One of the reasons the truth doesn’t get told enough in churches is church leaders agree with Colonel Jessup: “you can’t handle the truth.” They may in fact be correct. Over time, if anxious or ungodly behavior is allowed in a church, it may be that church will “go Cairo” if the truth is told. This is sometimes a further reflection of poor leadership that hasn’t formed a community that can maturely receive difficult news. It can be the case that the church really couldn’t handle the truth. However…

I’m going to suggest that is mostly irrelevant.

Leaders who use the “they can’t handle it” excuse are often guilty of three things:

  • Rationalizing dishonesty.
  • A patronizing and condescending spirit toward the church (I can handle it, you can’t)
  • Cultivating a culture of secrecy that erodes authentic community and grows immorality behind closed doors.

Edwin Friedman opened my eyes to this in Generation to Generation when he observed, essentially, that far more significant than the content of any family secret is the ramification of its existence for the emotional processes of the entire family. Secrets create unnecessary estrangement and false companionships. They divide families…and churches. They also mislead and allow for corruption as secret-keeping becomes the modus operandi of the relationship rather than pure tolerance of the holy pain of truth-telling. Often, such a coddling of oneself and God’s people exists for no other reason than preserving the church’s self-image of perfection or the self-interests of the church from a numbers and financial standpoint.

I understand fully that discretion should be used in the telling of the truth in terms of delivery and in terms of privacy issues for those involved in particularly ugly situations. However, in most churches it isn’t telling too much that’s the problem. It’s the coddling of God’s people and corresponding culture of secrecy that puts a relational and missional banana peel in the church’s path that must be navigated around. At some point, it can’t. It must be addressed. How the church handles it then makes all the difference.

If leadership has cultivated a community that can hear and process difficult news maturely, it’ll be fine–and the church will trust it’s leaders more–and rightfully so.

Question: Do you think churches are guilty of telling too much or keeping too much secret? Why? What term do you think best describes your church: “open,” or “guarded?”

Note: Some content is reposted from a previous post, in light of the recent power outage in San Diego.