A cousin reminded me recently that our grandmother often said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I remember that too. Maybe everybody’s grandmother said this.
Thumper also said it in the movie Bambi. You know who never said it? Jesus.
Years ago as young pastors, HH and I heard that there had been a by-invitation-only gathering after worship with a group of long-time church members and one of the former pastors who was visiting for the weekend. (We had not been invited, which was okay. Old friends were catching up.)
The former pastor contacted us the next day to share that the hosts of the event had trashed us throughout the meal, challenging our character, our faith, and our call.
“What did the others say?” I asked, knowing that several of our most wonderful members had been in attendance. Surely they spoke up for us.
“They didn’t say a word,” our predecessor said. “It was very disappointing.”
Those church folks were trying to be nice. They were the guests at somebody else’s party. If they couldn’t say something nice in response to ugliness, they chose to say nothing at all. Some call this The Heresy of Niceness.
Now more than ever, we are not called to be nice. We are called to be faithful. We are called to stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the powerless, the marginalized. It’s. In. The. Bible.
So, what do we do when . . .
- We overhear someone make a racist joke?
- We observe someone teasing a disabled person?
- We listen to someone threaten a gay person?
- We notice a child being bullied?
- We are included in a gossipy conversation?
We can be nice. Or we can be faithful.
Being faithful is not about shaming someone. It’s not about returning evil for evil. It’s about expressing a different message – a message of grace.
If we do not speak up when overhearing words that incite or perpetuate injustice, we give the impression that we concur with what’s being said.
“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’m not needlepointing this on a pillow.