A law was passed in New York state this week, legalizing abortion into the third trimester. (I encourage you, if you haven’t heard of this, or if you’ve only seen the social media reaction, to read this article from CBS News. It gives a concise description of what has changed in the NY law, as well as thoughts and opinions from people who support, as well as those who oppose, the legislation.)
The reaction on my social media feeds has been what I would expect: shock, disgust, and calls for a return to godly morals and lifestyle.
I wrote a post yesterday in response to those reactions and it quickly became the most widely shared and read of any of the words I’ve ever written. The vast majority of the comments I received were positive, but there were a few comments that led me to feel the need to clarify my position.
I am not a proponent of abortion. I believe unborn babies are in fact, babies. I don’t believe the location of an infant (whether inside the womb or outside) changes his or her inherent value. I believe God is the author of life, and the only One who should decide when a life ends.
My post yesterday was not to say I support the new law, or feel Christians should just sit idly by when immoral and ungodly changes are happening in our society.
What disturbed me, and what prompted me to write the post was the language I saw used to discuss this topic. This feeling of unease is not new to me. I feel it often, when issues of great political or social controversy are in the news. I feel it when the issue is same-sex marriage, immigration, politicians and Supreme Court nominees being accused of sexual assault…fill in the blank. You get the idea.
Abortion is the issue at hand, but it’s not really the focus of my writing, either yesterday or today.
I’m focused on HOW we are talking about these topics, specifically, the PEOPLE involved.
The Words We Use Matter
“Only someone who is a monster would even consider such a thing!”
“The people who voted for such legislation are demonic and evil!”
“They should all rot in hell!”
As much as the idea of living in a country that legalizes and normalizes the killing of innocent babies grieves my heart, the way I see Christians talking about their fellow human beings also grieves my heart.
You might be saying, “What?? How can you even compare the two?”
Because God does not place qualifications on sin. Because the abortionist’s sins and my sins were equally responsible for placing my Lord on the cross (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). Because His death and resurrection offer hope to us BOTH, without respect for “how bad” or “how minor” our sins were (Acts 10:34; Romans 3:22-23).
It is my strong conviction that we need to approach this topic, and every other sensitive, highly charged issue in our culture, with a loving attitude, rather than a self-righteous one.
Yesterday, after I made some of these statements, I was asked if I was “progressive.” I am not.
There is a movement in some Christian circles to preach “Love!” with no regard for Truth. At the same time, there are others who will lambaste the world with the Truth, while failing to show even an ounce of compassion.
Both sides are missing the mark.
Speaking the Truth in LOVE
The apostle Paul instructed the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Like many other instructions in Scripture, much is encapsulated in those short five words.
Speaking the truth in love is hard. It’s counterintuitive. It takes grace, and nuance, and forethought.
It’s often a very fine line, but it’s one we must walk if we want to be like Christ.
Jesus came to this Earth with boldness. He challenged the religious community with Truth, and He did not sugarcoat it. He called the Pharisees hypocrites, and graves filled with dead men’s bones (Matthew 23). But when Niccodemus came to Him by night, Jesus did not ridicule him or berate him for not being bold enough to approach in broad daylight. Jesus talked with him, answered his questions, and gave him the path to eternal life (John 3)! If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
When sinners approached Jesus, He showed compassion. He healed their sick. He raised their dead. He forgave their sins. They’d never seen such love! But He also spoke truth to them. He told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He healed the naked man possessed with an unclean spirit, and left him “clothed and in his right mind”(Mark 5:15). He laid it all out on the line, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow” (Luke 9:23).
He told them the truth. And then He let them make their choice. Many more chose to walk away than chose to follow. He didn’t hunt them down and undo the miracles He’d performed for them.
He loved them. He offered compassion. He told the truth. And He respected their free will.
A Practical Example
Let’s look at a different scenario for a minute.
Suppose I’m sitting at the park while Abby plays, eating a huge sack of fast-food (this week’s post was supposed to be Part 2 of Stewarding My Physical Health. Don’t worry, it’ll get here eventually.)
A super fit, super thin mama in her Lululemon and shiny new Nikes perches next to me on the park bench, side-eying my fries and milkshake.
“That’s disgusting!” she says, with a curl of her lip. “You know that’s terrible for you right? Ugh. I don’t know how you could possibly stand to eat all of that! I feel so bad for your daughter, that she has such a repulsive example of how to be healthy!”
Am I likely to respond well to this admonishment?
I already know junk food is bad for me. I already feel some shame about the example I’m setting for my child. I already feel like a frumpy dumpy elephant next to her svelte form.
My reaction is either going to be a) shame and embarrassment or b) embarrassment and defiance.
Does this lady probably have tools and tricks and information I need? Obviously. Will I ask her for it? Not in a million years.
There is no love, no compassion, no kindness. As much as I might need what she can offer, I will reject her out of hand, because of her attitude.
But imagine she comes and sits down, introduces herself, and starts chatting about something innocuous…the weather…toddlers…what have you. And over time we become friends. When she later gently and kindly offers me suggestions for how I could make better choices, I’m more likely to listen. Better yet, when I get fed up with my own poor eating habits and decide I want a change….guess what? I have someone I trust and I know where to turn.
Love + Truth
Our mandate as Christians in this world is to point people to Jesus. It is not to change people’s behavior, but to lead them to the One who can change their hearts.
They aren’t all going to accept that opportunity. The Word tells us as much (Matthew 7:14, 22:14). But it is our job to present the love of Jesus in such as way that they are drawn to Him, rather than repulsed.
When I see Christians calling names and slapping labels on strangers, I have to wonder if we are as concerned with our great commission as we claim we are. Or if we’ve forgotten where Jesus brought us from.
After naming a long list of sins which will prevent someone from entering the kingdom of God, the apostle Paul reminds the Ephesian church, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (Eph. 6:11).
The dehumanizing language we use to throw stones at others…those same labels could be applied to us, if not for His great mercy and grace.
I know the gut response you’re having: “I would never…!!”
But we don’t need those studies to be our warning. Thousands of years before them, Paul already wrote words of caution to the Corinthian church: “let anyone who thinks that he stands, take heed, lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:14).
And what about the oft quoted proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
We must have humble hearts before God and man, and realize that as godly and good as we think we are, we are just a few poor decisions away from the person we are demonizing today.
Should we speak up when we see things that are unjust, immoral, or ungodly gaining a foothold in our society. Absolutely! Should we stand for Truth, come what may? Without a doubt!
But posting cruel words and biting memes on the internet, for the sole purpose of gaining likes and comments from those who already agree with us is not helpful. Our pious and self-righteous “Amens,” congratulating one another on a catty comment or provocative post only serves to close our circle tighter against people who are hurting and seeking a better way.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If you want to practice speaking the truth in love, here are some tips I’ve found helpful.
- Read the Word for yourself. Study it. Ask God to open your eyes to what He is saying.
- Find someone with whom you can discuss these sensitive issues in detail, from all angles. Someone who is also in the Word. Someone who won’t judge you for your questions. Someone who can help you find what is true amidst the cacophony of voices screaming from every perspective.
- Get your news from multiple reliable sources. Don’t rely on what you see on Facebook or Twitter. The reality of a situation can never be distilled down into a pithy meme. Go looking for facts, and differing viewpoints.
- Seek out things to read and listen to with which you expect to disagree. I have found podcasts like This American Life and The Moth to be instrumental in helping me understand others’ perspectives. The ladies behind The Pantsuit Politics podcast and The Nuanced Life have also given me much to ponder and consider. These things are not Christian! They don’t start with the same assumptions and beliefs I carry. I’ve heard stories that made me laugh, others that made me cry, even some that made me angry. THAT IS OKAY! If I only ever listen to people who have the same beliefs and experiences as I have, it makes it hard for me to love the person whom I see as different.
- Pray for discernment. Ask God to help you use wisdom as you sift through information that might be uncomfortable and foreign. When we are in His Word, and pray for His Spirit to guide us, He will show us when we are wandering off in the wrong direction.
- Talk through the ideas and opinions you find with that trusted person from the second bullet above. Practice articulating why you disagree, using a loving and respectful manner, rather than the condemning and hateful tone (which admittedly is often more readily accessible.)
- Listen to this episode of the Journeywomen Podcast. It will help you know where to start in having conversations with someone who disagrees with your worldview.
- Think before you speak. Pray before you post. Ask yourself, “is this actually helpful?” Be honest. If it’s not, stay quiet.
- Read the Word some more. Keep reading it. Never stop. Let it shape you and change you.
We can’t use hateful, demeaning, and unkind language, expecting that people will be shamed into changing their ways.
Only the spirit of God can transform a sinful heart.
We need to love people to Jesus, so His truth has the chance to do the work we can’t accomplish.