Pastor’s Friday Comments (07.26.19)

One of the essential characteristics for Christians to grow in our faith is an openness to the leading of God. The day we profess faith in Christ we are not immediately and automatically filled with a certain knowledge of how to address every situation that comes along. And, as we continue to mature, we must be open to the possibility that ideas we have held firmly may need to be jettisoned in the light of additional study and thought — all under the leadership of God’s Spirit within us.

However, this openness to God presupposes a general openness of mind, and, unfortunately, this is an area where most human beings do not excel. A recent article summarized studies that demonstrate that most of us are not as open-minded as we think we are. The conclusion of one of those studies blew me away, while also reinforcing something that I have been feeling acutely of late: changing anyone’s mind about almost anything is next to impossible.

In a 2017 study, for example, scientists asked 2,400 well-educated adults (you know, people like you) to consider arguments on politically controversial issues. Both liberals and conservatives, they found, were similarly adamant about avoiding opinions that were different from those that they already held.

In fact, when presented with the opportunity to pocket money in exchange for taking some time to just look at counterarguments, two-thirds took a pass. They wouldn’t agree to look at the arguments, let alone seriously entertain them. The author of the article, David Epstein, concludes, “The lesson is clear enough: Most of us are probably not as open-minded as we think.”

Epstein’s concern is mainly with our political views (he writes for The Washington Post) but this tendency has clear implications for our spiritual lives as well. It explains, for example, why Christians tend to agree with the other members of their congregation on moral issues, biblical interpretation, and personal conduct. Either we self-select by joining churches where our views are reinforced or we have been members of a certain type of church all our lives, having never been exposed to anything different. (I should remind you at this point that the study cited above says this is a trait for both conservatives and liberals.)

This observation might cause us to ask the question, why do we even come to church? Certainly it is primarily so we might worship God. But when it comes to Bible study and listening to sermons, what are we looking for? Are we expecting simply to reinforce concepts that we already know? That’s important, of course. We all need reminders. But is there any expectation that we might have something wrong, or that we could look at an issue from another perspective? Are we comfortable with saying, I never thought of that (whatever “that” is) that way before, and that’s okay?

This characteristic of open-mindedness as a prerequisite to openness to God’s leading is particularly important today, I believe, when political and religious leaders, by their own words and actions, are giving us tacit approval to hold biases against anyone who is not like ourselves. Closed-mindedness is the order of the day. And this is tragic, especially from a Christian point of view, because failure to attempt to see any issue from another’s point of view leads to an unwillingness to accept them as valid individuals, with equal worth to oneself.

Being closed-minded may also be an indication of a shaky faith. If you truly believe that God is in control of your life, and, as John tells us, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), then exposure to different perspectives shouldn’t cause you to reject your faith in God, but it may cause you to doubt your own point of view. That’s not a bad thing. God is always right; we often are not.