truth, grace and covid-19

Covid-19 royally sucks, but it can teach us many things if we have ears to hear.

We have been reminded of the benefits of slowing down, cooking food at home and going for walks. We’ve realised that good hygiene is good not only for slowing the spread of Covid-19, but also many other things we don’t want to spread.

A more recent lesson I’ve noticed has to do with how we speak to one another.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where I live, we’ve negotiated a lockdown after some guidelines were not adhered to. Naturally, there has been disappointment and people (including the Prime Minister) have encouraged everyone to “call out” those who are breaking rules. Her words were:

I’m asking everyone now more than ever to continue to back and support one another, and if that means calling a family member or colleague out for not following the rules then we should do that. Do it with kindness, but do it.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

This advice is not only wise, appropriately-framed and practical, but also reminds me of another leader communicating similar advice to a group of people. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the value of “speaking the truth in love”.

Both advice-givers are concerned with health. Just as Jacinda is empowering people to keep one another accountable for the good of the community, even when it means saying something less than welcome, so too Paul is signifying the value of loving truth-speaking for the maturity and discipleship of the Church. We can argue if we want about the science (Covid) or the ethics (Christian maturity); but both communicators are talking about the kind of balanced communication needed to encourage what they both understand to be good for health and growth.

In both cases, there is a goal (or to use Jacinda’s term, there are “the rules”) and there are those who fall short of the goal (or breaking the rules). The goals of health and maturity require that we do two things.

We have to maintain the goal… and not shame those who fall short of it. We have to stick to the rules… and be kind to rule-breakers.

It has to be OK to admit you’ve done something not OK.

Consequences will always be necessary. Breaking different kinds of rules will incur different kinds of consequences. Losing a job, a role, a position, freedom to go out in public, etc.

Consequences for rule-breaking will be necessary, but we must be kind. Paul says elsewhere “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them in a spirit of gentleness.” If we let shame, disgust and rejection to be the only things that characterise our response to rule-breakers, then we will only encourage people to hide their rule breaking. They’ll be even slower to admit it. And in the context of a disease that you could be passing on before you even know you have it, we need people to admit their mistakes as soon as possible.

Be kind, and call one another out.