Truth, Bias, and the American Way

21 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  2 Peter 1:20-21

oathAs a trial attorney, I suppose I have said it to at least a hundred or so jury panels during the voir dire examination of them, when the parties are trying to decide whom to strike from the jury panel.  That’s the way our system works.  The parties each get to strike a certain small number of prospective jurors, and the first 12 left comprise the jury.  It is an examination for one purpose…to determine any relevant bias which may make a juror the wrong juror for a particular case.  So, I have said this to all of them: “We all have biases.  They don’t make us a bad person.  They don’t make us liars.  They don’t make us deceptive.  In our area of bias, they just make us an unreliable finder of truth in that area.”

Those words rang so very true, I think, as little as 50 years ago in our culture.  Truth cannot be found in bias.  But, in more recent years, I fear that our bias-rich American culture is making it more and more difficult for us to explore truth without bias.  I have stopped watching national news, pretty much completely.  Why?  Because every single national news syndicate in our country is hopelessly biased, whether by choice or by accident.  I’m certain it does not matter which.  What bothers me most about that sad fact is that real journalism was our last secular hope for knowing truth.  Then again, maybe that was false hope from the very beginning.  Maybe there is no real hope for truth in a secular world.  Maybe the human condition forbids it.

So, if the secular world holds no hope for discovering truth, what about the spiritual world?  What about spiritual discernment of scriptural truths?  It seems that the church has had its share of struggles there as well.  We are an intelligent and creative people.  We are apparently capable of making scripture say almost anything we want it to say.  And that is a problem.

And so, Peter’s words above shed some light on an awful lot of the debates raging in the church today over interpretations of scripture.  Truth, as it turns out, is not born in the hearts of men…it is not a matter of our will.  We cannot begin any genuine search for truth with a clear bias for what we want it to be.  That, it seems, is one obstacle that makes any genuine search for truth, well, not so genuine.  When an honest read of my heart has me starting my search for truth with what I want it to be, my search is flawed from the beginning…and my results will be flawed as well.

So, may I just suggest this tip in your ongoing search for spiritual truth?  Stop and make an honest assessment of that search, and of your own heart and desires.  On any given question about scriptural truth, ask yourself this: “What do I WANT the truth to be?”  And if you have a truthful answer to that question, then factor that bias in to your process.  Cop to it from the outset.  If you miss that adjustment, you will miss the truth, and your time of searching (and the time and efforts of those searching with you) will have been wasted.

The term “voir dire” is actually a French term.  Roughly translated, it means “to speak the truth”.  Speaking the truth, in our culture, means owning our bias and making the necessary adjustments.  Otherwise, we just become another talking head in a world full of op-ed talking heads.  And there is no life-changing testimony in that.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Your Church’s Response to Same-Sex Marriage

10 04 2014

Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” Jeremiah 38:4

 All Jeremiah was doing was speaking the truth about the inevitable. He wasn’t arguing, he wasn’t happy about that truth, and he certainly wasn’t causing that truth to be any worse. He was just recognizing the choices his nation had made and the inevitable, irreparable consequences that were now set in motion. He was saying, “this is happening and you cannot change it…you can either choose to die right here on this hill or you can embrace reality and choose to live.” Jeremiah suffered a harsh retaliation for daring to speak that truth…for daring to recognize the inevitable and for daring to suggest that we should embrace it and figure out how to live with it.

same-sex marriageDoes any of this story feel to you like the same-sex marriage issue the American church is now facing?

As of the publishing of this post, there are 17 states in the U.S. who recognize same-sex marriages. The other 33 states have bans (either Constitutional or legislative) to same-sex marriages, and all but 5 of those bans are currently under judicial scrutiny for being overturned. There is a rapidly growing pressure in all 33 of these states to at least create some kind of “civil union” whereby the state’s interest in “licensing” and the church’s interest in the sacrament of marriage can be separated…a compromise whereby the state and the church can each maintain the control they need. Every national opinion poll I have seen shows the majority of Americans now favoring same-sex unions, and that number seems to be growing daily. In short, the pendulum is swinging pretty certainly toward same-sex unions.

I am no Jeremiah. In some sense, I truly wish I were. But in a lot of ways, I am happy I am not. But I am going to suggest something here to the church in America and it is not going to like it. I suspect I will be accused of “weakening the army” and of “destroying the morale of God’s people”. Who knows? There may be a cistern waiting for me very soon. But I am just going to say it…

Same-sex marriage is here. It is the consequences of our own choices. It is happening. Our government is doing this, one way or another. You do not have to agree with it. You probably can argue eloquently about how wrong it is. As was true with Jeremiah, that argument seems to be less and less helpful as time goes on. Same-sex marriages are happening already, if not in your state, certainly in 17 other states (so far), and those couples are then moving back to your state.

The question is, will they be in church or not? Hopefully, they will be. Hopefully, within the next few years, same-sex couples will be sitting in our pews along with you and with me and with all the gossips and the liars and the gluttons and the adulterers, and we will all be worshiping and studying scripture together and praying together. As a church, then, we have an important decision to make about how we will relate to them. We should be thinking now about what love will look like in that case. We should be figuring out now how to minister with and to each other and, yes, how to have the conversation about all the implications of this relationship.

We should be asking what this will mean for the registrations at our next marriage retreat, or what this will mean for the family photos in the next church directory. We should be thinking about what love looks like when a same-sex couple walks into a couples Bible study or Sunday School class, and we should be having that conversation with all our leaders. We should be preparing our childcare workers for the child with two daddies or with two mommies and how that may affect our conversations.  Hopefully, we will figure all of this out a little more quickly than we figured out all these same issues with divorced people!

The scriptural debate will rage on. The discussions about God’s perspective on the issue will not end anytime soon. But, in the meantime, it has become an inevitability and we need to move toward figuring that out. I guess I just felt compelled to say that.

And now I will go and take my place in the cistern.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




We Should Have Credentials to Talk About Love

31 03 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

One of the negative impacts of social media on our society is that anyone who knows how to communicate well is automatically accepted as an expert, or at least as someone to be followed and quoted.  In truth, maybe all they really need is an opinion that happens to fit well with other people’s in order to get followed. There are no credentials necessary. There is no life experience necessary. Credibility is “earned” merely by being a particularly gifted or innovative communicator. That notion is both refreshing and scary at the same time. And nowhere is it becoming more of a nuisance than in the church.

love credentialsLast week’s Christian social media posts were filled with comments about World Vision’s President, Richard Stearns’ comment to Christianity Today that his organization would now be willing to hire legally married gay couples to work there, and then the organization’s subsequent quick reversal of that decision.  As you might imagine, Facebook posts and blog posts (and Christ-followers’ comments on both) lit up the internet.  No surprise…it was just the next in what has become a long series of school-yard brawls around LGBT issues within the church. They always draw a crowd. And, of course, the damage to the church is immeasurable. You can hear the chorus of those outside the church: “And THAT is why I will never go to church again.” 

Terrific.

There are a lot of reasons why Christ-followers are going to be on opposite sides of the LGBT issues for some time to come…too many reasons to get into here.  Maybe we will explore all those reasons in other posts.  In the meantime, it is this Christian mediator’s professional opinion that agreement on all the issues is not going to happen within the church in my lifetime, and perhaps not in my children’s lifetime either.  There are just too many forces both within the church and especially from outside the church to allow for agreement.  Political and social agendas have hijacked these issues, making genuine agreement impossible.

The question, then, which we must answer (and quickly) is how we can live together within the church while disagreeing so strongly on these issues.  How do we even converse? How do we minister side by side? How do we worship together? How do we learn at least some modicum of mutual respect for each other’s positions in order to be able to co-exist?  Maybe in the final analysis, all of these questions can be summed up in one poignant question which begs our full focus and attention: In our conversations around these issues, what does love look like?

We know that is the right question. I know that we know it, because we all keep assuring each other that we are speaking the truth in love.  We all talk about how much we love the people on the other side of these issues from us, though we strongly disagree with them.  But based on so many of the comments I saw last week from folks whom I know to be Christ-followers, I’m just not convinced that all of us are the “lovers” we profess to be.  If love has something to do with meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our brother, I am just not convinced that we are all truly spending much time really loving those on the other side of these issues from us.

And so it is from this place of frustration and fear for the church’s testimony that I propose a simple fix: the church needs “love credentials”.  These are not credentials you can get from a seminary or from a Bible college…all the studying and reading in the world will not earn these credentials.  And they are not credentials even a local church can offer…sad but true.  The credentials I propose are only available and can only be earned from one source: people on the other side of the argument from me.  I propose that, before I publish a comment or a tweet or a blog post talking about how much I really do love “those people” even though I disagree strongly with them, I should be able to point to two or three or four of them who will attest to that fact…just a handful of people on the other side of the argument who will all testify that, yes, I really have loved them well.  These credentials are earned by sitting face to face with people whom I love on the other side of these issues and actually listening to them and understanding their concerns, their feelings…because that’s what love looks like.

That will be my credentials test from now on. Have we had this conversation face to face with people on the other side of these issues who will vouch for our “love” for them? I am just not going to waste any more of my time reading posts from people on either side of this issue for whom I cannot find those credentials. But much more importantly, I won’t be posting my own positions or opinions on these issues either, until I have first had the conversation with friends whom I know disagree with me and have assured myself they will vouch for me.  It seems to me I have some credentials to earn.

How about you? Ready to earn yours? BEFORE you publish that post?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Loving Against the Grain

15 10 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:51-53, 59-60

Learning to show love to a lost and broken world is hard enough for us as individuals…that challenge is magnified a hundred fold for the church corporately.  We, the church, must live in the tension between standing for holiness (separateness, not giving in to the ways of the world) and loving the broken people around us, who are still well-entrenched in the ways of the world.  It is tricky, isn’t it?

When I read Stephen’s amazing sermon in Acts 7, and I see him brilliantly making the case for the pattern of rebellion throughout the history of the Jewish people (it is very much like an intervention…laying out all the evidence in a rational and indisputable way) and then leveling his charge against the church leaders of his time by associating them with that same pattern…I think to myself, “Now THAT is definitely going against the grain and calling out an entire culture!”  I have seen churches who have no problem with walking against the grain…railing against our culture, screaming at all the sinners in the world and telling them they’re going to burn in hell, even telling them that God doesn’t love them.  I have also seen churches who, though they do not say it out loud, their actions convey this same message.  It is an attitude which holds truth with a reasonably high regard, but not so much love.

When I read Stephen’s dying words, imploring God not to hold this sin against these people who killed him and loving these very people up to his last breath…I think to myself, “Now THAT is love…wishing the best for people even as they kill you!”  I have seen churches who have no problem wishing the best for everyone…not wanting to offend anyone they take tolerance to a whole new level, crafting their every experience, their every message, even the gospel itself in such as fashion so as to leave everyone right where they are, undisturbed by any truth which may make them at all uncomfortable.  It is an attitude which holds “love” (or something that looks a little like “love”) with high regard, but not so much truth.

But what I so appreciate about Stephen in Acts 7 is that he strikes a balance between the two extremes.  In fact, he would actually redefine what real love looks like.  In his case, truly loving his brothers meant saying some very hard things to them, even though it would eventually draw such anger from them, they would kill him.  That, it seems to me, is what we must do as the church.  We must learn the very difficult position of loving broken people where they are and just as they are, but too much to leave them broken. We must learn to lean against the cultural norms which, if not checked, will destroy us.  The church must speak the truth, both to the world around us and to each other…in love.  In short, the church must learn to “love against the grain”.  That is really the job, isn’t it?

But before I can insist that the church figure this out, I must learn what it looks like for me to love against the grain as an individual.  In the political debate raging in the office, what does love look like?  At the abortion clinic, what does love look like?  In the same-sex marriage issues and the gay/lesbian discrimination issues, what does love look like? In the church business meeting when that mean, hateful person begins to spit venom again, what does love look like?  I’ve got to figure that out for me before I can be an influence in the church.  That must be my prayer…Lord, let it begin with me.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com