“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6
Gracious speech has been a struggle for believers for as long as we’ve been around. Sometimes we get so caught up in truth that we forget to treat people like people. We ignore that many will be turned off by stale speech, instead preferring the seasoned words of the practiced rhetorician. But some of our truths are rather unpalatable to the modern ear. Children may not care for vegetables, but adults stomach them, regardless of whether or not they enjoy them: the goodness requires our action. And so it is with truth: sometimes we won’t like what is true, but must find a way to stomach it, for our own good.
Seasoned language, much like seasoned food, ought not cover up the subject entirely, but rather accent and enhance it, according to the palette of the listener. Some rhetoric seeks to cover the topic at hand, winning the listener over with sweetness; good rhetoric, however, ought to enhance the subject, rather than covering it up.
Perhaps I’m late to the game to discuss Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty clan. But if ever somebody spoke some truth (mixed with some falsehoods) that wasn’t well seasoned, it was probably him.
That’s a bit of hyperbole. Phil isn’t the first harsh speaker to hit the world, and he won’t be the last.
So let’s not talk about Duck Dynasty and the unsurprising statements from backwoods Christians. Let’s talk about how we ought to speak our minds day-to-day. How do truth and sensitivity interact? Must we silence our beliefs in order to win souls?
Pope Francis lands on the opposite spectrum from Phil, and not just in his beliefs concerning the nature of a church service. The Pope has been making news by stating what the Church has always believed, despite what caricatures of Catholics believe. But he’s also carefully answering questions. When he is asked flat-out what he believes about homosexuality, he says we ought to see everyone as people first. That’s far smoother than the Duck Dynasty version (which likens homosexuals to idiots who don’t know what they’re missing). And Roman Catholic doctrine hasn’t changed regarding homosexual activity.
However, if you use too much seasoning, at some point the dish itself doesn’t matter: all you taste is the topping. Some seem to think this is the way to go with Christianity (“If we make Christianity attractive by only talking about love and not judgment, maybe people will convert!”), but that is an offense to the Gospel. Francis has been accused of seasoning his words too much, but I think he has a robust dish to land on, so to speak. Catholicism is the sort of religion that changes far more slowly, if at all, even if Protestant Christianity has shirked that particular reputation.
So if you say “I’m Catholic”, people probably know where you stand on the issue. But if you say “I’m a Christian”, suddenly the world is without clarity on your stance. If it is our job to lead the world from sin and towards Jesus Christ, it is (at least partially) our job to point out sin. But many who claim Christianity do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, regardless of what Scripture makes clear (and not just Old Testament passages). So, what do we do? Do we speak our minds and offend, or keep our mouths shut and make friends?
The answer comes down to context, more often than not. If asked flat-out what you believe about homosexuality, you should have the strength to stand by and speak your convictions. If you are misunderstood, you may need to follow Francis’ example and remind yourself and others that those in the LGBTQ crowd are, first and foremost, people made in the image of God.
But if you aren’t asked directly, should you ever bring it up? Short answer: maybe. If your friends don’t have a clue where you stand (or even that you are a believer), perhaps you aren’t living your life for Jesus as strongly as you thought. But if they know you are a believer, and even know where you stand on homosexuality issues, it isn’t worth trumpeting every time you talk to someone. Really, it won’t do you any good. Don’t serve the same dish at every meal; it gets tiresome.
If you never seek to soften your words, if you only ever speak offensively, you cannot claim that you are being attacked for your faith. The world may persecute you for Christ’s sake, but if you are attacked because you never considered your words or your actions, you are being persecuted for your own sake. And, unless you’re already perfect, that’s not going to fly.
So, step back and consider your words. Don’t be needlessly offensive, but don’t avoid all offense. The gospel is worth losing friends over, but your unnecessarily brash language isn’t. Season your words carefully, but remember to vary them as needed.