How to Avoid Being an Ass While Telling the Truth

What's the difference between sharing an uncomfortable, necessary truth and being an ass? I've noticed that in our era, it seems like the main difference between a prophet and a jerk is whether or not you agree with what they're saying. To put that on context, the same person can be a freedom fighter or gun-nut depending on who they're talking to.

Those who spoke difficult truths to the powerful in the Bible were called prophets. I've thought a lot about what makes a prophet a prophet instead of an angry troll. Prophets see and share insights that live at the intersection of truth and unrealized justice.

In other words, what a prophet proclaims must be factual and must point out the manner in which some person or people are oppressed or abused by society or its institutions.

I am not and have never been a prophet. But, there are times when I've felt the need to share truths about unrealized justice. Here's the thing: I'm sure a lot of people who say things I disagree with believe they're doing the same.

I don't want to add noise or even unnecessary conflict in life. I'm naturally averse to conflict, and have spoken up at the wrong time or in the wrong way in the past. So I developed a four question matrix to test any "prophetic truths" I may feel compelled to share.

  1. Am I communicating honestly and without hostility? My message will be best received if I take the time to process my own feelings before speaking.
  2. Am I speaking for someone or against something? It's good to work for the rights of others, but I don't want to oppose something for the sake of opposing it.
  3. What will I get out of saying this? If I stand to gain emotionally, financially, or any other way by speaking an uncomfortable truth, I may need to examine my motives carefully.
  4. Is this driven by social identity? If the truth I'm sharing is commonly held among people who identify themselves with labels I use to identify myself, there's a real chance these beliefs are driven by social identity. I may need to check my sources and reasoning before speaking up.

This list is by no means exhaustive or universal–it's just the test I apply to ideas before I tap "share." If you'd like to hear more about speaking truth to power instead of being an ass, check out Tuesday's episode of The Liturgists Podcast where Michael Gungor, Rachel Held Evans, and I tackle the topic, "Prophet or Ass."