Category: Courage

Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking Truth to Power

whistleblowersIn 2002 TIME magazine’s Persons of the Year were three women who spoke truth to power:

  • Sherron Watkins, the Enron vice president who wrote a letter to chairman Kenneth Lay warning him that the company’s methods of accounting were improper.
  • Coleen Rowley, the FBI attorney who caused a sensation with a memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller about how the bureau brushed off pleas from her MN field office to investigate a man who became one of the 9/11 disaster
  • Cynthia Cooper who blew the cover off WorldCom when she informed its board that the company had covered up $3.8 billion in losses through phony bookkeeping.

More recently Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission during the Sept. 11th assault on the US embassy in Libya has been speaking truth to power by describing a series of events other than what we have heard before.

The first documented time the term “truth to power” was used was in a series of papers, “A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,”developed by the Quakers in the 1950’s as they urged alternatives to violence in the conduct of the Cold War.

Considering the consequences a truth-teller might experience, speaking truth to power epitomizes genuine conviction that something is wrong, and genuine courage to do and say something about it.


Every now and then doing the same might place us in disagreement or even outright conflict with those in positions of authority over us. As we see in the news on a regular basis, conflict with those in power happens in the workplace, in ministries and the church, and in the military.


Authority gets potentially abused or blind in just about any place we might work. What do we do about that? I propose, we speak truth to power.


Scriptural examples

We can begin with some history. Though the term may be only 60 years old, the practice of speaking truth to power goes back quite a bit further.


1. The example of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

The book of Daniel tells the stories many of us learned in childhood of four young Israelites who defied the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar, their political authority, to bow before his idol and to cease praying to God.


When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were confronted with the threat of death they refused to obey. They spoke truth to power.


Similarly, when Daniel was told to stop praying to his God he didn’t. In fact he prayed three times a day. In his room where the window faced Jerusalem. He engaged in civil disobedience that Martin Luther King Jr. would have been proud of.


2. The example of the Peter and John

After Jesus’ home going, Peter and John were told by the Sanhedrin, their spiritual authority, to no longer preach in his name. Acts 4 describes their encounter with power in verses18-20:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

This was not the meek response the keepers of the Law were expecting.


3. The example of Jesus

Countless times Jesus stood before the pious Pharisees, the stoners of women, the condemners of healing, the pompous legalists, the spiritual authorities of his day, and spoke words that silenced and condemned them. He got in their faces so frequently and so disturbingly that they eventually crucified him.


Daniel and his colleagues spoke truth to political power. Peter spoke truth to spiritual power. Jesus spoke truth to illegitimate power.


We may not put ourselves in their league. But we do, in fact, have the same authority to speak on behalf of integrity, fairness, justice, and kindness.


How do we do this when we confront issues of dishonesty, prejudice, or demeaning treatment of others?


Perhaps more than any one other quality speaking truth to power requires, Heart.


The French word for heart is Coeur. It’s the root word of the English word Courage. When we encounter a conflict with authorities, we must live and speak from our HEART. We must:


1. Honor our authorities and organizations.

Look at the biblical examples we have referred to: In the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar searched for the finest men to serve in his palace. Verses. 1:19, 20; say, “he found none equal” to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.


Regarding Daniel’s reputation, Dan. 6:4 says, ”They could find no corruption in him…”


These four godly men were not troublemakers, or passive-aggressive whiners. They stood out head and shoulders over everyone else. Even though they had another God, they still honored Nebuchadnezzar’s political authority over them.


Sometimes we Christians think we have to make enemies with anyone who has an opinion different than our own; whether it’s a denominational difference, business difference or political difference.


Not every difference of opinion requires a religious battle. Often, the best approach is to honor legitimate authority and prove to be the best worker, the best citizen, or even the best friend, that person has.


We can be friends with those who differ with us. We can be above approach as workers. We can and should honor those who carry legitimate positions of authority in our lives.


As with Daniel and his three friends, we should be of blameless character and be an example to others in how we honor our authorities.                      


2. Examine our own motives and intentions.

Luke 6: 41, 42, in the Message is an appropriate passage to remember for this topic: “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own…Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”


I think that’s remarkably clear advice. Again, we Christians sometimes have a deserved reputation for demonstrating a holier-than-thou approach with others— whether neighbors, co-workers, or even Christian denominations that we think will probably just barely make it into heaven.


This passage makes it unmistakably clear; before we go off on a rant about someone else’s shortcomings, make sure we have taken a good look in the mirror, at our own practices and our motives.


Bill Ury, the author of a book called The Power of a Positive No, warns us: “When angry, you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”


Before speaking truth to power, take some time to think this through. Humbly examine your heart; respectfully examine the other person’s intent. You just might see another perspective.


3. Approach the right people.

When we disagree with a new policy at work, or are legitimately concerned about a decision our pastors or elders have made at church, the easiest path is to find someone else just as aggrieved as we are, and commiserate with each other. As they say, “Misery loves company.”


This is neither a courageous nor an honest path. It’s gossip. Simply looking for others to endorse our own point of view does little to bring about resolution or justice in a healthy way.


It also accomplishes no greater good if we simply keep our convictions to ourselves…and grow angrier by the day. Scripture tells us, “In your anger do not sin.”


When is anger not a sin? When it rises up on behalf of people we care about and principles we believe in. Other people; biblical principles.  Those are the values worth getting righteously angry about. Anger that is self-serving is sinful anger.


Daniel, Peter and Jesus did not stew in their anger. They had the courage to live out their principles and defend them to those who disagreed.


We should approach the right people; those who actually determined the decision or policies we are struggling with, or who have the authority to make a change. We should not be silent, but brooding complainers behind the backs of our bosses.


4. Represent.

Speak up. Be honest. Speak for yourself and for others.


Look at our previous biblical examples. Daniel and his cohorts were blameless, model citizens and workers, until…they were told to compromise a principle more important to them than their position or security.


In the case of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they were told to bow down to an image. That’s where they drew a line. We will obey and honor you, they said, but we will not worship you nor compromise our beliefs.


Daniel 3 describes this encounter. They were brought before Nebuchadnezzar who was “furious with rage.” How dare you disobey, he exploded! I’ll have you thrown into a blazing furnace! Then what God can save you from my hand?!


How did they represent their convictions? Respectfully, directly, courageously, and without apology. Verses18-20, …“we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”


We know how the rest of the story went. They were spared.


Daniel represents in a similar way. With Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar, who sees the obscure writing on the wall but can’t interpret it, Daniel pulls no punches when asked to translate the message,


 “O, Belshazzar, you have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven.”  Daniel 5:22


With his successor Darius, Daniel was told not to pray to any other God. When confronted with a demand he could not obey, he didn’t. “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”   Daniel 6:10, 11:


His response was not with words, and it was not hidden, it was outright disobedience.


Peter and John’s response to power is told in Acts 4:18-20:“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”


They responded respectfully, directly, courageously, and without apology.


How about Jesus, how did he respond to threats and intimidation from authorities? With bold reference to a higher authority: “I do nothing on my own authority…I have come with my Father’s authority.”


On what authority do we establish our convictions and speak up when we need to? The exact same authority. Others may not recognize it; that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.


“I am not here to please man!” Jesus said. Who are we trying to please when we confront dishonesty, injustice, corruption? Do we let it slide or do we speak truth to power?


We represent. We represent our convictions, we represent on behalf of others, we represent the values and principles we believe God calls us to.


5. Take the consequences


Just like our biblical examples, we understand that speaking truth to power may well have some consequences for us.


Patrick Lencioni, well known business author who wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says the best way to tell what your deepest values really are, is they are the convictions you’re willing to get punished for.


There will often be consequences when we take a stand. Sometimes they will be good consequences; sometimes they will be very hard.


·      Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego survived a furnace.

·      Daniel survived the lion’s den.

·      Peter and John stood up for their convictions, and while John lived to an old age, Peter was eventually crucified, upside down at his request, for his beliefs.

·      Jesus was welcomed as a conquering king with palm fronds one day, and one week later was crucified for speaking truth to power.


There are no guarantees what reaction those in power might have. Some might be persuaded, others might fight tooth and nail, others might end their relationship with you. In all likelihood, none will kill or crucify you.

In any case, the willingness to take the consequences of our convictions and actions is a crucial part of the equation when we talk about speaking truth to power.

Whatever our work or church setting, almost all of us serve under legitimate power. Sometimes, in defense of our highest values we must speak truth to their authority with respect and with integrity.

There are much easier paths to take than speaking truth to power.

·      It’s easier to go along with the crowd; let the small stuff slide

·      It’s easier to ignore the slight cutting of integrity corners; no big deal

·      It’s even easier to make excuses that might explain away unsettling policies, decisions or treatment


But we are not called to the easy path. We are called to follow the path of others who courageously voiced their opinion:

·      Daniel who spoke to kings

·      Peter who spoke to the Sanhedrin

·      Jesus who spoke to the Pharisees and pious legislators of the Law

·      Quakers who pleaded for less violence

·      And the women who spoke up to Enron, WorldCom and the FBI.


Speaking truth to power is almost never the easy path. It takes genuine courage and it takes heart:

·      Honor your authorities

·      Examine your motives

·      Approach the right people

·      Represent on behalf of yourself and others

·      Take the consequences


Others before you did. Quite often they changed history. So might you.

It Takes a Hero

It Takes a Hero

Photo by Charles Krupa AP
Photo by Charles Krupa AP

Our hearts and minds reel in stunned disbelief at the images and stories still streaming from the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon. We simply weren’t built to process this kind of random, awful violence.

Yet, these events always bring stirring stories of heroics by both trained professionals who leap into action, and seemingly average citizens who become unsuspecting national heroes.

Those who are trained to respond reflexively to danger inspire us. We saw them not only in Boston, but also in West, Texas, where at virtually the same time over a dozen first responders entered the blaze at the fertilizer plant, only to be lost in the sudden enormous explosion that killed many of them instantly.

We are also inspired by the average citizens who react with the same selfless spirit in the face of danger. One of those in Boston was Carlos Arredondo, “the man in the cowboy hat”, who re-appeared in numerous photos and stories, always helping another person.

He and many others showed another side of human nature that counters the awful evil we have seen far too often in recent months. These men and women reveal the essential goodness and courage that also lies deep in the human heart. They are genuine heroes who put themselves in danger on behalf of others.

It turns out Carlos was very familiar with suffering. Years ago he was the subject of another national story. The Costa Rican immigrant father of a Marine son who died in Iraq in 2004, Carlos became so distraught at the news delivered to him at his home by Marine officers, he jumped into their van and set himself ablaze. He survived only because others came to his rescue.

Perhaps it was Carlos’ own familiarity with suffering that motivated him to reach out to the strangers he saw bleeding on the streets of Boston. If so, he demonstrates the truth of 2 Cor. 1:3, 4: “…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Compassion is not often equated with heroism. It should be. The world knows a hero when they see one. He’s the guy running compassionately toward danger when others are running away.


A Strong Woman; Some Weak Men

Kathleen Parker, the highly-regarded syndicated columnist with the Washington Post, has long been one of my favorite editorial writers. She just moved into first place. She’s politically sharp, verbally eloquent, intellectually open-minded, obviously feminine, and a staunch proponent of men acting like men. She is refreshingly straight-forward in her lack of patience for political nonsense […]

When We Encounter Accusations

When We Encounter Accusations

“Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!'” Acts 23:1-3

  • Speak courageously
  • Follow your convictions
  • Some will resent you
  • Leave vengeance with God


When some of us men hear the word Passion, we think of sex, or some vaguely feminine emotion, or…sex.

I think visceral, gut-level, profoundly stirring. The word brings to mind a challenge we are so committed to we will attempt it all costs; win or lose, we will put our best effort out there. It’s something we must do something about. We can’t NOT do it.

The recent London Olympics gave us so many images and stories of passion. I realize that they are already receding to the rear view mirror of the news cycle, but before we move on, would you please take 5 minutes and watch these clips from the Games that just took place. I watch these and I see Passion.

The efforts of these men and women remind me of the words of Teddy Roosevelt, taken from The Man in the Arena:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Do you have an issue you are passionate about? What is it? In all likelihood, the world needs you to do it. Will you?

It Takes a Hero

Shortly after the recent fires in Colorado Springs I met with a group of about 150 men who had the honor of hearing from 3 firefighters who told us of the ground level impact of fighting what experts called “a firestorm of epic proportions.” I was profoundly impressed by the selfless attitude these men and […]

“Pity the Fool”

“Pity the Fool”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Those are the memorable words found in the journal of Jim Elliot, one of the men killed by Waorani warriors (known as Aucas at the time) in Ecuador in 1956. Their sacrifice was memorialized in a Life magazine spread, numerous books including Through Gates of Splendor, and the 2006 major motion picture End of the Spear.

I was reminded of Elliot’s words as I read this passage this morning: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Matt. 16: 25,26.

In what ways do we men try to save our lives? By believing our significance is based on the gaining of Power, the accrual of Possessions, and the earning of Prestige. All of us who have pursued any of these knows the truth: they cannot lead to true significance and joy.  Just watch those men who continue to give all of their effort to get just a little more of each. These goals do not satisfy.

What is it that we cannot lose?

Inner joy. Joy that is based on inner confidence rather than outward striving; joy that is deeper than external circumstances.

A lasting legacy. A life lived for the benefit of others; a life that brings outward blessing rather than selfish gain; a life impact that lives on after we are gone.

An eternal reward. The reward of knowing that our significance rests in who God is and what he has done; an eternal reward from the hand of God that is based on faith rather than effort.

The man whose life is based on these truths is no fool.

Don’t Take Your Song to the Grave

One of the best known quotes about the state of men is Henry David Thoreau’s: “Most men live lives of quiet desperation…” Even though he wrote those words more than 150 years ago, they still hold true for so many men. We men, and the women who know us, are familiar with the silent pressure, […]