During my first year of college, my university required me to take an interpersonal communications class. I guess they thought that all freshman were just really awful at communicating with one another….which is true. I waited on a table just the other day of high school students who were out on a date. For the majority of the dinner, they sat across from one another and texted on their phones and rarely talked to one another.
Anyway, in this class, we learned how humans communicate with one another, how we can better communicate, and how we use language to subtly communicate things we really don’t mean. One of the clearest examples that I remember is the use of conjunctions in conversation when navigating delicate topics.
What do I mean?
You know those people on Facebook who say “I’m not racist, but…” or those friends who say “I don’t mean to be a jerk but…” Yes, every time they add the word “but” they consequently cancel out the beginning of their statement and highlight their criticism. You don’t remember that they weren’t trying to be offensive or didn’t want to sound racist. You end up thinking, “Oh yeah right. You clearly meant to be offensive!”
In the Christian Arena
I pick up on this a lot in articles written about Christians or by Christians when they take a stand on an issue of holiness. It usually plays out like this: “I absolutely believe that we should love all people, but some people need to be held accountable for their actions.” or “I’m not trying to sound like a jerk but we as Christians need to take a hard stance on this.”
It reads very negatively. It creates a false dichotomy. Either you believe in God’s grace and love, or you believe in God’s holiness. There is no both/and. It frustrates me because we as Christians DO believe that people are made in the Imago Dei, God does offer forgiveness and grace for our sins, and we believe that people are to be held accountable and sanctified.
It tells readers who struggle with sin that the Christians who care about holiness don’t care one bit about them. Even worse, by creating this false dichotomy, it causes more conservatives to take harder, often unBiblical stances on holiness. By separating holiness and grace in our language, we begin to see it as two separate issues altogether. We then start to really wonder if God truly loves and cares for the homosexual, the adulterer, the murderer, the sinner, etc. We then have to have a little bit of a reality check.
How do we fix it?
Just change the conjunction! BAM! DONE! DONZO! FINISHED!
Instead of saying “We believe that God loves and offers His grace to all, but there is an expectation of holiness.” say “We believe that God loves and offers His grace to all, and there is an expectation of holiness.”
See how it dramatically changes the conversation? The first one places a weighted emphasis on holiness and seems to discard the first part about grace where the second states that grace and love is equal to holiness.
By changing this one small aspect of our language, we can hopefully have more meaningful conversations with people about holiness and grace. We can protect ourselves from falling into theological traps, and we embody the spirit of Christ (who was God and Man, Justice and Mercy, Grace and Holiness) to all who need to hear of Christ’s love.