol, or some other topic from earlier in the conversation. Even if I tell them, it’s not necessary, it’s pretty clear that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable being themselves around a clergy person. They might even hastily explain to me that they used to go to church, and they’ve wanted to get back, but they’ve been busy. They seem to expect me to scold them or shame them, so I try to make it clear that I’m not judging them, and that whatever they decide to do or not do is okay with me. I trust that God can find us, wherever we are in life.

Every once and a while though, when people find out I’m a pastor, they’ll tell me some hard truths. They’ll tell me how the church hurt them, and why they’re not going back. In those situations, there’s not much I can do but say yeah, I also know that side of the church. I wish things weren’t like that. I believe church can be better than that. Unfortunately, this is a bed that we ministers have made, and now we have to lie in it. I can’t blame anyone for not trusting me, when it’s people claiming to share my faith, some of them holding my title, who act completely counter to our faith, who cannot be trusted, and who are so full of judgement that they want to force their will on everyone via Christian nationalism.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis says, “Telling the truth is an act of love, an act of resistance, an act of courage. Its end is liberation, freedom, and, if possible, reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation without truth.” Whenever people react to me saying that I’m a pastor, I get to see a little glimmer of truth in how quickly the trust sometimes fades from their eyes, and how quickly the walls of defense go up. I’m on the ex-vangelical side of TikTok and I listen to the stories that people tell there. It’s a truth that hurts, but it’s important that we know it, if we want to change it. Perhaps right now Christians are being tested, but the test is not whether we can stamp out everyone who isn’t us or make everyone one of us. The test is whether Christians will put themselves on the front lines of stopping the violence between us, or at least speak the truth about what we human beings are doing to each other.

Speaking the truth isn’t popular and may result in attacks on your character. Which is what I think Paul was describing to the Corinthians. Paul and his friends have been called impostors, nobodies, dying, sorrowful, and poor. Yet that wasn’t their reality.  Paul says that they were well known by God and each other. They were full of life, always rejoicing, making many rich in love and Spirit and therefore possessing everything they wanted. Though they faced hardships, hunger, and sleepless nights, they commended themselves through their patience, kindness, genuine love, and truthful speech. Their only weapon? Righteousness. In honor and dishonor. Bad reputation, and good reputation. They had no political power, nor did they seek it out. Christianity was a movement of community, and its goals were greater connection and love between people and God. When insults were hurled at them, they held tighter to each other, and continued to speak the truth.

Paul called them to open-heartedness, to put no obstacles in anyone’s way, so I’m really tired of watching people use my faith to excuse dropping bombs, restricting women’s healthcare choices, destroying our education system, and our democracy, and our Earth in Jesus’ name. These are the biggest obstacles we could possibly place between us and our neighbors. They are literal walls and minefields of hate, dishonesty, and selfishness. They showcase a Christianity that is closed off to the truth, and wholly uninterested in the actual well-being of others. These are not Christian values. Endurance, kindness, and truthful speech are. Instead of having hearts that are open, Christians have been closed off. They have driven people into hiding, so much that they get to a point where they need to cut God out of their lives in order to survive. Christians don’t trust me because I’m progressive, and progressives don’t trust me because I’m Christian. People are freeing themselves from Christian communities and their expectations, and I’m happy for them, even though it hurts my heart, because they are finally being set free. How could I blame them for that?

Rev. Lewis says that being honest is a spiritual discipline that we cultivate as we live together. What is true is still true no matter how deep down we shove it, and no matter how far back into the closet we try to put it. Fierce love for ourselves and others calls us to as much authenticity as we can muster because it is liberating, not just for us, but for all of us. We cannot be so consumed with how good our faith makes us feel that we fail to listen to the real neighbors Jesus told us to serve as they shout their stories full of truth over the radio waves and across our TV screens. We’re going to have to open our hearts up to feel that pain and face those truths if we want to make it better. And I think we do.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We entreat you also not to accept the grace of God in vain… Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation.” People are saying many of the same things to the church today that they said to Paul— that we’re dying, we’re sorrowful, and we’re imposters. Christians, and let’s be honest, especially the white American variety, have a lot of reconciling to do, and there can be no reconciliation without truth, even the ones we don’t want to hear. I think now is the time for the church to grow, not in numbers, but in truthfulness. Today is the day of our salvation, if we will let go of our lies, and heal the wounds they’ve made.

We can grow in the Spirit, and in genuine love, and in truthful speech in how we interact with each other in this place and beyond. Speak truthfully, both here in our church, and with everyone you meet. Your truth may set them free as well, when they see that they are also not alone, that you’ve stood where they stand and felt what they feel. Speak truthfully about who you are, and about your faith in God, and about the good you long to see in the world. The truth will set us free to be as Paul described: so full of life that we make many rich; having nothing and yet possessing everything; and enduring all hardships through knowledge, patience, and kindness. Start with your own circles of influence, and your relationships, by speaking the truth in love. May it be so as we start that work here in the garden of our own church community. Amen.

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