Summary: There is an old English Idiom: the elephant in the room. It refers to an obvious truth that everyone ignores. I think all of us have experienced the elephant in the room phenomenon in different ways.
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There is an old English Idiom: the elephant in the room. It refers to an obvious truth that everyone ignores. Or it is something that everybody is thinking about but nobody is talking about. I think all of us have experienced the elephant in the room phenomenon in different ways.
I had a meal with someone last week and they had a piece of food that missed their mouth and landed on their chin. As it dangled there, I was faced with the $64,000 question: do I ignore it or mention it? And I ignored it because it was easier and less embarrassing. We do with a lot of elephant issues.
I think the elephant phenomenon happens in a lot of families. Over the years I’ve had a counseling conversation that comes up often enough to know that it’s a common occurrence. Someone grows up in an abusive family—physical or emotional or sexual. And no one talks about it. And it’s not until someone is old enough or distant enough from their family system to be able to even identify the elephant that lived in their house. And usually it happens when someone is getting married or someone is going home for the holidays, and they come and see me because they don’t know how to confront the elephant. It’s a lot easier to ignore it than to confront it.
I also think all of us have personal elephants—things about us that everyone else sees, but either we don’t see it or we ignore it and there isn’t anybody in our life who loves us enough to confront the elephant. I’ve known drug addicts and alcoholics who have somehow managed to keep their addiction a secret their entire life. But there is an elephant in the closet that consumes their life. And they discover that ignorance is not bliss. The only way to get better is to confront the elephant.
In the same sense, I think the church has issues that it tends to ignore. And this series is about identifying some of those church elephants. I can’t possibly answer every question or confront every issue. And I’m sure I’m going to step on some toes and say some things you won’t agree with. But I just feel like there are some five-ton elephants in the church and we aren’t doing anybody any favors if we don’t talk about it.
Let me put it this way. I think one of the toughest things about parenting is having the sex talk with your kids. It’s tough to talk about because it is such an intimate issue. And you feel weird naming parts of the physical anatomy that don’t typically come up in normal conversation! It’s tough. It’s awkward. It’s hard. But here is the deal: you can’t not have the talk!
So you swallow hard. You pray for wisdom. And you have an open and honest conversation about it.
That is how I feel about this series. There is a little bit of fear and trepidation. I’m not even sure where we’ll end up. I’m pretty sure we’ll talk about gray elephants, fake elephants, circus elephants, and sexy elephants. But we may encounter some other elephants on the way. All I know is this: we need to stop answering questions no one is asking. We need to have the tough conversations about tough topics.
And here is what I’ve learned about “the talk.” It’s not a one-time talk. And it can’t be a monologue. It’s got to be an ongoing dialogue. I don’t want this series to come across as the final word or thus saith the Lord. To me, it’s the beginning of an open and honest dialogue about tough issues. So here we go.
The Gray Elephant
What I want to do this week is talk about the gray elephant. What I mean by that is this. The Bible is black and white on lots of issues. But there are also lots of gray issues or in the words of Romans 14:1—disputable matters. And how we handle the gray issues is one of the elephants in the church.
Paul is writing to the Romans and they are having some issues about what they can eat and cannot eat. In this context, the controversy involved food sacrificed to idols. And the issue was to eat or not to eat. And Paul shares some priceless principles in Romans 14 that have universal application.
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
I think we make one of two mistakes when it comes to gray issues. The first mistake is turning something that is black and white—Scripture is explicit about it—into a gray area. And we end up approving of something God disapproves of. To that person, Paul says: