Emma Roller wrote recently in the NY Times that “The strongest bias in American politics is not a liberal bias or a conservative bias; it is a confirmation bias, or the urge to believe only things that confirm what you already believe to be true. Not only do we tend to seek out and remember information that reaffirms what we already believe, but there is also a ‘backfire effect,’ which sees people doubling down on their beliefs after being presented with evidence that contradicts them.”
Of course we all like to think we’re objective and try to hear all sides, but we know we have our biases and tendencies. All that can be shaped by where and how we were raised, our generation, the social and historical events that shaped us and by our own reading and study. I try to read widely, but I also know where I tend to gravitate. Look at our Facebook pages. We likely live in a bubble where most of our friends agree with us or have the same political outlook.
I’d like to think that as Christians, while recognizing our biases that we would also look to the scriptures for guidance in shaping our thinking. After all Jesus said we should love the Lord our God with “all our heart, soul, MIND, and strength.”
This election year is particularly difficult for people of faith who want to think Christianly about their vote. We have two deeply flawed candidates. One has tremendous experience and knowledge, but has made choices that skate close to felonious boundaries. The other is a person who doesn’t have a day of experience in public office, is a boor without an ethical center, and who proves to be deeply divisive. What do we do as Christians?
People have rightly said that they do not want politics from the pulpit, but what does that mean? What is a pastor to do when the scripture for the day clearly speaks to public policy or the great issues of the day? The Bible has a lot to say about the role of the church and the state to uplift the poor, for instance, so does the preacher ignore the fact that poverty is rising in this the richest nation on the planet? The Bible has a lot to say about the environment, sexual abuse, war and peace, and racism, as well as prayer, forgiveness, the use of our money, repentance and so on. Does the preacher stick his or her head in the sand and pretend that difficult issues don’t exist? Does he or she not broach them for fear of offending someone? (Remember, Jesus was pretty offensive at times!)
While some people don’t want to be troubled during a worship service, I do think most want to be challenged to think about hard questions from a Christian and biblical perspective. A helpful way to do this is to extract abiding principles and values from the scriptures and apply them to our changing context. We can talk about ideas, not people, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of various positions. Sometimes the best place to address difficult issues is in an adult education setting rather than the pulpit. The preacher does, after all, have an unfair advantage because you can’t talk back when he or she is perched up there!
A pastor is called to be the preacher and teacher of the flock and part of preaching includes the prophetic—addressing the issues of the day with a word from God. Most search committees I’ve ever met with want the preacher to relate the Bible to daily living and they grant freedom of the pulpit. When the Bible speaks to money, power, or politics, however, people sometimes bristle. “That’s not preachin’, that’s meddlin’,” they say. Our faith is personal, but it’s not private. God speaks to our public affairs as well as our personal lives.
It is my conviction that we should bring our religious convictions about all moral issues to the pulpit and the public square – such as the uplifting of the poor, the protection of the environment, the ethics of war, protecting our children from the coarseness of the media, or creating an economy where all prosper. We need not do that, however, by attacking the sincerity of other people’s faith, or demanding that we should win because we alone are right or righteous. Remember, sin runs through every human heart—liberal, moderate, or conservative, Republican or Democrat—and we all have our blind spots. We must make moral arguments and mobilize effective movements for social change that can powerfully persuade our fellow citizens, religious or not, on what is best for the common good.
I invite you to ponder these questions and think about them when you go into the voting booth on Tuesday and how you want to be challenged by your next pastor on the great issues of the day.