Telling the Salty Truth

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

We live in a society that cares very little about hearing the truth.  In fact, we often go out of our way to avoid the truth, in favor of some more palatable lies.  I have a feeling that’s why we are so enamored of talk shows.  We see the sorts of people and situations featured on Jerry Springer or Montel Williams, and we figure that, compared to their outrageous behavior, we have few problems.  We can avoid having to face our own sinfulness and lostness precisely because we surround ourselves with people and stories more depraved than we are.  We circumvent the process of being honest with ourselves about who we are; and we are just as dishonest with one another.

If we’re asked about what we think of someone’s new hairdo or someone’s new choice of a partner, either we lie outright, or we ask first if they really want to hear the truth (viz., “Do you want the truth?”), implying of course that if it’s all the same, we’d much prefer to lie and save everyone the embarrassment.  Lying comes much easier to us.  And sometimes knowing the truth and being unwilling to say it is even a worse form of lying.

Telling the truth is painful, which is why this verse from Colossians is so perplexing.  In the Oxford Study Bible the helps say that “seasoned with salt” means “with spiritual understanding.”  Next it gives reference to Mark 9:50.  I find that particular interpretation of Mark (i.e., “spiritual understanding”) unsatisfying.  The salt that Mark is talking about is cleansing, purifying—“Everyone will be salted with fire” (Mk. 9:49).  Mark goes on to say that “Salt is good” and that it may bring peace, but more in the sense that an enema is good: It may clean you out, but in the process, it’s going to be extremely uncomfortable.

It occurs to me that the church needs to speak the truth about some things.  I’m at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville, at the moment.  I just came from a very moving service, centered on healing and wholeness for those afflicted with AIDS.  The Reverend Bill Lee spoke the difficult truth about how when folks need healing, people who follow Jesus ought to be ready to tear the roof off to bring it to them.  It then struck me that there are a whole lot of people who need to find the healing love of Jesus, but the church is often not only unwilling to tear off the roof to bring it, in some cases the church is guilty of reinforcing the steel girders that keep people on the outside, hammering away to break through.

Why have we as a denomination at our national gathering, for instance, once again avoided having the conversation necessary to bring healing and wholeness to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?  I know there are difficult disagreements surrounding this issue.  People get mad.  It’s tough.  But this issue isn’t going away just because we don’t want to talk about it.  We’re Christians, people who follow a crucified nobody—tough is what we do!  The church—we folks who follow Jesus—shouldn’t be afraid of dying for what we believe in; we should be afraid of not speaking truthfully.  Where did we ever get the idea that we could get away with anything less?

There are going to be a lot of people who disagree with me—who think that LGBTQ folks are in need of some kind of repair before they get access to the healing love of Jesus.  But I think LGBTQ folks are already the way God wanted them; it’s the church that stands in need of repair.

There are going to be a lot of people who disagree with me—who think we should let this lie, avoid stirring the waters.   But I think there are too many people dying up on the roof to let it lie.

All of which brings us back to Colossians.  How can the author say, “Let your speech be gracious,” which implies blessedness, life-giving affirmation, and then turn around and add, “seasoned with salt?”  They certainly don’t appear at first to go together.  In fact, those two phrases look awfully awkward placed next to each other.  How can talk seasoned with grace be also seasoned with salt?  It may just be that the biggest part of grace is telling people the truth rather than the lies they’d prefer to hear.  Come to think of it, if it is the salty truth we speak to people, rather than the savorless lies that help them maintain their self-delusions, then maybe we’ve spoken to them with “spiritual understanding” after all.


Derek Penwell is senior pastor of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities.  He is the author of articles ranging from Stone/Campbell history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions.  He is a graduate of Great Lakes Christian College (B,R.E.), Emmanuel School of Religion (M.A.R.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.), and a Ph.D. in humanities at the University of Louisville.  He currently blogs at The Company of the Eudaimon and on Twitter at @reseudaimon.  Penwell was once shot with a potato gun while fleeing the scene of a Cold War espionage sting at a premium vodka distillery in a rural Estonian outpost. (He doesn’t like to talk about it . . . so don’t ask.)

15 thoughts on “Telling the Salty Truth

  1. Interesting post. I came to it from twitter. I am not a person with strong feelings on this issue. I try to reconcile the reality of life around me with what Scripture says about the subject — and there’s really no reconciling the two. Should we allow marriages other than between men &women, thereby providing a way for folks to be faithful within a marriage? Is that what you’re saying? When you say they are exactly as God Wanted them, are you saying He wants all of us — even the lazy, overweight, gossipy people ( like me) to come to Him as we are because that’s our only hope for healing and forgiveness? This issue is so hard.

  2. @Marsha – I would be very very cautious about implying God favors one body type over another. In our culture, we learn a lot of misinformation about fat bodies (and internalize it). Having studied the issue for years as a health professional, I am convinced that the problems most associated with large bodies are a result of the stigma and change attempts (i.e., diets) that fat people face. Fat people who don’t face stigma and never try to lose weight just don’t show the same health problems (such as hypertension). God’s creatures come in all shapes and sizes. You can tell NOTHING about a person’s gluttony, sloth, pride, etc by looking at them or at a number on a scale. Fat and thin people suffer from such issues – and fat and thin people don’t. But you can tell a lot about what culture they were raised in by their assumptions about body size!

  3. I am a Lesbian. God made me this way and I reflect the image of God. I am a Licensed Professional Minister in the Central Rocky Mountain Region of the CC (DOC). God called me to that also. I don’t have a problem reconciling the two. The church does. In 1990, this region that told me my seminary studies would be worthless in this region because LGBTQ folks were not to be ordained nor given standing here. But I won’t go away. I have a special ministry here and God called me to it, I certainly didn’t pick it. The church, as a WHOLE, needs to deal with this truth. I won’t call it an issue, because I AM NOT an issue. I am a human being made in the image of God. I go to the common table with Youth Pastors who are teaching their teenagers doctrine that will cause the LGBTQ teens to consider suicide, the belief that they are an abomination. If I can go to the communion table with them, they need to be able to come to it with me. They don’t have to hire me or let me teach their youth. But I should not be denied standing anywhere nor ordination anywhere because of their beliefs. Thank you for this post. As followers of Jesus, we speak the truth in love and take prophetic stances. Get off the sofa DOC and at least have the conversation in a meaningful way. Remember, it’s not an “issue”, it’s people and their lives you are talking, or more sadly not talking, about. Thanks again.

  4. I’m glad this movement is unfolding online because history will be able to see who stood by the oppressed, and who didn’t. A time is coming when people will look back at full inclusion of GLBTQ folks as only logical and right. The memory of this current struggle will become sanitized by institutionalism in the same fashion that the civil rights struggles of the previous century are now. The time of full inclusion is coming. The question for us individually and collectively is the same; Which side are you on?

    “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. King

  5. Very interesting article. I know that both of my open and affirming Pastors are there at the Conference as well. We welcome LGBT folks to our church and have many LGBT couples, families and singles. However, I am wondering: Just how many LGBT SPEAKERS have there been at the conference?? My guess: Zero. How many actual LGBT topics were presented?? My guess: Zero. How many LGBT (non-clergy) were invited to attend the conference?? I know none of the members of my church were invited to attend (whatever their orientation)—but I guess Conference is a “Clergy Person” only conference. If the answer to all the questions above are Zero, then your article is totally hypocritical and you have done nothing except reinforce those steel support beams over the conference. Most of the time I am SO proud of the DOC; however now, thanks to your article, I question if I should be as proud of it.

  6. I think the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has very wisely not made any denominational level pronouncements on this issue- which would serve to do nothing but be divisive. We have a congregational polity, so the denomination is in no position or authority to speak for all Regions, congregations, pastors, and members on this issue.

    However, I don’t believe that we should ignore the issue. But it should begin with listening- not desiring a communion-splitting vote at a General Synod.

    • I meant to say “General Assembly.” I am serving in a UCC context, and General Synod just concluded, so it’s on my mind.

      By the way, remember the congregations which left the UCC following the 2005 General Synod, the UCC also being congregational. However prophetic you believe a stand on marriage equality is, it does split denominations. We need to be able to listen, and discussion with out forcing out those with whom with disagree with. A General Assembly (or General Synod) resolution is not a discussion.

  7. Does Jesus say NOT to take prophetic stances because they may divide an institution developed hundreds of years after his death? I don’t see that. As a matter of fact, following social justice with radically inclusive love meant an eventual death on a cross and he didn’t shy away from that. Just for the lay persons info, there are 2 lay people invited from every church to come and be voting members and as many lay people as want to come can register and come attend. And yes, there have been Queer friendly events, speakers, breakout sessions, worship services and the like….but they have been organized by the Queer folk. I don’t know if the GA planned anything themselves this year, I am not there. I am working with an ELCA church (as well as my DOC church) right now and out of thousands of churches, 300 left after they voted for equality in rostering (giving standing.) So yes, “insitutions” may be split, but don’t we follow a faith that acknowledges both death and resurrection? Will fear of loosing churches keep us from doing right? Is an institution more important than justice for PEOPLE? We have been listening since the early 90’s in my experience and perhaps before that as well. It is time to stop listening and act. Institutional Heterosexism is as much a sin as institutional racism. The DOC has a congregational polity, so no church opposed can be force to hire a gay minister or perform gay weddings…..but the RIGHT to be ORDAINED and given STANDING is important for the General Church and Regional church to back. Yes, maybe it’s a little bit scary, but which side of justice do we want to stand on?

    • GLBT clergy already have a right to be ordained and already have standing. That is because ordination and standing is a Regional matter, not a General matter. The DoC already have GLBT clergy actively serving churches as we speak. Therefore I just don’t see the benefit that can come from the General body making a pronouncement on the issue.

      If a GA vote is not binding on the smaller expressions of church (Regions, Congregations, Pastors, and the lay-faithful) nor does it speak for such expressions of church, then what purpose would such a pronouncement serve? It doesn’t gain recognition where it is currently lacking, and does not increase it where it exists. Such a move by GA would only go to anger and run-off the conservative DOC among us. Again, remember that GLBT folks already do find welcome in various expressions of the DOC.

      The result would only be division. And yes, we should be concerned as Jesus prayed “That they may all be one.”

      The GA should responsibly yield its voice, particularly on controversial matters. What percentage would you suggest is needed to pass a GLBT equality resolution? 51%, two-thirds? And would that effectively represent where we are as a denomination?

      • Unfortunately, Joel, you could take out “GLBT” and insert “Black,” go back 45 years, and what you say would have had great appeal to a number of folks. Now, you may not think that GLBT issues rise to the level of civil rights (obviously many people don’t–and that’s a different conversation). But if you think they’re both issues about justice and about how Christians ought to treat one another, then sometimes being silent to preserve a comfortable peace is nothing less than sinful. Unity absent the truth isn’t unity at all, it’s uniformity. The church has no stake in that.

  8. “…don’t we follow a faith that acknowledges both death and resurrection?” – Sherrill

    Amen Sherrill. Every year when I meditate upon the mystery of Good Friday I reflect on whether or not the DOC has the faith to die. Do we believe that the cross leads to resurrection? Participating in GA from Kansas City via social media, I am feeling hope again. Praise God, I’m feeling hope again!

  9. One more thought for consideration, regarding the civil rights movement for people of color… this civil rights movement it’s even MORE important for churches to take a prophetic stance. I’ve had long discussions with pastors of color and we agree….when they were born, most of the time they grew up in families of color and in churches of color who TAUGHT them how to handle their identity as a person of color and how to deal with personalized and institutionalized racism. Now, I can “pass” if I so choose, which they couldn’t, but on the other hand I wasn’t born into a family or a church that could teach me how to handle/reconcile my identity and deal with heterosexism. As a matter of fact, I was taught those things by both family and church. That’s my hot button….the church on EVERY level must teach not just tolerance but acceptance and celebration of all God’s children created in God’s image. And we have to start somewhere…

  10. Pingback: Holding Hands and Finding Home | [D]mergent

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