The other day, my husband laughingly told me that he wished I was a little more conflict-adverse.
“I love that you say things so directly,” he laughed. “But,” he added as he raised his eyebrows and playfully poked me, “you don’t always need to be so direct.”
Perhaps a bit facetiously (okay y’all, it was definitely facetiously (but said in good fun)), I asked him if he wanted me to lie to him. He laughed again and told me to tell the truth but just more gently. Or, as my favorite English Professor once said: Tell the truth, but tell it slant.
So, like I suspected, kinda lie, right? I know y’all heard that too. Don’t leave me hanging.
Learning how to tell one another the truth in ways that each person can hear is hard work. But, when we don’t tell each other the truth it is often the cause of miscommunication, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings.
Maybe you can relate.
A few weeks ago, this thread on Black Twitter that details the disconnect between WASP culture and “real talk” went viral.
Maybe you’ve seen it. Or, maybe you can relate to it because you’ve also had a hard time cultivating cross-cultural relationships. I know that I can relate.
In fact, learning to communicate with one another well is a lifetime journey. And, I have been so grateful to learn about communication from so many of you.
I bet you have teachers too, and even more lessons to share.
Here are three of mine. I’d love to hear some of your lessons in the comments.
- People Will Leave When They Don’t Feel Valued.
Growing up in the Mennonite Church, I’ve watched countless church splits happen over everything from disagreements over a carpet color, to parking lot usage, to what hymnals should be included, to if women should be ordained, to if Black Lives Matter, to if people that are LGBTQ+ should be included as members of the church or in leadership roles.
And, here’s what I know. Almost all of those church splits only occurred because of an underlying, unheard (and sometimes even unspoken) fear. The fear of rejection.
Ooof. I know that fear. And, I bet you do too. That’s why I can guess that the reason that John Smith left your church wasn’t because you chose the green carpet color over the red. It’s because something happened (or had been happening) that made John feel devalued.
- Exploited People Are Not Burned Out. They are Exploited.
Margarita Levantovskaya, a Santa Clara University Lecturer, states this: “I prefer using the term exploit over burnout because it draws our attention to employer practices and policies which then require structural solutions.”
The same can be true of churches. Are your people exploited or burned out? If Taylor has been leading your Sunday School classes for the last three years with no pay and little to no help, is it a wonder that Taylor wants to quit?
If Tara is your church pastor and she is constantly dealing with sexist congregants, little to no support, and zero mentorship, is it a wonder that she wants to quit?
If Eboni, your only Black executive leader and congregant, attends a multi-cultural church where guests are always taking her picture when she leads worship and the only time leadership reaches out to her is for a statement after the murder of Breonna Taylor, is it a wonder that she leaves?
The list could go on and on. But you probably already know that. Maybe you are even developing your own list.
The point is this: what truth is being told? Burnout or exploitation? The way we tell the truth is critical because it informs how we respond (or don’t).
- “Keeping the Peace” Always Protects Systems of Oppression.
I remember when I started to first speak out about racism in the church. A well-intentioned congregant pulled me aside and told me that they were concerned that my critiques were divisive and accused me of not keeping the peace.
For those of you who know me IRL, you can already guess what I was thinking: whose peace? Because racism was costing me my peace AND, frankly, racism costs everyone’s peace.
Too often, “keeping the peace” means perpetuating systems of violence and harm.
It means reinforcing homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, and ableism.
It means actively and intentionally harming the neighbors that God specifically calls us to love.
It means refusing to name or see clear and specific systems and patterns of violence and abuse.
But, does the church want to see the patterns? Does the church want to hold space for accountability? Does the church want to do the work?
I am not always sure. Maybe someday someone will tell me the truth.
Or, maybe people have been telling the truth all along but the church just hasn’t heard it.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your truth.