Speaking The Truth In Love, Ricky Bobby Style


I’m a firm believer in the theory that Will Ferrell movies get funnier the more you watch them.

Take, for instance, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby .

When it first came out I had no interest in seeing it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t watch it until it started running on TNT and I was too lazy to change the channel. When I finally did see it, I said to myself, “Self, this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” The next time I watched it I thought, “This is actually a pretty funny movie.” Today, it’s one of my favorite movies ever, the kind I’ll stop to watch whenever it comes on TV and enjoy every minute of, even though I’ve seen it a million times before.

My favorite scene in the movie is the family prayer where Ricky Bobby prays to his favorite version of Jesus – little baby Jesus in his golden baby diapers. It’s genius. A perfect critique of how so many of us approach the faith and prayer in particular.

A close second in the race to be my favorite part of my favorite movie is not a scene, but a recurring joke.

The first time we hear it is right after Ricky Bobby has cost his racing team 100 points for flipping the bird on TV. His team owner confronts him about it after the race and the exchange is priceless.

Ricky: “With all due respect, Mr. Dennit, I had no idea you’d gotten experimental surgery to have your balls removed.”
Dennit: “What did you just say to me?”
Ricky: “What? I said with all due respect!”
Dennit: “Just because you say that doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want to say to me!”
Ricky: “It sure as hell does!”
Dennit: “No, it doesn’t-”
Ricky: “It’s in the Geneva Conventions, look it up!”

Ricky and Dennit have a similar exchange later on in a bar after Dennit tells Ricky that a French Formula 1 driver will be joining the race team, to which Ricky responds, “Mr. Dennit, with all due respect, and remember I’m sayin’ it with all due respect, that idea ain’t worth a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin gettin’ it on.”

In Ricky Bobby’s mind saying “with all due respect” is a free pass to say whatever he wants however be wants to say it. For Ricky Bobby, “with all due respect” is a free pass to not actually extend any respect at all.

It sounds ridiculous and absurd. And it is. But that’s the genius of it.

It’s exactly how so many of us respond to people in real life.

Especially in the church.

One of the phrases you hear tossed around a lot today is “speak the truth in love.” It comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus and in its original context it’s a beautiful reminder to always extend love and grace even to those we disagree with.

2,000 years later, however, “speak the truth in love” has become the Christian version of Ricky Bobby’s “with all due respect.”

Look at the comment section of any controversial blog post or Internet article or the conversation thread on a Facebook status or just sit back and listen to a heated conversation at church and you’ll hear someone defend their unequivocally hateful attack by claiming they’re just speaking the truth in love.

But, here’s the thing about “speaking the truth in love.”

To quote Mr. Dennit, “Just because you say that doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want to say to me!”

There’s gotta be, you know, actual love involved. In other words, how you say something matters. Which means invoking half a Bible verse doesn’t give you the right to dehumanize and degrade other people in the name of Jesus.

And yet that’s exactly what so many of us do.

We call people liars and deceivers and sodomites and heretics. We condemn people to hell and criticize their intelligence and let them know they make us gag.

We even tell people that God hates them.

Then, when we’re called out for our bigoted hate speech, instead of owning our hate, we defend ourselves just like Ricky Bobby did, apparently oblivious to the fact that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can hurt people even more.

Since we all seem so concerned with speaking the truth, here’s some truth for you – when you dehumanize and degrade another person you’re not speaking the truth in love, you’re speaking “the truth” in hate.

As a church we need to stop acting like Ricky Bobby and start acting more like Jesus. Yes, Jesus was honest about what he thought. And yes, Jest spoke the truth even when it wasn’t popular to do so. But he did so with actual compassion and grace and love.

Those things aren’t just words or ideas. They’re ways of being, ways of treating people both with our actions and with our words.

So, if you insist on continuing to fill the Internet or the halls of your church or the break room at work with vitriolic, dehumanizing rhetoric, thinking that “speaking the truth in love” is your free pass to say whatever you want however you want to say it, know this.

It’s not Jesus you’re following.

It’s Ricky Bobby.

Since I’m always welcoming new people to the blog I sometimes like to revisit an old post or two that sparked a good conversation, but may have been missed by those who weren’t around when it was originally posted. This post originally appeared a couple of years ago, but I remain convinced that the wit and wisdom of Ricky Bobby is as important and relevant today as it was back then.