We’ve all read of various political figures making their fair share of “gaffes.” They misspoke, were misunderstood or simply did
not tell the truth as they tried to hide or cover up something. Recently I ran across this quote.
“A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”
~ Michael Hensley
Sometimes there’s the obvious truth he/she isn’t supposed to say, but choses to say anyway. At other times there’s the obvious truth he/she deliberately chooses not to say.
As I have been thinking about Michael Hensley’s take on what a “gaffe” is, I’m inclined to conclude that Christian leadership in the church and in the market place is rife with gaffes as well. It seems to me that lying is more and more acceptable and truth-telling is more and more rare. To say the least, this is sad.
We are encouraged in Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love. We are not to be so loving that we are not truthful, but neither are we to be so truthful that we are not loving. It is, as lots of things are, not a matter of either/or, but both/and—to be both truthful and loving. It’s a tough line to walk.
I like to couple Ephesians 4:15 with The Message’s rendering of Proverb 20:28, “Love and truth form and a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.”
Within Christian leadership, I long to see (and personally practice) the “Obvious Truths” (both the truths of the Bible as well as the truths that need to be articulated in relationships and on teams) being expressed in loving and uplifting ways—not swept under the carpet or being ignored because of fear. Fear seems to rule the day; fear of what people might think or say about me, fear of losing my job, fear of losing my friends. What about the fear of the Lord? Where and when does that come into play in our decisions about what to say or not say? What does He want said, not what do I want said or not said!
One thing which is essential in being loving, sensitive truth-tellers is creating cultures where we welcome and value open dialogue, questions, pushback and challenges: Giving people the freedom to say what they believe to be true without fear of punishment of one kind or the other. Telling the truth needs to be prayerfully and carefully considered. To whom do I say it, when do I say it, and how do I say it? I love the thought that everything that is said needs to be true (no white lies or embellishments) but everything that is true does not need to be said. This is where love, sensitivity and discernment comes into play.
I appreciate the way Caleb expressed himself in Joshua 14:7 in the Living Bible: “I was 40 years old at the time, and Moses had sent us from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land of Canaan. I reported what I felt was the truth.” We all know how that truth was received and the results of not listening to the truth Caleb shared. In this season of life, my personal desire is to report what I feel the truth is, realizing at the same time that I don’t always see things clearly. But, nonetheless, I need to speak up and speak out with love and sensitivity rather than being overly politically or organizationally correct and say nothing! If I’ve been wrong, I want to own it and make amends.
At times the truth can hurt and be hard to hear, but not telling the truth can be even worse in the long run.