Recuperating from a third heart catheterization does have its advantages. My stack of reading material had grown to a dangerous height, and now I finally have time to begin chipping away at it. In the World magazine (May 17-24, 2008) I came across three articles about three different educational institutions that are in a state of upheaval over personnel issues. In each case some of their professors were now on the outside looking in. Two of them were familiar stories; I had already read reports from both sides of their conflicts.

This whole issue is not new, and I have personally observed the phenomena on a number of occasions. On this particular day, I quickly picked up another half dozen issues of the magazine. World is one of only two magazines that I buy. As I thumbed through it, I pulled out several more articles, all with the same theme – two sides to the same story. How could that be? Someone had to be telling the truth, and that meant that someone else must have been lying. You could argue that they just represent two different perspectives. I would think, though, that even with two points of view the conclusion should the same. After all, there can be only one true conclusion.

Were those professors on the outside because of their beliefs? Then say so; just be honest about it. It is not wrong for an institution to fire someone for his beliefs, but that institution should tell the truth about the situation. Smoke screens are not hard to identify, and they only confuse the issue. Don’t say the person was “unreasonable” or “uncooperative”; say he refused to back down on his beliefs. He may even be wrong about his beliefs, but tell the truth and clear the air. Don’t say the professor didn’t publish enough and then leave it there, even if that is true. If the truth is that the institution has made a hard turn to the left, and as a result the person in question got in the way, just say so. Why is it so hard to tell the truth? We all know already what the real issue is, so have the integrity to stand for what you believe; stop the spin.

The skin of the truth, stuffed with a lie

People who major in truth-telling will always be castigated. They are not welcome in evangelicalism or in much of fundamentalism. They are criticized as being arrogant, acting as though they are the only ones who have the truth. Even when you are just asking questions in an effort to get to the truth, you will be viewed as negative. Liberalism calls this “hate speech” and “radical”, but then it goes on to practice the very same thing. Finally, those who persist in truth- telling will be condemned for their passion. The accusation is, “you always sound mad” or “can’t you present something edifying?” Since when is truth no longer edifying?

In our circle of ministry, how often is the truth really told when someone leaves an organization or a church? Everyone smiles and says nice things, but the truth lies buried, because the truth hurts. Of course it does. It is supposed to, but it hurts only those with wrongs that have not been made right. I am fully aware that there are often matters that should not be made public. In discipline, the information only goes as far as the circle of infraction; discipline, however, is not the subject here.

Could it be that the hurt caused by using the skin of truth goes far beyond the sting of the truth? For instance, a pastor resigns and the excuse is “my ministry is finished here”. Of course it is finished, but why? The real answer is hardly ever discussed, and as a result the next pastor is “finished” before he ever begins. Twenty-two years ago my book on church polity, The Weeping Church, was published, and it is still in print. The book was a plea about “confronting the crisis of church polity”, and the crisis has not changed in all these years.

Why does a person move on? Perhaps he said it was the “will of God”, and who can argue against that; but why was it the will of God? It is amazing how many things we blame on God. Some folks spend their whole lives avoiding conflict. In fact, I don’t like personal conflict myself, but I love analytical and critical thinking that seeks to put thoughts in their proper place. What I write in this journal is meant to incite discussion. Discussing ideas like those above makes my day! I like to enter into such discussions with drive and passion, and I enjoy those who submit to careful observation. I don’t condemn timid folks who are afraid to enter the debate, and I appreciate those who refuse to condemn me for pointing the light toward dark corners.

Two different sets of standards

One of the things I observed in reading the stack of articles on this subject was not only the arrogance displayed in covering the truth, but the hypocrisy of unequal application. Every institution involved in this fray is familiar to me, and each one holds to academic freedom…at least on paper. On the other hand, in almost every one of these institutions such freedom was extended only to those who were willing to toe the line.

This is not about obedience to policies and procedures. The conflict is over ideas, and in many cases it’s about a theology that is biblical. One of the professors I read about was ousted because of his view of intelligent design. That particular institution is secular in perspective and has every right to choose unintelligent design as their model for origin, but they can’t claim academic freedom with any integrity.

Even in a place that is well known for its conservative theology, people are being sacked when the convenient financial crisis arises; but the truth lies buried. I try to follow the ministry of conservative ministries and academic institutions. I have been asked from time to time how it is that once-solid institutions end up veering to the left. It almost never happens because of their statement of faith; rather, it happens when the people in that ministry begin to take a low view of biblical truth. It begins by having personnel who are willing to shade the truth. The next step is usually the accommodation of error, or truth and error side by side. In the end, truth is not welcome and anyone who attempts to take a firm stand will find himself on the outside looking in.

Don’t expect it be any different in the future. Again I ask…why is it so hard to tell the truth?