Thursday, April 30, 2009

Confess your biases up front

I was at a youth leader meeting today. I always feel a little precarious at such meetings since I'm really not a youth pastor.

Anyhow, the meeting was encouraging in that we had a few different denominations present. But in a hope to maintain some sense of unity, the leader continued to emphasize how he was a Christian first, and southern Baptist second. He claimed to just "work for a Southern Baptist church."

But I know the guy well enough to know that he thinks of, and does ministry in Southern Baptist forms like "altar calls." The way he interprets scripture is also from a Baptist lens.

Now first let me say that we should all model his "Christian first, denomination second" mentality. Many don't and that is sad, and sometimes that includes me I confess with shame. Many place the same level of certainty or pride (even worse) on denominational distinctives-or even worse, distinctives within the denomination-as they do with the faith expressed in the Apostles Creed.

In addition, he places more emphasis on small groups and follow-up after the event than most do. I applaud him for that.

But I would argue that by downplaying your biases and emphases, you really fall prey to perpetuate them, ignore others, and become less ecumenical. If you don't readily admit that you do ministry and interpret scripture from your tradition's bias, you'll never be able to dialog and learn from other traditions. You'll never see shortcomings of yours. When others think differently, you'll think they are reading stuff into the bible, while you are "just reading the bible."

The two main sponsoring churches for this upcoming event (that's what the meeting was about) are PCA and Southern Baptist. I think by recognizing each others ministry emphases, biases, strengths and weaknesses, we can more effectively learn from and work with each other. But pretending that neither group has biases actually hinders effective ecumencial cooperation. Only by confessing your "spin" will you limit the negative impact of your "spin" and be able to learn from others.


Gail and Keith said...

But don't we all have biases? Having spent many years in "Baptist" circles, and a few years in Charismatic circles, I have come to see that everyone has some elements of truth. Some are closer than others, but no one has the whole picture. That is why we need to seek to understand others who come from different denominations. We dare not simply write others off because they do things differently. As you say, even within denominations people have differences. As Paul says in relation to spiritual gifts, we are all part of the body, but not all are an eye or a foot. We all need each other to make the Body complete--even if we don't always agree with the other body parts. Is that what you mean by your blog? kb

Geoffsnook said...

Yes, we all have biases. That's my very point. By admitting those biases on the front end, we CAN learn from others. Denying we have biases makes it harder to learn from others. My blog picture of "No Spin" was meant to be sarcastic. All of us have a spin, even O'Reiley. That was one of the first things I learned in seminary. So yes, we do need others for the body to be complete.

TulipGirl said...

I like your point of just owning up to our points of view, our beliefs, our preferences. . .

I think there is a way to communicate, "I respect you, and I recognize we have differing emphases. . ." And, really, we can appreciate the way God works from different angles, when we acknowledge those angles.

Geoffsnook said...


Well put.