The “St. Petersburg Times” has a website called PolitiFact.com. On the site they do a “fact check” on public statements made by politicians, interest groups, lobbyists, and others. Then they rate the level of truth in the statements along a “truth-o-meter.” Many do not fare well.
We live in a world full of impression management, half-truths and spin. Manipulative leaders utilize power and control to convince people of their leadership purposes and plans. They often feign humility through the mild acknowledgement of minor transgressions and the promoting of high-sounding righteousness.
Thank God for truth. It is powerful and liberating. Truth is not loud or fast talking. It is patient and steady. It waits to be invited into places where it may not be completely wanted.
Eugene Peterson writes, “We tell lies with the same words that we use to tell the truth. Words not only can reveal; they can conceal. Language is the way of revelation, unveiling reality; it is also a way of veilation, veiling reality.”
“To admit we are weak, foolish, and in need of repentance gives the vindictive and self-righteous camp plenty of ammunition to turn against us,” writes Dan Allendar. Mean-spiritedness is the proven pattern of behavior of those who employ impression management. They hate truth and truth-tellers and work overtime to squash or discourage both.
Jack faced a difficult situation. As a leader in his organization, he observed a new leader come in and begin to subtly malign board members and others. If Jack spoke out, he would be branded as disloyal and incapable of adjusting to a new “leadership style.” To remain silent was to be complicit. He struggled for weeks and sensed a growing conviction that he had to speak up. It was risky. He had watched a few others attempt the same and suffer for it.
He decided to address the style and substance of the new leader and attempted to do so in a respectful, collegial way. At first it seemed to have been well received. But within weeks it became obvious that Jack was the new target of insinuations and accusations. Jack felt himself being isolated, marginalized, and left out of key meetings. Those seeking to advance or get close to the new leader caught on quickly to this new “leadership style” and began to spin impressions about Jack, suggesting that perhaps his leadership was no longer needed.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Jack said. “At first I wanted to fight back with some spinning of my own. But my small group challenged me to take another course of action.”
Jack’s small group urged him to stand strong, speak truth, and use this season as an opportunity to be an agent of grace. “Henri Nouwen’s `Wounded Healer’ and `Ascent of a Leader’ became my guides in this difficult and challenging time. The Psalms and Philippians came alive as never before. What first seemed a time of oppression became one of formation as God used the situation to shape my character.”
It wasn’t long before the new leader’s persecution moved on to someone else. Things began to spin out of control for this leader. He was confronted by the board and asked to leave.
“It was scary how quickly the culture of the organization began to reflect the character, style and practices of this leader,” Jack reflected.
Truth is necessary for a community to be healthy and alive. “Growing character in community requires entering into the tension that we want the truth, yet we are nervous and even fearful of where the truth may lead us,” John Stott observes. Far too many Christian communities are more interested in maintaining the status quo than in being transformed by the truth. Truth often requires deep change.
Our greatest fear and our deepest hunger are to be a part of communities that pursue the truth. We desire to know and to be known. We long to become like Christ, even if we, at times, cannot express that or give words to the longing. We sense we are created for wholeness, but we hide. We, like Jack’s leader, work to manage impressions and keep others at arm’s length. But the wholeness we desire is not at arm's length. It comes when we accept the full embrace of God's grace in our lives as individuals and as communities in pursuit of the One who is not only the truth, but the way and the life.
Steve Moore is executive director of the Murdock Trust in Vancouver, Washington.