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The Tragedy of Transparency

The Tragedy of Transparency

I recently wrote down some thoughts on how our culture idolizes experience. There are portions of the church that have doctrine strongly attached to experience. There are other traditions within the church that verbally confess attachment to objective revelation. But even in these traditions idolization of experience has "crept in unnoticed" (Jude 4). They have done so noticeably in emphasising transparency among leadership. Adopting this facade of "honesty, honesty" has not led the church to deeper intimacy, but to the idolization of leaders and their "experience" — prototypically experience of the negative sort. So let me start from the beginning and work things out to fruition.

For starters, transparency is not repentance. Nor is the continual spreading of transparency a marker of sanctification. Repentance and sanctification are grounded in God-given faith and not experience. This is why despair, regret, or any positive experience cannot initiate spiritual maturity. Yet, in a world of political correctness and false kindness, many will presume an honest individual to be more mature. For instance, anyone who has spent time around a drunk knows that achieving "no filter" status is not something of which to be proud. Why is this? Because the honesty is not typically intended to build up people. Similarly, transparency, by itself, is neither friendly nor community building — even when it intentionally puts forth a negative image of the confessor. In a rather ironic way, I would like to argue that transparency (especially in the form of self-disparaging revelation) is the last stumbling block to true intimacy.

The primary reason for this is that transparency trades on the value of experience. More specifically, it trades on experience-made-public. Transparency takes experience and asks people to respond to it. The response is less important as the attention that transparency often accumulates — perhaps a common man's version of "no such thing as bad publicity." Transparency derives its value from unfretted knowledge and little else. There is no required response or reaction that gives validation to transparency — it is self-fulfilling. It eventually becomes nothing but a mature worship of experience. Whether this worship occurs in the speaker or listener is irrelevant.

In the hands of leaders (specifically church leaders), transparency is a tool used to bring congregants and associations closer. This "sharing" inclines them to deeper commitment. It puts forth "honesty" that encourages trust and faithfulness (and when used properly it should). In a culture of experience worship, this truth has created a generation of transparent people who consciously and subconsciously are merely looking for affection and power through their following. These people are always honest. They are the straight shooters about the lives. Particularly in our culture's obsession with anti-heros, the transparency of the negative form are the flavour of the day. Transparency about our awful our experience is incredibly compelling. These types of people are always telling us how it feels from the trenches of some despairing experience. It is endearing. It makes connections. Transparency accomplishes what it should. But when this transparency does not lead to a genuine Christian community it becomes merely a recounting of our personal filth — it is private confession turned public for beneift. This is particularly true when it is done across social media. People feel closer to you without any of the potential maleffect. For the church, the dangers outweigh the benefits. Or better stated — beware the persistently public confessor. 

Lest one declare me a ranting lunatic, transparency is still of value — but never a value of itself. Stated another way, transparency must never be its own ends. It must have for its purpose achieving community in the church. This mean union with Jesus Christ through care for one another. More pointedly, transparency is only valuable as a stepping block to true intimacy. Transparency must be for the benefit of the community's discussion and lives. To achieve this transparency must be short and to the point. It must stop and listen from others. It must stop and listen to responses from others. It must accept rebuke. It must accept that its experience is not natural, safe, or faithful to the witness of Christ. Thus, the "transparent one" must always be hearing feedback from their community. This works against the use of transparency that perpetually points back to the speaker. This healthy type of transparency is not for the sake of experience worship or idol building. To practically discern the difference, check if the "transparent" person responds well to public criticism or rebuke after publically posting something.

Those who wish to be transparent must truly be humble & accept correction from those around them. Sometimes it will merely be a vehicle of rebuke and correction. This is the root of intimacy. Intimacy, which is the final thing of infinite worth, is not "share, share, share" but discerning correction. Transparency that attempts anything less is a tragic tramp stamp.

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