The Right to Remain Silent
That title comes from a little speech that is well-known in America: the so-called “Miranda Rights” statement. It usually includes the words “anything you say can and will be used against you”. And I think both the title and that statement aptly describe the unwritten communication rules of Christian fellowships today.
Many believers simply cannot tolerate anything but the most soft and polite conversation, something that would be acceptable at a high-society tea party. All that is said or written is required to have a thick sugar coating; nothing can be stated bluntly or directly. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s such a thing as being considerate of delicate souls. Yet I would propose that it isn’t the actual words that make something considerate, but the intent behind them. That is, “it’s the thought that counts.”
A typical line goes, “Maybe you should just bow out of conversations on that particular topic, since you are so passionate about it and it hurts others’ feelings.” It sounds so soft and agreeable. But what is the message being given? Stated clearly and directly, it’s “We don’t like disagreement or the way you talk. It offends us. So be a good child and leave the room when we adults have something important to discuss.” It is condescending, and it presumes that only the direct are expected to have a “thick skin” while the sugar-coaters are never required to do so. It also presumes that the direct have made no effort whatsoever to restrain their words or be considerate of the tender.
Another line goes, “You need to word your ideas in such a way as to not offend anyone.” To begin with, that’s impossible; many people can take offense at just about anything. They equate disagreement, even mildly stated, as hateful and pushy. The only way to avoid offending them would be to “remain silent”. Yet if you do, then they take your silence as either an admission of guilt or proof of conceit. The truth is, the only words they’ll accept are bland, neutral, non-committal, and vague.
What’s the practical difference between “We value your input, but sorry, we’ll have to start censoring your posts; hope you’re not upset.” and “We don’t want to hear what you think about this. Go away!”? The first is sugar-coated and the second is not, but they both say exactly the same thing. They seek to erase the personality of the one being censored. They would have us all to be homogenized so there are no distinguishable characteristics that could cause disagreement.
This is not fellowship; this is not communication or “building each other up”. It is denial and self-centeredness to expect to never hear disagreement, or to demand everyone bow to your sensitivities. If someone is too harsh by God’s standards, then let God deal with them. And likewise, if someone is being hyper-sensitive and demanding by God’s standards, let God deal with them. I’ve seen people who use the sugar-coating be very manipulative and self-centered, and I’ve seen their victims (being one of them myself) get blasted with that “sugar” until they feel utterly rejected. Where are the bleeding hearts then? Where are the soothing words for them? Where are the reprimands for the “sweet” when they do exactly what they condemn others for doing?
But the sugar-coaters never see the double standard. They never acknowledge the pain they inflict. They, like the world, define love as the absence of passion (!!) and disagreement. They think peace and fellowship are achieved through censorship instead of making the effort to understand those they disagree with. Which brings up another point: disagreement is a two-way street.
So beware of “peaceful” groups of believers. Investigate the way that peace is achieved. True peace and fellowship is only when people honestly respect each other regardless of personal differences and the style by which those differences are expressed. Let’s level that playing field and stop excluding others on the basis of “the clothes they wear”.
(PS: There’s an excellent article Here about what Christians today would say to the Apostle Paul. It is not meant to be funny but to be a scathing indictment of the kind of censorship that is popular today.)