I served as a pastor in three different church staff positions over the course of about sixteen years. One learns many different things in the pastoral role. How to wear many hats. How to multi-task. How to inspire a volunteer work pool to assist the community of faith.
Frequently, as any pastor knows, you are called upon to mediate conflicts in one form or an other. A lot of these are marital; some are between estranged friends; others involve attempts to resolve some dispute as peacefully and equitably as possible.
One core value you learn rapidly is this: There are always two sides to any story. And it is part of fallen human nature to paint our own side of a matter in the rosiest hues possible. We all have blind spots. Knowing this reality and acting on it will save you lots of headache and frustration.
There’s a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17) There is a reason why cross-examination is foundational to our legal system, why rebuttal is a cornerstone of debate. It’s simply this: Words are powerful and through their skillful or crafty use, you can make a logical case for lots of things—even reprehensible things.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, had a method for dealing with theological propositions. He’d state a thesis first. Then he would amass every conceivable argument against the thesis he sought to prove. Finally, he’d deliver his arguments in support of the thesis.
We face things daily that require the hard work of thinking thoroughly and soberly in order to come to the truth. One of the most healthy things you can do is subject your cherished beliefs and convictions to the “devil’s advocate” test. Are you bold enough to look at the arguments of the other side in order to see things differently?
Here’s a couple of teasers to think through:
- How much do you really know about the Trayvon Williams shooting? Facts, not protests.
- Compare the behavior of the Occupy Wall Street protesters versus that of the Tea Party protesters. Which group came down as more civil and law-abiding?
- Compare the behavior of media personalities Lawrence O’Donnell, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow with that of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. Any similarities? (Disclosure: I am not a fan of any of these people. Not even a little.)
- Has the reporting of popular media outlets been equally balanced in the matters of the foul-mouthed controversial utterances of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher toward Susan Fluke and Sarah Palin?
- If executive competence were a prerequisite for the Presidency, of these three, who best met the requirement–Barack Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton?
I’ve not given my own opinion on the above questions because the purpose of this post is to make you think. (Don’t bother guessing where I’m at on these—you might be surprised!)
It takes hard work and brutal honesty to really come to a balanced understanding of so much that goes on in our world. If you are lazy and want to believe a) mainstream news media outlets from MSNBC to FoxNews or b) your own untested and unexamined prior commitments, you will be in for a rough ride. Simplistic thinking hurts you. It just does.
A caveat: Before you come down on one side or the other of some issue, take the advice of Chuck Missler.
Do your homework.