Summary: God calls us to be the kind of people who both act and speak out of love.
Our missionaries Bev and Jesse Rich were here two weeks ago, on furlough from Uganda. They spoke briefly during the service, and after the service they showed a video of their ministry and answered our questions. It was all fascinating, God is doing some amazing things there, but one of the things that really struck me was a question that the leader of our visiting VIM group asked. Actually it wasn't so much the question as the answer. Sarah asked what the most difficult part of their adjustment to Uganda had been. And Jesse answered, "they don't think telling the truth is a virtue."
That astonishes us here in the west, doesn't it. It's not that westerners don't lie, far from it. Just take a look at the statistics for cheating in school and on income taxes. It's just that most of us feel guilty when we do, or know it's wrong at some level. But in Uganda, the better you are at deception, the more you can pull the wool over someone's eyes to take advantage of them, to get the better in a deal, the more respected you are. It's a plus to be a good liar. And even their pastors have a hard time learning this.
I think that's one of the reasons our diplomats and politicians seem so surprised when a country like North Korea violates a treaty. They are really proud of themselves for having hoodwinked the most powerful country in the world, and many other cultures around the globe will also admire them for it. And we expect them to be embarrassed or ashamed at being caught? Far from it! We are, I think, a little naive at times.
And yet our politicians are among the best in the world at saying one thing and meaning another. But they have to do some pretty fancy footwork since most of us still do think that telling the truth is, by and large, a good thing. That's one of the reasons The Emperor's New Clothes is so popular: we like to see self-deception exposed, especially when the culprit is a blowhard at the top. But I often wonder what happened to the kid who blew the whistle on the naked emperor. Did they turn and trample him underfoot? That's what people do, you know, when they have a lot invested in their public mask. I think that's why people got so upset when President Bush publicly disavowed the Kyoto accords. Everybody knew that we weren't going to follow them, Clinton hadn't even submitted it to congress for ratification. But something in us wanted to believe that saying the right words made us as virtuous as doing the right thing. But people can't be deceived for long unless they want to be. As Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time." Honesty can be dangerous, though. How much do we really want people to know about what's going on under our Sunday go-to-meeting exteriors?
And yet that is what James is calling for in his letter.
Mind you, James is not calling for us to abandon all restraint and let our worst selves loose into the world. That's the response to hypocrisy that attracted so many during the 60's - I know, I was there! People gave up courtesies and compliments in favor of "letting it all hang out." What James is calling for is to have our innards changed so that what flows from our hearts does in fact reflect well upon the gospel of Jesus Christ.