I’m not a Southerner myself, so this is admitedly hearsay. However, I understand that there’s a Southern coloquialism that’s quite popular: “bless her heart”. What on the surface sounds to be a sweet, well-meaning phrase is in practice used to preface something unkind, harsh, or that we’re not proud to say. You know, like saying “Bless her heart, she can’t pass up a donut to save her life.” That kind of thing.
I feel like I’ve stumbled across the Christian equivalent of ‘bless her heart’ recently: “I say this in love”. Just like its Southern counterpart, the way this phrase is used sometimes feels like a magic wand, or a secret code. It seems to allow Christians to set aside responsibility for any consequences of their words about to follow. It functions as a free pass to say whatever we want.
This past week I’ve seen many things said “in love”, especially in regard to my creating space for conversation about how we understand homosexuality in the Church. Despite the stated intent, being “spoken in love”, I didn’t experience it as such.
“Saying this from a place of love”, or any of its derivatives, feels eerily similar to something Jeff and I call the “I’m Funny Rule”. The rule is this: an inversely proportional relationship exists between how often a person feels the need to tell others how (adjective) they are and the reality of how true that (adjective) is in actuality. The more often a person says “I’m really funny”, the less likely it is to be true. It’s the same with humility, inteligence and physical attractiveness: the more a person talks about how that characteristic applies to them, the less true it seems to be. The most hysterical people typically don’t run around announcing it—they just are. The same thing holds true with those that are highly intelligent, and is especially true for the humble. They don’t need to convince others how true those things are, it’s plainly obvious.
This rule reminds me of how my 4 year old daughter plays ‘make believe’. The majority of time spent playing ‘make believe’ is comprised of her running around asserting who she is pretending to be. “Hey, Mommy! I’m Cinderella! Look at me, Daddy! I’m Cinderella! Hey, brothers—it’s me, Cinderella!” This cycle can (and often does) repeat for hours, with no end in sight. She is so busy asserting that she’s Cinderella (or whatever role captures her attention that day), trying to convince us of who she wants to be, that she often never actually gets around to the business of being Cinderella.
Lately the phrase “I’m saying this in love” strikes me in the same way. If we are confident that our message is inherrently loving, there should be no reason to convince others of the point. It almost seems as if we doubt our own motives so we try to cover our bases by “saying things in love”. I wonder if we are acting out our faith the same way my daughter plays “make believe”? Do we assert that we’re acting out of love, or do we simply act out of love?