Can I speak truth in a "be nice" culture?

Loren Covarrubias Blog

This past week, President Obama gave his final State of the Union address. In the Republican response, given by Nikki Haley of South Carolina, she talked about the anger so prevalent in the present political debate. The president himself talked about the issue of being able to get along and work together. Everyone is talking about the need to get along with each other; the problem is, everyone takes their stand on issues and points out the fault of those who are opposite them. In reality, getting along sounds very good and civil, but we are in a time of great intensity—the likes of which has not been seen in our country for a very long time. Our problems are many, and they are multifaceted. We need healthy debate to come up with the solutions our country so desperately needs.

The question is, “How can we debate with the needed intensity and not become angry, or say the wrong things?” We are all reminded of the exhortation of our mothers, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” So, do we need to be nice all the time? What does that look like? It sounds good to create a world where everyone is nice to one another, doesn’t it? In our politically correct world, we are certainly admonished not to cause offense or conflict with other people. From a Christian perspective, we could easily think this is an appropriate attitude as well. After all, wouldn’t Jesus want us to be nice so people will like us? How can we win people to Christ if we are being offensive? What sort of marketing plan would include offending people?

W. W. J. D.
I would say the best person to answer this question is Jesus Christ Himself. Did Jesus ever offend people? If you ask the religious establishment of His time, you would probably hear them say how “unkind” He was. They would say, “He called us a brood of vipers!” If you were to ask Peter, the disciple of Jesus Christ, he might say, “Yeah, one day I was trying to show my concern for Him and He said, “Get behind me Satan.” How could He call me Satan? I was only trying to help.” There was a woman from Canaan who could have chimed in with her story. Her daughter was tormented with a demon, so she went to Jesus for help. His response was not at all sympathetic, “But He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’” (Matthew 15:26) Jesus told His disciples to send her away because He was not called to people outside of the children of Israel. Jesus compared her to a little dog—so much for being nice!

Speaking Truth Without Offense?
As with all of us, there is a time for nice and there is a time to speak the truth. Truth can be very painful, and even make people angry; however, sometimes displays of anger are necessary to make a point. This was what Jesus did when He went into the Temple and saw how it was desecrated through merchandizing. He turned over the tables of the money changers and corrected them. I would be very surprised if the people saw a “nice” Jesus that day. Was Jesus compassionate? Absolutely! Did Jesus go the extra mile with people? Yes, He did, and He encouraged His followers to do the same; however, when tough situations demanded a tough response, Jesus responded accordingly.

The Bible says, “Be angry, but sin not.” We should never be directed by our emotions; however, we should never pretend God created emotionless creatures either. We should not pretend we do not have human responses to life’s situations. Jesus had very human responses to the life He was involved in, and He alone is our example. Let’s not compromise truth just so we can say we were being “nice,” or even because we don’t want to offend anyone!