Being that I misread the RCL Lectionary for this Sunday and pondered about Ephesians 5:10-15 instead of 5:15-20… I got hyperfocused on Ephesians 5:11-12 as while 12 passes the common sense test, it seems totally out of whack with the rest of the chapter.
Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.
Now, taken literally, verse 12 easily leads one to think we ought not to talk very explicitly about the evil perpetrated by some. From a common sense point of view, we’ve all said, egads, I didn’t need to see this, or I didn’t need to hear this, or from a biological point of view, I really didn’t need to smell this. One of the things I see cycling through the news cycle is the horrors of sexual abuse and the church… and some are saying illuminating evil is just too hard, its too scandalous, they don’t want to hear it… so just say evil was done in the church and let it lie at that. I even heard someone quoting James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.
I think such folks are totally missing the point. When evil is left in partial darkness or so sugarcoated to limit its impact, it will often continue, perhaps not in the same form, but when not fully illuminated, festering is a possibility.
I think there are some parallels with folks experiences during WWII. I remember a WWII vet telling me about stacking up dead bodies like cordwood. He told of his experiences with tears in his eyes. Another WWII vet friend got shot down over Germany and said he saw so much horror, it took years before he could leave the bottle alone. These men experienced the horrors of evil up front and personal and carried it the rest of their lives. They would not try to sugar coat it or limit the lights illumination, as it was more important to them that such horrors not happen again.
Granted no one wants to see sensitive folks vomiting in church, or having nightmares, so there needs to be some level of language discretion, but it should never go so far as to leave things in secret, or through vagueness reduce the impact of such when it comes to prevention.
Related to this is that not everyone is going to have a voice, some folks will be unable to speak and thats ok, as even a little light from others can go a very long way. Consider a handful of victims at Willow Creek which has now grown multifold due to the light they shone. Consider the findings of ~20 person grand jury in PA, whose actions have lit up the phones with even more victims calling in. Contrast this with the scandals of fifteen years ago, or the hidden nature of evil within small independent churches…. when illumination is covered over by well meaning folks so as to protect the church from scandal and/or folks constitutions.
I think Eph 5:12 is probably telling us how bad the evils were, ie that they are so evil, it is disgraceful to speak of them… and despite this, it is even more critical that they be fully illuminated and therefore exposed.