“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”- John 8:31-32 (New Revised Standard Version, Updated)
I am convinced that the truth sets us free; however, the truth often makes us mad before freeing us. I spent 2022 campaigning for the United States Senate in North Carolina. I was the Unaffiliated Write-In Candidate. It’s exactly like it sounds. I was Unaffiliated, and I traveled to both the urban, and the most rural parts of the state and knocked on the doors of far-left liberals, and far-right conservatives. I had conversations about everything from gun rights to abortion, to the Jan. 6th insurrection. On more than one occasion, I was asked, “Do you think Jan. 6th was an insurrection?” In one meeting, when I was asked this question, I paused, and the person asking the question continued, “We’ve asked this question to every candidate for the United States Senate that has shown up, and no one has given us an answer. One candidate changed the subject, and another talked about why we have to move beyond Jan. 6th.” I gave my answer. “Yes. I don’t know how anyone can call it anything but that.” It was as though the air was being sucked out of the room. I’d later learn the meeting was being televised and would be played on repeat on the local cable network for months. I let the air be sucked out as I continued talking. “The reality is, if the people leading the insurrection had looked like me, or been a group of indigenous people, they likely wouldn’t have lived to be tried or prosecuted.” I don’t know if my truth made anyone mad that day, but one of the council members said to me later, “Amen, sister. Thank you for speaking the truth.”
As followers of Christ, we are called to be bringers of the light and of truth; half interpretations of what it means to be a truth-teller often have people of faith screaming about their views/beliefs at the tops of their lungs while ignoring the very real harm they are doing. Insurrectionists and their supporters believe they are bringing the truth to light of a stolen election. It’s a lie.
Partial truths and truths that are twisted to fit a situation or circumstance are still lies. As I answered the question about the insurrection, I’d often have the line from A Few Good Men Running running through my mind when Tom Cruise is questioning Jack Nicholson on the stand. An agitated Cruise, in contempt of court, yells at Nicholson, “I want the truth!” Nicholson responds, “You can’t handle the truth…” It was true for him in this movie, and it’s true for most of us in real life. One of the kids asked me at church this week, do you want the real truth or the Christmas truth? The Christmas truth was a truth that had been sugar-coated. I said to him then, and I will continue to say it, “We always want the real truth.”
The truth is that many in the Christian faith have stopped worshipping God and instead are worshipping nation, party, demagoguery, and white supremacy; it’s not just far-right conservatives, but it’s far-left liberals and people in the middle. For those genuinely attempting the work of positive community transformation, this is clear but is a difficult truth. When we call ourselves Christians and then fail to do the work of living in a way that is Christ-like, everyone suffers.
I believe… if Christ were to show up today in human form in most of the places where we live and worship, he’d be turning over all the tables and burning it all down. The words of John 11:35 were true in the past and ring true today. “Jesus wept,” and Jesus will continue to weep as long as we choose to follow the world instead of following him. It’s 2023. I don’t know what you’ve committed to, but I’ve committed to truth-telling and loving. This is not the type of truth-telling and loving that says my sin is not as bad as yours, and I love myself before all else. When truth-telling and loving show up filled with hubris, we all miss the mark. This year, I’ll be working to live into the type of truth-telling and loving that leads us to loving our neighbor, promoting unity with each other, and develop communal and personal relationships with Christ.
By Rev. Dr. Michelle Lewis