I love the Olympics, especially swimming. Going into the Olympics, one of the swimmers that I was actually already intrigued by was Ryan Lochte. I’ve watched him with interest over the course of his 3 previous Olympic games, but his story got really interesting this Olympics as Ryan, and 3 other US swimmers, were involved in an incident at a Rio gas station that resulted in the breaking news that these four swimmers were held up at gunpoint by men posing as police officers. However, as the days passed, it became clear that the story Lochte, in particular, told, was at best embellished and at worst a flat out lie.
Lochte’s exaggerated account became an international incident because it unfairly cast a negative light on the city of Rio, which had already been under significant scrutiny for its crime, polluted water, and political corruption heading into the games. It made the city of Rio look bad, and embarrassed the US Olympic team and the United States in general.
I’m not going to defend Lochte’s actions, but seeing the response to this situation has troubled me and has reminded me about a certain reality: LANGUAGE MATTERS. Over this past week I’ve observed the following things said about Lochte: “He is a disgrace,” an “Arrogant fratboy,” a “Thug,” and, of course, a “Liar.” I’ve also heard people call for his recent Olympic medals to be stripped from him, and that he never be allowed to compete for the USA again. Many of the attacks against him have been harsh, as is normal for a celebrity when a mistake is made.
WHY this situation troubles me is that when I put myself in Ryan’s place, I would hope and expect more grace than what he has been given. Maybe he has done something “disgraceful,” but that does not mean he IS a “disgrace.” Was his heart to create an international incident? I don’t think so. Should he have known better? Yes. But, so should we when we lie to our spouse or boss. He did something familiar to all of us; he got caught in one sin and instead of stepping into the light, he tried to hide it in darkness.
The point I’m trying to make is that as followers of Jesus, we should be the protectors of making sure a person’s mistake doesn’t define who he or she is. See, there is a major difference between “He IS” and “He DID.” Do you recognize how language matters there? Ryan Lochte DID lie, and DID something that could be described as disgraceful, but we should stop anyone short of saying he IS a disgrace. The familiar passage in I Samuel 16 reminds us that God does not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart of a person. Although it is true that a person’s actions reflect their heart, we also know that none of us can cast the first stone.
Admittedly so, I carry the baggage of believing that the hours of Sunday morning worship services are the most lie filled hours of the week. The false face so many of us (especially me) put on each Sunday morning is not a reflection of the grace, love, and acceptance of Jesus, but rather of the fear of what people would do if they knew what was really going on in my life – how discouraged or depressed I feel, how much I struggled with sin, anger, and fear this past week or how I failed as a spouse and a dad. We put on this fake face each week, which is the exact opposite of what should happen in a safe community where you can “come as you are,” as so many churches boast. Maybe too many people in the church have overheard that someone “IS” too many times and fear they will be labeled the same.
Leaders, let’s change this part of the culture of our churches and communities. If we are going to label someone with “IS,” let’s make it that someone “IS” loved by their creator. That someone “IS” created in the image of God, and that someone “IS” a child of God. Blessings