Dysfunctional families always share a core set of rules that everyone is required to obey. One of the central rules is a rule to not talk. This code of silence keeps family members from talking about what is going on and what they are seeing and experiencing. While Asian families are notorious for this, every culture has their own formulation of the saying “Do not air the family’s dirty laundry in public.” While it is possible and at times desirable to healthily deal with certain issues in private, in dysfunctional families this rule really functions as a way to enforce a communal denial of what is going on so that no one has to actually deal with or even look at the family’s issues. “Do not air the family’s dirty laundry in public” really means “Pretend like everything is okay, even when it is not.”As long as the silence is maintained the issues continue and individuals and the community continue to be hurt.
I am all to familiar with this “sweep-everything-under-the-rug-and-do-not-talk-about-it” approach to life because this is how my own family operated. Most of my life was not surprisingly marked by a lot of duplicity and denial. However, since 2008 I have been incredibly open about sin issues and other problems in my life. This has not been fun or easy but it has led to dramatic change in my heart and in my behavior. Bitter transparency has bought incredible freedom and healing.
While many Christians have applauded this transparency, and some have even reported being emboldened to be more honest by my example, I have also had Christians strongly react against it. This is not really a surprise. Sadly I have found that codes of silence are all to common in churches as well. Various Christian communities have their own formulation of the saying “Do not air your dirty laundry in public,” and denial and secrecy masquerade as propriety and privacy. If someone breaks the code of silence, they are often pressured to stop talking or outright accused of gossip or a slander.
For example, when I referenced a scandal that had divided my home church I was twice censured and told not to talk about it further. I was not bringing this scandal up in a casual or flippant manner, nor was I attacking or making judgments on anyone involved, everyone in the group I was talking to knew about it and it was public knowledge by this time. It had even been featured in our local newspaper years before. To this day you can go and visit the two churches that resulted from this scandal.
Another example was the comments I received from Christians when I decided to write about my relationship with my Ex on my blog. Some believed that talking about my relationship with my Ex with anyone or writing about it online was categorically inappropriate and I was engaged in gossip or slander, regardless of whatever I said or wrote. Some suggested secrecy should be maintained if the truth would in any way embarrass or hurt her. Others even directly stated that even if my Ex had done something legitimately evil or villainous to me she deserved her right to privacy.
These and many other situations have frustrated me to no end. I find it mind boggling that followers of Jesus, who are called to walk in the light and worship God in spirit and in truth, appear so fond of secrecy and silence. Why does the Family of God in so many ways function like my family of origin on this issue? (To be clear, this is not a good thing.)
However, I do recognize that the issue of transparency is not black and white issue and there is a tension. From surveying all of scripture it appears that on one hand followers of Jesus are to confess their sin and address sin issues in their communities. There are times where this is to be done inter-personally and privately and usually this is preferred. However, there are also times where it is necessary to involve and inform other people of the situation. When evil is being exposed in these cases, possibly to people who previously did not know about this, this is not to be confused with gossip or slander. (See 2 Sam 12, James 5, 1 John 1, 3 John 1, Eph 5, Luke 17, Matt 18, 1 Tim 5, etc.)
On the other hand, when attempting to deal with evil and sins within their community, followers of Jesus should do so in the most wise and loving manner possible. Transparency is always needed when dealing with sin, as you have to at least confess your sin and be transparent with one other person, but it is not always necessary to make every sin common public knowledge. The scriptures many time warn about the power of words and Followers of Jesus should not be careless with their words, even if they are talking about something true. Followers of Jesus are not free to make baseless accusations or spread malicious rumors. Gossip and slander are to be taken seriously and avoided. Exposing sins should not be done with no purpose or with ulterior motives, such as stirring up trouble or exacting revenge on the person who committed those evils. (See Prov 20, Romans 1, Rom 12, 2 Cor 12, 1 Tim 3, Jam 3 1 John 2, etc.)
In short, sins should not be hidden, but not every sin needs to be made public knowledge. Sins and evils should always be addressed but we are also called to be wise and loving in this process.
So how far do we take transparency?
The extremes appear clear. Obviously is you found out someone was sexually abusing children they could not say, “You can’t expose my sin because I have a right to privacy and exposing this sin would embarrass me and hurt my feelings. If you expose me you’ll be unloving to me and sinning so you have to keep this a secret.” On the other end of the spectrum if a thirteen year old boy confessed a struggle with pornography I think most people would intuitively know there is no need for this to end up in the church bulletin next week and this sin could and should be kept secret as it is being dealt with.
But what about that gray middle? How do we determine what is on what end of the spectrum? Do we strive for transparency across the board? Do we strive for transparency on some issues but not others? (And if so, how do we differentiate between the two) Do we strive to respect people’s privacy unless it is absolutely necessary? (And if so, when do we decide when it is necessary?) Do followers of Jesus have a right to privacy regarding the sins they have committed or are committing?
In my next post I will provide my thoughts on this issue and explain my reasoning.