Do you remember Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes?” The vain Emperor only cared about fine clothes. Two weavers convinced him that they could make a new suit that would be invisible to those who were incompetent or “hopelessly stupid.” The Emperor paraded in public before his subjects in his “new clothes.” People in the streets acted as though they admired the fancy outfit for fear they would be perceived as incompetent. Finally a child blurted out that the Emperor was not wearing any clothes at all. The child was correct. The “weavers” were swindlers.
How should we as Christians react to the Emperor’s parade? Some say that since we should always tell the truth we should declare it boldly and publicly, especially when false claims are made. (A number of people mistakenly claim that gossip is not gossip if it is true.) Christians certainly should speak the truth in love when it is deemed beneficial to speak. We are to confront gently and without humiliating anyone. Of course, we should not say untruths but we do not have to relay every fact to every person. The key is how and where we should tell the truth. In certain situations, it is better to engage in a private conversation. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15) It was not necessary for the masses to tell the Emperor that his “new clothes” were really no clothes at all, but it would have been best for those closest to him to acknowledge this fact before he went out into the streets.
Some might argue that it is not our place to judge. If the Emperor feels good about himself with his “new clothes” who are we to say he is not wearing any? They are willing to let go of the facts of natural science in at least this instance to boost the Emperor’s morale. Here it is important to weigh the two options. Is it more loving to support the Emperor in what he has been convinced of or to encourage him to stay inside in his current state of undress? Christians must carefully consider when and how to confront error. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Reciprocal close friendships require us to speak the hard truth at times but prove to be the most beneficial relationships.
Finally, many of us are prone to the thinking that if everyone else believes it, it must be true. In the Emperor’s case it was collective denial. Does the Bible suggest that its teachings will be popular and that society will continually progress in ways that are more enlightened and more in line with God’s ideals? After Jesus instructed his followers on the correct way to judge and to remove the speck from our sister’s/brother’s eye he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:12-13) Throughout history we have seen ebbs and flows of popular beliefs and behaviors being helpful or hurtful. As we learn in the cautionary tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” we should not be swayed away from what is true merely because the crowds are proclaiming a different reality.