Thursday, May 21, 2015

If You Can't Speak the Truth in Love...

As a Christian, I interact not only with non-Christians who I don't agree with, but often many Christians whose actions get my blood boiling.

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I'm not talking about liberal Christians.

I'm talking about those who are super conservative -- to the point where they exceed the boundaries of Scripture. I'm talking about people who have turned into modern Pharisees in the name of Jesus.  You might call them Fundamentalists.

It probably comes of no shock to most of my readers that I spend a lot of time having debates on social media. I talk with people of faith (Christian, Jewish, and others), atheists and agnostics. I talk with a variety of denominations of Christian (Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, as well as many Evangelicals and Pentecostals). The ones who often bother me the most are those who use shame and anger and threats of Hell to attempt to win converts.

I see two problems with this attitude.

One, it rarely works.

I've met many people and listened to them share their testimony of how they became a Christian and not once have I ever heard someone say:

"I went to a baseball game and there was a guy standing outside hollering scriptures from the King James Bible to no one in particular at the top of his lungs and it convicted me to repent and turn to Jesus."

Not once have I heard a testimony saying:

"I was going to a clinic to have an abortion and a crowd of people were screaming at me and calling me a baby killer and saying I'd go to Hell. It made me change my mind about having an abortion."

Here's what I *have* heard many times:

"I was living a bad life of using drugs. Most people wrote me off. But one person, my friend Steve, never stopped loving on me. While it was clear that he didn't approve of my actions, Steve still showed me the love of Jesus through his actions. After a while I realized that, not only was my life a mess, but I wanted to have what Steve had.  I went to see Steve and he prayed with me that very night. That was the day I gave my life to Christ."

I've also heard:

"I was pregnant out of wedlock and I was so scared. Some friends told me I should just have an abortion and be done with it. But my one friend Sally suggested an alternative. She told me about a great place called Compass Care that gave women in my situation a free ultrasound and counseling to help me in this tough time.  They didn't make me feel condemned. They just showed me love and compassion. When they gave me that ultrasound and I heard that heartbeat I knew I couldn't have that abortion. I'm glad I didn't. I can imagine my life without my little baby girl."

The difference between the first two examples and the second two is compassion and love. The same goal, but done in the way Jesus would do it. Through love and compassion...through a personal relationship. As St. Thomas of Assisi famously said, "Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words."

THIS type of evangelism WORKS. This is what saves souls and saves the unborn.

The second problem with the Pharisee attitude is that the person who uses these unloving tactics is that in many cases, the goal ISN'T to save the person.

It's all about demonstrating their own righteousness. It's all about being holier than you. And that doesn't advance the goal of Christ.

Remember the Pharisees in the Bible accused JESUS of not being good enough. It's not a new phenomenon.

That brings me to my thesis. (This next statement is directed towards Christians, ONLY):

If you can't speak the truth in love, DON'T SPEAK AT ALL.

I'm not asking you to deny the truth. I'm not asking you to gloss over the truth. I am asking you to separate the person from the action. Love the person while despising the sin. Tell them what you disagree with in a LOVING WAY.

My sister is living with her boyfriend out of wedlock. I don't approve of that action, and she knows it. I still love her very much.  I had a dear friend in high school (who I have since grown apart mostly based on geography) who lives a homosexual lifestyle. I loved him like a brother. He knew I didn't approve of his actions. Never hid that. But I wanted to be able to influence him for Jesus in whatever way I could. So I told him what I thought and also told him that I didn't connect him with the actions and that I still loved him as a person.

If you can't do that, it's probably better if you go into your prayer closet and simply PRAY for the person or people in question. Because if you fail to speak the truth IN LOVE, you're more likely to push someone AWAY from Jesus than to lead them closer.

Again, if you can't speak the truth in love, don't speak at all. Ultimately, that will do more to advance the Kingdom of Heaven than speaking without love ever will.

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