“I thought you were a safe place.”
As that statement rolled off the tongue of a person interested in engaging in a conversation on race I began some introspection. Am I not a safe place for people to come and ask questions? Or perhaps there’s something else going on here? I’ve received this feedback a few times after correcting or pushing back on a question that was less than helpful or downright racist. Thankfully I’ve been able to work these uncomfortable situations out. But knowing that I’m not alone in receiving this feedback it got me wondering if:
- People may not actually desire to learn, but rather want to express their thoughts on race to me and hope I simply absorb them
- People assume that correction or adjustment is a sign of disapproval and unkindness, thus the defensiveness and offense.
I’ve determined that when someone asks a question directly to me, for feedback and an answer, and that question isn’t helpful, it is most kind to speak the truth in love.
Safety ≠ Complacency
Churches should be filled with people who are gracious and willing to hear questions. We should be the most approachable people on this earth because we know Jesus. Jesus was approachable. Jesus died for rotten sinners like you and me. But a safe place does not mean a complacent one. Churches should be filled with people who are willing to speak the truth in love. This means that we have to work hard to build relationships that are sincere and loving. This takes work and we will fail. But it is necessary work if we are going to learn to love and relate to one another.
Part of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ is evaluating how our words will affect the other person. Questions are always welcomed. but they won’t always be absorbed. They shouldn’t be expected to be. What I mean is, if you ask a harmful, unhelpful question then you and I ought to hope that someone will tell us the truth. This is not a judgment about our character or motive; it’s a way to grow.
When you or I come to another person with a question we should evaluate whether we are coming to learn or coming to challenge. If you ask a genuine question that is met with a genuine and loving answer that may correct your assumptions, then consider it a part of the learning process. If you come with a question and receive a genuine and loving response that is contrary to your ideas but you respond defensively, perhaps question your motives.
Maybe “Safe Places” Aren’t Safe At All
Perhaps the greater consideration is whether or not the notion of a safe place is helpful. If a safe place means that someone has the freedom to do and say whatever they wish, however they wish, then it is not a safe place for anyone. The person who is considered the “safe place” is at risk to be harmed, or at the very least put in an awful position. The person who thinks he can share whatever he wishes to the “safe” person is in danger of sinning. I’m convinced that if I allowed someone to do or say whatever they wish in my presence because I’m a “safe place” then I’m actually extremely dangerous and do not love my neighbor.
As much as we want to be available and approachable, it may be time to bury the notion of a “safe place.” I don’t want to be a safe place where people think they can say anything and I don’t think you should be either. Instead, you and I want to be loving places where people come and ask questions knowing that we would love them enough to share honestly, to answer gently, and to correct as needed. I want to love them enough to tell the truth. And I want to be loved enough for people to tell me the truth.