I want to add to my stories about good, faithful women, today.
This is a story about someone I know well, but I am not going to use her name. You don’t need to know her to get the point. It is a story that needs to be told in several different ways and for different purposes. For today’s purpose, it is about truth-telling.
To begin with, Jesus is the truth. Whatever truth we aspire to know is summed up and disseminated by God-with-us, the risen Savior. Therefore, truth cannot be fully known without spiritual discernment. It is not factless, but the facts cannot present the truth unless the truth is related to God and is therefore concerned with love. My friend has had a difficult year trying to teach truth and tell it. She has been attacked by loveless truth purporting to be fact but without discernment.
She had a hellish year, actually, at the hands of ruthless colleagues and a feckless administration at a university. Years ago, she became a leader when things were falling apart. She not only righted the ship, she created something that was very effective and was regularly told that was so. She became respected and chaired faculty committees. She had a vision for student development and designed a curriculum to reflect Christian principles, coming up with something of a training model that was a unique combination of science and faith.
Just over a year ago, my friend came home from a trip to a funeral to find that two of her colleagues had engineered a “coup” of sorts, presenting a plan for the reorganization of the curriculum that purportedly conformed to “best practices.” They cut the heart out of the vision and justified lowering the level of training to one they could teach. Their plan amounted to truth without discernment, discernment being the hallmark of my friend’s approach. The coup was hard enough to handle. But what made it worse was that they would not talk about their reasons, their process, or the now-broken trust they caused. They demanded conversation in group under carefully scripted, circumstances. The situation was so bitter that the dean was brought in to mediate and my friend was subjected to a barrage of projection and invective like she had never experienced in her whole life. Obviously, the conflict never went through any personal process like Matthew 18 insists it should; it went directly to character assassination and tribunal. So the supposed truth was accompanied by no love.
It was worse than loveless, it was abusive. The leadership of the university did not stand with their leader; instead they made promises, fiddled, and left her hung out to dry. They not only wasted the results of her talents and devotion, they diminished all her work in a department that was one of the most successful on campus (and profitable!). At one point the provost brought in a professional mediator, with whom the rebels refused to meet except under choreographed circumstances. The mediator let them dominate the hour and afterwards actually suggested privately that my friend leave the university rather than expect the situation would ever resolve. The mediator later suggested she bring cookies to a future meeting, something like Beaver’s mother solving a sitcom crisis.
What might have solved my friend’s problem would have been not telling the truth in the first place. She had created a program that was serious about people and demanded serious professors to train students. The professors did not want to do the personal work; they diminished the program down to the little they were willing and able to do and called it “best practices.” Unfortunately, we need people to be trained by a good program; we need Christians who can deal in truth.
What’s more, my friend could have fought fire with fire. Instead of fighting for her leadership, she resigned in a show of humility. Instead of putting letters of protest in the files of her colleagues, or filing a lawsuit, she tried to make space for reconciliation to happen. Instead of organizing her appalled friends into a league supporters, she relied on the institution to follow its rules and protect its standards. She could (and still could) tell her story and let the truth stand. Instead, she has gone through an excruciating process of figuring out how to speak the truth in love when she has no partners with which to do that.
I expect Christians, certainly teachers, to do better. It is discouraging when they seem even meaner than the “world.” My friend expected her friends to do better than this — these were people she had housed in her home, travelled with, for whom she had fought for promotions and raises, and had provided for in so many ways. What’s more, we should be able to expect leaders to work for what is best — these were so befuddled and limp that they were afraid to tell the truth about their own stated vision and standards and just left a valuable leader to fend for herself. Granted, my friend was not an experienced or even willing political player; she didn’t want to be an infighter and that got her eliminated through her own audacious trust. But one would hope that there are still shepherds around who know the truth and tell it. Unfortunately it is often like Isaiah 56:10 His watchmen are all blind, they are all ignorant: dumb dogs not able to bark, seeing vain things, sleeping and loving dreams.
My friend is hurting, but she will be fine. She trusts God. She knows the truth and Jesus knows her. But will the truth be OK? Ruthless people wield pseudo-science around without discernment and ruin our schools. People who do not receive discernment from their spiritual directors or wise leaders are let loose in a so-called democratic atmosphere to steal and destroy. It is a very old story, but these days it is objectified by science and depersonalized by the spirit of self-actualization and tolerance.
I can’t solve this big mess of a problem by describing it. But I can continue to protest to whoever will listen. We need to do the best we can to tell the truth. If you are a leader you are required to have the courage to tell the truth for Jesus’ sake, as best you can. You’ll need to risk the conflict and not just ride out the problem until it settles at the lowest common denominator.
All of us, if we have a dream or if we have a problem, need to tell the truth. That means we’ll have to understand where our dreams and problems come from, and understand how we impact others. We’ll need to have a purpose for the common good, not just our own, when we go for what we think is best or try to solve a problem. Our truth will have to include love like the Lord’s.
Most difficult of all, when I am a victim of bad science and worse leadership like my friend has been, I will have to suffer for telling the truth and still attempt to love my enemies. I can’t remember when I last saw discernment rewarded in public. We’re all consumed by politics of the least relational kind. It is painful.
But don’t let go. You will probably be accused of grandiosity (and aren’t we all subject to it?), but let’s follow Paul’s exhortation: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. (Philippians 2:14-16)