While I firmly believe transparency should be sought after by followers of Jesus and the Family of God I realize there are some barriers that often keep people and the community from this. I want to talk about a handful of common ones and suggest some basic solutions.
One barrier is that many let their embarrassment or guilt about what they have done keep them from being transparent about their sin. Occasionally this embarrassment is avoided by talk of how immodest or inappropriate it would be to talk openly about certain sins. While I agree there is a time and a place to deal with evil and certain issues, talk of privacy, modesty or propriety is often used to mask the denial and/or avoidance that is really going on.
This barrier is not something new. In regards to why some avoided public confession Tertullian wrote…
Yet most men either shun [public confession], as being a public exposure of themselves, or else defer it from day to day. I presume (as being) more mindful of modesty than of salvation; just like men who, having contracted some malady in the more private parts of the body, avoid the privity of physicians, and so perish with their own bashfulness…Truly you are honorable in your modesty; bearing an open forehead for sinning, but an abashed one for deprecating!
Tertullian, albeit with a bit of a mocking tone, points out that some people are so embarrassed by their sins that avoid transparency, which is required to deal with sin. Their “modesty” keep them from confessing their sins, but their “modesty” apparently was not enough to keep them from actually committing the sin in the first place. This barrier is all too common in the church and sadly the insane status quo in many Christian churches, if you really come down to it, is that you can do anything you want as long as you do not talk about it.
One barrier is that people genuinely misunderstand gossip and slander. Gossip and slander is taken very seriously in the Bible and followers of Jesus should be concerned with avoiding these sins. However, these sins are often misunderstood and this muddles the transparency needed in the Family of God.
On one hand the confusion in natural as both can deal with the revelation or exposure of sin. Additionally theses terms are commonly misused with ulterior motives. Some accuse people who expose their sins of slander or gossip in an effort to enforce codes of silence and hide their sin. On the other end of the spectrum some gossip and slander but feign to be rightly dealing with evil. So what is the truth of the matter?
For me I understand gossip to be pointless/purposeless discussion about people and things that are often embarrassing to others. If I am chatting with someone about another person’s messy divorce with no reason, that is gossip. However, if I am discussing another person’s messy divorce with the actual goal of figuring out how to be support and love them in the situation that is, to me, another thing entirely.
In regards to transparency, I would suggest exposing sin with no purpose I would generally consider gossip. So for example, if a person confessed a sin to me and I exposed them unnecessarily, this would be gossip. However, if another person commits the same sin, I confront them about it and they are unrepentant and I inform leaders in the Family of God, this is not gossip. The second situation had a purpose while the first did not.
Slander is simply false accusations. If I simply suspect someone of an evil and accuse them this is slander. If I falsely accuse someone just to hurt or embarrass them this is slander. In some cases I would suggest insinuating an accusation without ever quite saying it would still be slander. However, if I witness a sin and rightly accuse them this is not slander. Now for practical reasons I may not make an accusation without additional witnesses or proof, or I may never make the accusation public, but I try not to just let things be swept under the rug never to be dealt with. I would also never make an accusation without first talking to the person directly about what I saw, or what I thought I saw.
One barrier is that the family of God is often not a safe place for people to be transparent. This is really probably the biggest issue. Transparency is dangerous and sometimes the reaction of other people to the disclosure of sin is horrifying. In many situations people do not confess their sins or talk about their issues because they have a justified fear concerning how the Family of God will react.
In regards to this Tertullian wrote…
[The time where public confession is seriously dangerous], is when it is a butt for jeering speech in the presence of insulters, where one man raises himself on his neighbor’s ruin, where there is upward clambering over the prostrate. But among brethren and fellow-servants, where there is common hope, fear, joy, grief, suffering, because there is a common Spirit from a common Lord and Father. Why do you think these brothers to be anything other than yourself? Why flee from the partners of your own mischances, as from such as will derisively cheer them? The body cannot feel gladness at the trouble of any one member, (1 Cor 12:26) it must necessarily join with one consent in the grief, and in laboring for the remedy. In a company of two is the church (Matt 28: 20) but the church is [Christ’s Body]. When, then, you cast yourself at the brethren’s knees, you are handling Christ, you are entreating Christ. In like manner, when they shed tears over you, it is Christ who suffers, Christ who prays the Father for mercy. (Emphasis mine)
The rhetorical question Tertullian asks to make his point I would actually answer this way: People flee from being transparent with other followers of Jesus because so often other followers of Jesus do derisively cheer at the failings of other followers of Jesus. How often has the Family of God treated followers of Jesus whose sins are exposed like the scoffers Tertullian talked about instead of the Body of Christ he so beautifully described? How many times have followers of Jesus climbed over and gloated over the failures of other Christians to make themselves feel more righteous? How many times have we seen the very people who should weep with sinners, intercede for sinners, and work with sinners towards a solution instead turn on the sinner, vilify them, mock them and then kick them out of the community? Who would want to be transparent in this sort of environment?
I think this lack of safety in the church comes from a lack of understanding. I fear that many followers of Jesus simply do not understand grace, sin and the Body of Christ. They think their righteousness comes through their behavior and not through faith in God. They think some sins count less than other sins. They have a low level of ownership in the Family of God and the lives of other followers. They view themselves as in essentially in competition with other followers of Jesus rather than being part of the same Body.
Where these misunderstanding prevail, self-righteousness is the only path many followers of Jesus have to fulfill their need to feel righteous and believe they are good people. They are exhorted to be righteous by the Bible and their own conscience but cannot get their on their own, so they get their by gloating over the failures of others. In this environment the exposure of someone else’s sin, especially if that sin is seen as worse than yours, is an opportunity for self-righteousness that far too many pounce upon. The inner logic is something like this: “I might be struggling with pornography but at least I did not cheat on my wife like that guy!”
Major failings in the community, or better yet in another Christian community, often function as a sort of self-righteousness sacrifice. People whose “big” sins are exposed are thoroughly vilified, and their lives, their families and their reputation are sacrificed, so the whole community can feel better about themselves. These situations usually go far beyond what the Bible requires and are not restorative in their purpose or intent but are inherently malicious and misguided.
So what are some solutions to these barriers?
From a doctrinal or theological perspective a right understanding of sin, grace, the family of God, forgiveness, gossip and slander may help some or resolve some of these barriers. Some of these barriers stem from incorrect beliefs in the community. Something as simple as some open conversations about this issues can be very helpful.
From a practical perspective, modelling transparency and living out these theological and doctrinal realities goes a long way in breaking down these barriers. When and where followers of Jesus are only transparent in secret or not transparent at all, all that is publicly visible is success and victory. This creates a false atmosphere where it looks like everyone is walking in victory and enjoying great success. People who are dealing with sin issues or other problems wrongly feel that they are the only ones struggling and try to deal with it in secret for fear of being found out, singled out, or faced with people who cannot relate. However, by people being transparent about what is going on, publicly, especially in leadership, this false atmosphere can be demolished and make it okay for others to be transparent.
Ultimately though, personal and spiritual maturity blasts most of these barriers out of the water. If a person has spent time cultivating a relationship with Jesus and is attentive to the Holy Spirit they do not need to have guidelines to know what gossip is and what transparency is, they will intuitively know the difference. Mature persons intuitively navigate the tension of dealing with evil in a loving manner. Mature persons cannot be silenced by false talk about modesty or privacy and do not seek to use these as excuses for their own evils.
I really think one of the appeals of maintaining a secretive and not-transparent atmosphere in the Family of God is that it allows for immaturity to continue. Secrecy sets the bar low because secrecy requires very little of us. It does not require the maturity that dealing with conflict and sin does. At the end of the day, I think in many cases the solution to many of these barriers is for us to call each other to a higher standard and grow deeper in our own relationship with God and grow in our ability to live in unity with one another.
Readers, what do you all think? Am I off my rocker? Am I onto something?