Have you heard of the so called "clobber" passages in the Bible? These are typically the verses which strongly condemn homosexuality. Lists of these passages generally include Leviticus 18:22, Deuteronomy 23:17-18, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, and sometimes Jude 1:7. These are used to condemn any kind of sex that doesn’t occur between a married man and woman. I’d like to add another “clobber” verse to this list.
“Speaking the truth in love.” Ephesians 4:15a
When I talk to other Christians, this verse is commonly cited as their justification for quoting a clobber passage. And when someone tells me they are about to “speak the truth in love” to me, it’s a very clear warning. They are about to attack me, and they are justifying the attack with this Bible verse. Verbal abusers use this verse to keep their victims in line and to camouflage their abuse as moral correction. Anti-LGBTQ people use this verse to justify their bigotry. Sexists use this verse to justify telling women to shut up in church. Some Christians use this verse to keep women trapped in situations of domestic violence by arguing against divorce.
But what does it really mean to speak the truth in love?
I can tell you, I have friends who do this for me. I am blessed to have a husband who speaks the truth in love to me. When you truly speak the truth in love, the person you address feels that love and concern. When you try (and fail) to speak the truth in love, the person you address feels angry, wounded, offended, humiliated, confused, and/or fearful.
If you feel the need to “speak the truth in love” to someone, here are some tips to make sure you are doing it right.
1. Make sure you have a relationship based in love. Have you made sacrifices for this person? Is there mutual affection and respect? Have you shared a meal, or even just coffee, with this person? If the answers are no, then STOP. There is no love context for the truth to be spoken into.
2. Get the log out of your own eye. Look, I firmly believe that the point of Jesus’ parable (Matthew 7:1-5) is that we aren’t suppose to judge one another at all: that when we think we see a splinter in someone else’s eye, we probably have a log in our own eye. But some people believe that the point of this parable is that once the log is gone from your own eye, you are free to “help” others with their splinters. OK, fine. Is the log really gone from your own eye? What is driving your desire to speak?
a. Is it that when you see a gay man, you picture sodomy and are personally disgusted? (Yes, I heard someone use this reason) That, my friend, is a log in your own eye – you are incapable of looking at another human without picturing that human as a sexual object.
b. Are you personally angered by the other person’s sin? Quite often, the sins we find most upsetting in others are the sins we ourselves commit. That, my friend, is a log in your own eye: you haven’t dealt with your own pride, anger, sloth, sexual sin, gluttony, etc.
c. Are you afraid? Do you fear that your child will become: feminist, LGBTQ, Democrat, Republican, artistic, sexually active, alcoholic, Muslim, smoker? That, my friend, is your own log. True love drives out fear.
3. Pray. If you have a love relationship and the issue you “must” speak the truth about isn’t your own log, then pray to the Holy Spirit and ask if YOU are the person who should speak. Just because you recognize a problem doesn't mean you are the best person to speak up.
4. Put your words to the 1 Corinthians test. Write out what you are going to say and then ask yourself the following questions.
a. Are these words patient?
b. Are these words kind?
c. Are these words jealous? (they shouldn’t be)
d. Are these words boastful? (they shouldn’t be)
e. Are these words arrogant? (they shouldn’t be)
f. Do these words honor the person you are addressing?
g. Are these words self-seeking? (they shouldn’t be)
h. Are these words angry? (they shouldn’t be)
i. Are these words evidence of score-keeping? (they shouldn’t be)
j. Are these words joyful?
k. Are these words protective of the person you are addressing?
l. Do these words trust the person you are addressing?
m. Do these words show hope for the person you are addressing?
n. Are these words relevant for the long term?
And in the final analysis: if you speak the truth in love to someone, and that person is wounded or harmed by your words, you failed. You were only a clanging cymbal. I suggest you apologize and tend to your own logs. I make that suggestion in love, of course.