Thursday, May 2, 2019

Speaking Truth to Power

Can we hold leaders accountable?

In Acts 23, Paul stands before a Jewish court to defend himself. In his opening remarks, he declares that he has faithfully followed God's instructions. The high priest immediately orders that Paul be struck on the mouth. 

Paul rebukes the high priest saying, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!"

Apparently Paul did not realize this was the high priest. Those who struck Paul rebuke him: "You dare to insult God's high priest?" Paul quickly repents, confessing that he did not know this was the high priest. Paul quotes a verse from Exodus, "Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people" (Exodus 22:28).

This account seems very authentic. I can imagine Paul reacting just as he did. He did insult the high priest, but he also pointed out the high priest's hypocrisy. Is he repenting of the insult or the statement of truth?

Because we tend to respect people in authority, we also want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Often this benefit becomes ignoring or excusing their wrong behavior. This pattern then allows the leader to abuse authority more and more. No one speaks up because no one else speaks up. 

This leads to toxic cultures in corporations, communities, churches, and nations. It is a culture of oppression, in which power goes unchecked. 

And then someone dares to speak out. Often that first voice pays dearly for speaking truth. Then others come forth. And we have a #MeToo movement, or the uncovering of a pedophilia culture, or a politician in crisis mode.

We should respect our leaders. But we should also speak truth. We need to call out hypocrisy. We need to hold leaders accountable. No position places a person above the rules of morality. 

But somehow that is a mistake that we humans make again and again.