Abraham Lincoln followed a vision that transcended partisanship. In his second inaugural address, with the Union’s victory assured, he could have piled on. He could have condemned the South and spoken about an eye for an eye. Indeed, our current political climate would have repeatedly fostered animosity through endless tweets.
But Lincoln saw the bigger picture. He humanized the enemy:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.
I struggle living into Lincoln’s dream. It’s extremely difficult, in times of conflict, not to assume a personal corner on righteousness.
An issue I feel passionately about is LGBTQIA rights within United Methodism (and beyond). My reflections, biblical study, and, especially, friendships with people within that community leave no doubt in my mind. Advocating full inclusion, ordaining LGBTQIA clergy, and officiating at same-sex unions within UM churches are simply implications of Jesus’ message.
Accordingly, I get miffed at the hardcore evangelicals who advocate staunchly in the opposite direction while proposing schism if they don’t get their way. Such rhetoric shouts self-righteousness.
Honestly, though, when I make such a harsh judgment I indict myself of the same spiritual crime. My assumption is that if they had a clearer understanding of the Gospel, then of course they’d see things my way.
Those fundamentalists read the same Bible, pray to the same God, and invoke God’s aid on behalf of their cause. They see things just as clearly from their perspective as I think I do from mine. My refusal to acknowledge that convicts me of the charge I’m leveling against them.
Is there any way to transcend mutual self-righteousness?
“Why Don’t They Get It?”
This is the title of a short e-book by noted author Brian McLaren. He answers why it’s so baffling that people, when presented with bullet-proof arguments, refuse to change their minds.
It’s easy for us to assume that our brains are finely tuned, clearly thinking machines. Put forth enough sound, reasonable ideas and your opponents will have to agree with you.
That’s not how reality works.
Our brains, magnificent as they are, are flawed and buggy. Specifically, every one of us, including people who think they think rationally, is irredeemably biased.
McLaren lists thirteen hidden biases that wreak havoc on our objectivity. For example, our minds naturally gravitate toward ideas that confirm what we want or desire (“confirmation bias”). We gravitate toward the beliefs of our social network (“community bias”). We’re limited by our intellectual/emotional development (“consciousness bias”). We’re limited by ingrained values (“conservative/liberal bias”).
Reading all thirteen is, indeed, a humbling experience. It leads to self-reflection as to why I think and do what I think and do. It also leads to a bit more understanding of those who do their best to follow Christ and arrive at differing conclusions.
The subtitle of his book is Overcoming Bias in Others (And Yourself). It’s not a short process, nor an easy one. But perhaps the beginning of it is not asking the wrong question.
A Bogus Question and a Better One
It’s actually quite arrogant to assume, as we take a stand on a controversial issue, that God sides with us and abandons our opponents. We fragile, DNA-bound particles of dust can speak authoritatively for the Divine? Of course not. The glass through which we peer darkly has many imperfections, and the progressive-traditional debate is only one of them.
For me to assume a God-monopoly reveals that my heart really isn’t where it ought to be. Honesty and humility are two virtues that must be exercised relentlessly if we’re ever to come close to Lincoln’s brilliance.
I will advocate without compromise for LGBTQIA rights within the church. To do anything less is to break covenant with my conscience. I firmly believe that it is God’s call to a broader vision and greater compassion today.
But I’m going to do my best not to point fingers at the traditionalists in order to bolster this advocacy. They are being faithful as they believe they are called to be. We are all caught in a web of human bias.
Since trying to persuade the other side of rightness/wrongness is futile, maybe our best bet is to simply take a closer look at how Jesus related to the flawed people around him. McLaren masterfully notes that Jesus got around people’s biases by dropping his defenses, showing respect, acknowledging limitations, listening with interest, probing with questions, and challenging with new thoughts.
The result was that people’s eyes were opened to a broader vision. They were able to grow past their limiting thoughts and into grace-filled disciples.
If Jesus, who wasn’t flawed, made a point of connecting instead of arguing, shouldn’t this be our model, too? Minds will change when we focus more on building relationships and less on winning debates.That is the path to transcending our brokenness.
God has God’s own standards, and it’s up to us biased folks to make it a lifelong search to conform to them, not vice-versa. We don’t get there by pointing fingers at the opposition. We get there by pursuing the route of honesty and humility.
It’s not about “Is God on our side?” Rather, it’s about “Am I really seeking God’s will or my own?”
To answer that requires a hard look at ourselves and authentic relationships with others, especially our opponents. Could those who “don’t get it” be the ones who will help us grow past our own biases?