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




Pursuing Peace

8 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are moving toward the conflict, both involve a confrontation.  How do we distinguish between them?  How do I make sure I am on the right track and not a harmful track?  That brings us to our second point.

It is a question of the heart.  The Arbinger Institute, in The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict describes the distinction between a “heart at peace” and a “heart at war”.  The former is relating to the other person as a human being with needs and with fears and with pains.  The latter has “otherized” the other person and treats them as an object rather than a human being…an object to be pushed away, to be disregarded, even hated.

Jesus describes the distinction in terms of our ability to see clearly.  He says,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Matt. 7:3-5

Seeing clearly, as it turns out, is the difference between a heart at peace and a heart at war.  Having that difficult conversation with the person who has hurt you requires that you have prayerfully sought the Lord’s perspective on that person, so that you can see him/her as God sees him/her…you can see him/her as a child of God, with fears and insecurities and needs.  Your desire is not to push him/her away, as some undesirable object; rather, it is to pull them forward with you toward peace.  It is to pursue peace together.

If you are thinking, “Well, that seems awfully difficult,” then congratulations…now you are seeing the truth.  Genuine Christian community, our life together as the body of Christ, was never intended to be easy.  It was intended to be peaceful.

© 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




Due Respect for the Word of God

27 03 2014

Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say… I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’”  Jeremiah 36:27-28, 31

praying hands and BibleIn these recent days of Christians arguing over same-sex issues, we see a lot of lip service given to how much we love and honor God’s Word and how much we love each other (the sinner), while hating the sin. I am taking an opportunity today and next Monday (in my Monday Morning Quarterback post) to ask some hard questions about our sincerity on both counts.  Today’s question: do we really respect the Word of God?

Young King Josiah, when he first heard the words of the long lost Book of the Law, tore his clothes in grief over the message (2 Kings 22:11). Years later, his son (King Jehoiakim) heard the Word of the Lord and responded very differently…he burned it.  They both heard God’s Word and it was not what either of them wanted to hear. But their responses were very different. One showed immense respect for it. The other, utter disdain and disrespect.

A proper respect for God’s Word means we do not bring any of our own bias or phobias or agenda to it when we seek its truth. We do not start with what we want and then go looking for an interpretation that fits that agenda. We do not google the issue of the day and look at other people’s interpretations of it until we find one that supports what we want or what we feel. A respect for God’s Word does not bring a particular comfort level to it and then work to maintain that comfort level in how we interpret it.  That is disrespectful of God’s Word. It does not give it its due honor.

God’s Word itself says: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LordFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9.  How dare we, then, bring our biases and our feelings and our ways and use them as the narrow lens through which we interpret God’s Word?  Doesn’t the proper respect for His Word rather come to it with an open heart and open mind and allow His Word to be the lens through which we interpret our lives and our world?  It is the difference between having a Biblical worldview and having a worldly Biblical view.

And so, I am making a commitment to God and to myself and to you…

When I am inclined to post a status update or to write a blog or to comment on someone else’s update or blog with my interpretation of scripture, I am going to pause and ask myself a hard question or two about how prayerfully I arrived at that interpretation.  What bias or fear or “feelings” did I bring to that interpretation? Is it an interpretation at which I arrived after my own prayer and study and seeking of God’s face, or did I simply stop at that interpretation after reading it somewhere else, and after finding it that it fits awfully nicely with my own personal or political or social agenda?

And if I do not KNOW that I have given God’s Word that due respect in arriving at my own interpretation, then I will not be posting that comment until I do know that.

That is my commitment. You?

© 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