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“If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his natural response?  Revenge.  If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his penalty be by Christian Example?  Why Revenge!  The villainy you teach me, I will carry out.” – Shylock (The Merchant of Venice)

“In a divided society, only the Church can model unity.” – John Perkins

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34  

 

Earlier this month, something very simple and yet significant took place in Washington regarding racial reconciliation.  A former KKK member repented of violence he committed against civil rights protesters forty eight years ago, and senator John Lewis was one of the men subjected to this violence.  In the video below we see the two men officially meet for the first time forty eight later.  

Though this is great news, I do at times find myself wondering about gestures like these.  Though it is significant (obviously for the persons involved), many of us are “removed” from the crimes of the Civil Rights era.  We did not experience these horrors personally, and gestures like these now feel more symbolic.  It’s easier for me to forgive sins of the past that I was not personally subjected to.  But what about present, more immediate offenses where the pain still cuts deep, where revenge, and all of it’s subtle forms of retaliation, seem justifiable?  Nevertheless, I was glad to see this.

As I watched this video where forgiveness is asked for, given, and received, I asked myself:  How can I more authentically live out the “ministry of reconciliation”?  What would it look like for me personally to walk this out in my own life?  What would it look like for the Body of Christ, in our churches, to go beyond “symbolic” gestures of corporate repentance, and practically live this out in our communities and relationships?  And most importantly, who are those I must now forgive, as well as go to and ask for forgiveness?  I have much to consider.  What steps toward forgiving, and loving your “enemies” will you consider taking? 

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:27-31, 35-36

Roc

“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty.  Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper…. education and slavery were incompatible with one another.” – Frederick Douglas

“I am here to help you find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.” – Melvin B. Tolson (The Great Debaters)

Today is Presidents Day, and in honor of the holiday and the month (February is Black History Month) it seemed appropriate to post on a relevant theme and to begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.  Over the past couple of weeks my sons and I have been watching inspirational movies about the African American experience, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, The Great debaters, Booty Call (okay, kidding on that last one; just seeing if you were paying attention).  As I watched these movies and other programs, certain themes were consistent, mainly the ongoing role education and faith play in the pursuit of liberty.  So it got me praying and thinking about slavery, literally, figuratively (of the mind), and it’s expression in the church.  Here are some of my thoughts. 

In the Old South there were three main tenets regarding slaves and learning.  They were brutally enforced, and history says that overseers were trained to adhere to these tenets. 

  • Slaves were to be kept ignorant and uneducated.
  • Slaves must never presume to be smarter than their masters or overseers.  If they were, they never showed it.
  • Slaves must never be self-directed, that is, presume to freely choose or act in their own best interest without the approval or permission of their overseer.

“The power to enslave another class of people rests solely on the ability to bind them in ignorance.” – High School Teacher

Why would slave owners discourage literacy?  Because knowledge is power.  A smart slave was “trouble”.  They were less compliant because they were less ignorant and therefore not as willing to submit to exploitation.  When Lincoln emancipated the slaves, many slave owners withheld this information from them so that they would continue harvesting the fields for their masters. 

Though illiteracy and ignorance are not synonymous, knowing how to read and think critically helps to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and empowers an individual.  The one place a “slave” needs to be set free is in their thinking.  Reading is liberating to the mind, and in one sense this “truth” can help  set people free from the mind-set of a slave.  

“Nigga, who taught you Octagon?!” – Chris Rock (comedy sketch on slavery and reading)

Educated slaves, had to hide their learning from their masters and overseers.  The overseers, many of whom were themselves uneducated foreman who could barely read, would subject a slave who could read to unspeakable cruelty.  Their learning could spread to other slaves, instilling hope, a sense of accomplishment and worth, and belief that they too could attain their God-given destiny.  Such thinking would upset the status quo so, a slave caught reading would be severely whipped, or have some of their fingers cut off.  So, educating oneself was a perilous adventure that required great courage (and still does),  because for a slave to accidentally reveal that he could read or out think his “master” was a potential death sentence: 

“So think about the poor slave who could read, but was scared to teach their kids to read for fear they would be killing their kids. Think about the poor slave that rode to town every week. Think about the poor slave who rode the buggy to town every week. Riding the buggy…riding the buggy, And he could read, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. And up ahead he sees a busy intersection, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. Then he sees a STOP sign, —-. Now he’s in a big dilemma. “If I go through this intersection I’m a have a accident, If I stop, these crackers will kill me.” And he’s riding the buggy and in the last minute he says ‘**** it’ goes through the intersection has a big ol’ accident. Almost kills somebody. Then the police come; “Nigga what is wrong with you, Nigga what the **** is wrong with you. You could have killed somebody Nigga. Didn’t you see that stop sign?” “Oh I don’t know what you talking ’bout.” “You didn’t see that stop sign, that stop sign back there?” “Oh you mean that OCTAGON thing.”  “Nigga, who taught you octagon?” – Chris Rock

 

Day to day, in all sorts of circumstances, people (black, white, or purple) are still taught to hide their learning, or are made to feel ashamed for being smarter than their “overseers”, even in the church I might add, as if ignorance is a virtue.  Never does a week go by that I am not confronted with this “dilemma” at work or worship, with friends or strangers.  Knowledge is power, and the suppression of it is a power-play.  I’ve had to tell my sons recently, no “friend” who mocks and shames you for your love of learning, or seeks to intimidate you into hiding your intelligence, is a true friend; they do not have your best interest at heart.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.” – Ayn Rand (Anthem)

The freedom to choose is so related to liberty and freedom that even God Himself leaves us the freedom to choose whether or not we will obey Him and His commands.  It is so integral to our spiritual formation and identity, that to take away a person’s freedom to choose or act according to his will, keeps them in such a state of immaturity, that strong character and a worthwhile sense of identity is never formed.  The dependency this creates keeps one bound to their “master” and unable to see their own preferences as viable options or possibilities.  This is why Jesus himself commanded his disciples to not call their leaders master, rabbi, or father.  Only “One was their Father”.  In Ayn Rand’s book, Anthem, we encounter a world where all individuality, and freedom to choose ones own preferences has been programatically suppressed out of the human race.  There is only the collective “we” and the major sin is to have a preference apart from the group identity or, or which hasn’t already been pre-determined by the elders.  They could not even choose their life’s vocation.  Even that was determined by those in authority, and according to their predetermined “grouping” or status in life.  To presume otherwise, to even “think it” was a  “Transgression of Preference”, and they, “Asked so many questions that the teachers forbade it”.  Until their souls were awakened, they had no idea that they were functional slaves.  They lived within a box where they did only that which they were expressly told was legally allowed by the elders, “And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.”  That is not liberty.  We are free to serve God by faith working in love, as our conscience dictates (against such there is no law). 

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” – 1Cor. 7:23 

It’s easy to look back at our history (Black History is America’s History) and see slavery for the shameful thing that it is.  But can we look at the past and see vestiges of slavery in our own lives even today?  In our thinking, our work, our places of worship?  In scripture, darkness is equated with ignorance and error.  Knowledge and truth with light.  We have one Father, one Lord, the Father of lights who has, “delivered us, rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son,” a Kingdom where:

 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Gal. 3:28

Peace,

Ron

In previous posts on groupthink (this is the last) I’ve tried to show it’s potential dangers, but that isn’t to say that I think that groups or teams are bad.  Just the opposite!  As one of my graduate school professors said to me (who was very much into groups),  “Yes, Ron, community is necessary for spiritual growth, but only if the group is healthy.”  Healthy or not, people do gather, and because of the relational baggage we carry, or the emotional wounds from our past, our stories often collide as we experience one another.  Nevertheless, good things can come out of these collisions if there are those within the group who are committed to Christ-like solutions.  Groupthink methods can certainly help control these collisions but there is a better way.  Teamthink.  Neck and Manz (1994), coined the term, but it’s characteristics can be seen in scripture.  They defined it as, “effective synergistic thinking within the group.”  Unlike groupthink, teamthink is characterized by these traits:  

  • Encouragement of divergent views 
  • Open expression of concerns/ideas
  • Awareness of limitations/threats
  • Recognition of member’s uniqueness
  • Discussion of collective doubts  

Acts 15 offers us an example of these characteristics at work.  A conflict arose in the church of Antioch because the more traditional Jewish believers wanted the Gentile followers to obey the law of circumcision.  I won’t get into the theological implications of law and grace, but instead consider the way the group resolved the conflict by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and each other to reach a decision on the matter. 

  “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”- Acts 15:1-3 

First notice the phrase “sharp dispute and debate”.  Though it is rare that you’ll ever “convert” anyone by arguing with them (though it does happen), there are times when such debates are necessary.  Labeling as divisive those who are contending for core issues of faith is misguided.  Paul and Barnabas were not being divisive.  Those promoting wrong doctrine and encroaching on the liberty of the non-traditional Antioch church were the cause of the division.  Elsewhere, Paul actually speaks of “Those who cause division because of their wrong doctrine”, but encourages Timothy to rebuke them sharply and to correct them. 

  “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.  After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’  The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.  When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.'” -vv. 5-14 

Notice that the concerns of all parties were heard.  There was “much discussion”, and there was no attempt by the apostles to pull rank or distance themselves from the less powerful, least represented Gentile members of their group.  “God who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinctions between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  What is amazing to me is how we today, who do not have the credibility or authority of the early apostles, lack their humility when we try to wield more authority over people in our faith communities than they were willing to force upon their own in their day.  

  “It is my judgment therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.” – vv. 19-22  

Here we see the “us” in consensus.  They did not dismiss the concerns of the more established or powerful group.  They acknowledge the legitimate threat to the faith and their standing within the religious traditional Jewish community, but addressed them biblically, appealing to cultural sensitivity.  Love, even under the pretense of liberty, does not needlessly cause others to stumble.    

  “Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:  You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.” -vv. 27-29 

 Once again we see an appeal to be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of the other group, concerns that were rooted in both scripture and culture.  It was with this in mind that they set reasonable limitations on the Gentile community that did not place on them unnecessary religious burdens or violate their liberty in Christ. 
 
In making these decisions, the group and their approach was no less “spiritual” because they did not have a “Word” from God, though they would have responded to one if the Spirit had chosen to direct them in that manner (which, ironically, was common in the Antioch church).  Nor did the leader come down from the mountaintop, having heard from God for all the others, while they all compliantly obeyed (though God does speak through others, the “word” is still judged for authenticity).  Nor was it less relational because they disagreed sharply.  Peter and Paul were not subversively undermining the church because they broke with the status quo of the more influential majority group.  They took a stand on biblical grounds regarding what they understood to be essential.  Though their experiences among the Gentiles were unique, they were recognized as credible, and rather than being dismissed as “just another opinion”, it added to the realization of a new harmony and, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”.  Wait a minute!  The Holy Spirit?  How did He get in there?  When did He show up?  You mean with all these leaders fighting for their view of what is right, all these people with all their stories and experiences, their opinions, their traditions, their liberty, their you name it; with all this religious testosterone in the room, the Holy Spirit was there the whole time helping, leading, and trusting them to work it out according to His heart and mind?  Yep. 
 
So, here in scripture we see a positive example of decision-making in a group context.  Not just another technique or opinion of man, but a lived out, New Testament example from those who came before us.  
 
When it comes to team work and decision-making, a thinking team is better than groupthink, and… “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit”.  Let me know what you think.
 
Roc 

Please forgive my slowness in posting lately.  It isn’t for lack of interest, but a round robin of cold and flu symptoms at home.  I have had some time to let some thoughts germinate, and if it comes out rather random, well, I’m not feeling particularly clear headed these days. 

First, in light of what I’ve already written about the dangers of groupthink, for the intensely independent readers, I would like to point out that I do believe in community, and it is my intense desire to be a better, more authentic member of the Christian community as I understand it in scripture: A body of believers,  “One Anothering” each other, caring for one another, ministering to the needs of one another, breaking bread and sharing their spiritual gifts with one another, impacting their community around them with one another, sharing their food and belongings with one another.  Basically, sharing life with one another.  Little of what I just described actually happens in a church meeting on Sunday mornings (we have professionals who are hired to do those things), but I do believe in the assembly of the body of believers, though I maintain that it will look different for various communities (especially if a church community is dedicated to living out what I described above).

I also believe in leadership.  Please do not make the mistake of mis-interpreting my previous posts on groupthink and the wrong kind of leadership as being a rebellious take on legitimate authority.  I’ve been misunderstood in the past, sometimes understandably, other times either in an attempt to discredit the message and the messenger, or in reaction to some point that struck too close to home.  Note: If it appears as if I’ve been aiming at you, I’m not directing what I’ve written at anyone in particular.  To quote a former pastor of mine: “I’m not shooting at you.  You’re simply in the line of fire.  Get out of the way.”  The Church needs servant leaders.  Spiritually gifted men and women, of proven character, sound in doctrine, who know how to walk along side their brothers and sisters, not lord it over them; a person of strong faith, who understands the way of the cross, the way of sacrificial love; leaders who are in touch with their own weaknesses and transparent about their failures, so they are comfortable with the weaknesses and failings of others as they grow in maturity.  Leaders like that take time to cultivate, but once they are, they can be trusted, and their faith should be imitated, and their authority within a church community should be recognized. 

Regarding community, another word that has repeatedly come to  mind, but I’ve resisted using until now, is consensus.  Community, team, relational, communal, consensus; these are all words that have grown in popularity in recent years with entire theologies built around these themes coming to the forefront of theological discussions.  What we mustn’t lose  sight of is that consensus does not begin with man at the center.  Christ and discernment of His will, His purpose is the goal of every community. 

By consensus, I do not mean uniformity, but harmony.  I’ve met leaders (and too often have been one) who preferred that others would be more like them rather than more of who they truly were.  Using  music as a metaphor, we want to be a part of a group that’s playing the same tune.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  A group cannot “play” together unless they’re playing the same tune.  Some leaders, however, mistake the unity of playing the same tune as meaning that everyone must play the same note.  Certainly, a group playing a tune by insisting that everyone play the exact same notes on their instruments will ensure that everyone is playing the same tune.  But this kind of “unity” is neither reflective of skill or maturity.  It allows for no thematic variations, or emotional nuances brought about by the interplay of major and minor chords that make music, or any relational dynamic, so thrilling, memorable, and yes, at times  even dangerous.  Nor does it allow the interplay of musical themes (people’s own stories or sense of purpose) into the mix because things might get “complicated”, and yet these are exactly the kinds of complexities life brings us, complexities that small-group and organizational leaders must learn to conduct. 

The very meaning of the word consensus is to harmonize, and ironically, you cannot have harmony without differences.  It is when notes are played that are different, but sympathetic to one another in arrangement, that harmony is created.  These differences allow a simple tune to be transformed into a beautiful composition.  In the same way when a group honors differences while seeking to be like minded (sympathetic), embracing the diversity of gifts within the group, listens well, and speaks the truth in love, then harmony can be achieved.  But it takes skill and maturity for a conductor (leader) to orchestrate complex arrangements or a diversity of gifts within the Church Body (ultimately it’s the work of the Holy Spirit).  Many leaders simply resort to control mechanisms or more traditional, or authoritarian forms of leadership simply because it’s easier (I’m not the only one, am I?).  That does “work” in a pragmatic sense, if one is forceful or charismatic enough, but when groupthink is the result, it’s a song sung off key. 

My question is, “How can a leader avoid groupthink, and co-operate with the Holy Spirit in facilitating harmony within a community unless they themselves learn to sympathize with the instruments and notes (struggles, strengths, gifts weaknesses, callings, stories, etc.) that others in the group carry within them?” 

It may not be linguistically precise for me to do this , but I like to think of consensus in this way: Con (means with or part of) + sens (sense or awareness of) + us (others I am relating to or interacting with).  Consensus: with a sense or awareness of others.  Doesn’t that sound better than simply trying to get everyone to agree with you?  Or allowing the group to be controlled by those who want consensus simply as a means of thwarting true Godly authority.  Consensus is about including informed others who’s strengths can and should be brought to bare on issues of discernment or decision making.  We see this in Acts 15 at the Church of Antioch when a groupthink posse from the more established church in Judea tried to dictate to the  gentile converts who did not feel bound to the same traditional restraints. 

 I’ll wait until my next and final post in the series to unpack their conflict and we’ll see the creative way the leaders overcame groupthink, and in co-operation with the Holy Spirit helped to “orchestrate” harmony in the community.  

Peace,

Roc 

I’m busy today conducting a workshop, so I might not be able to post Part 3 of the Groupthink series until tomorrow. There is, however, this old tune by the Police that’s been running through my head called Miss Gradenko that speaks to the issue. I won’t bother explaining it, I’ll let the song and this video speak for itself.

Peace,

Roc

“MISS GRADENKO” 

Yesterday I linked to an article about a racial incident at George Fox University, and  thanks to Rob, I now have a link to a more current and positive update, one that more accurately reflects the vision and character of the school, it’s leaders and student body, and their continued commitment to racial harmony and diversity.  Here’s a quote from the University’s President: 

“The good news is that it has worked.  For the first time in the history of George Fox 25 percent of our entering class this year came from diverse backgrounds. We have 17 Act Six students who are fully engaged in our community.  We are becoming the place I believe God has called us to be.  This change will not come without challenges, like yesterday’s, but we will work through them together.

Behind me today are the Act Six students and some of the people who support the mission and calling of Jesus at George Fox University. I want you to understand that I love all of you. You are my brothers and sisters in Christ. What you see up here today is a reflection of what the Kingdom of God will look like in heaven.  John in the Book of Revelations described heaven this way: ‘After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb . . . ‘ We want to be a part of this Kingdom.” 

I hope that you’ll take some time and check out the whole response.  You can link here http://www.georgefox.edu/response.  Thanks again, Rob!

Roc

“Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.”
-Donald McGavran, missionary to India

I will continue my posts on Groupthink later this week, but today I’m posting a couple of news updates, one (a bit late on my part) regarding the mock lynching of Barack Obama by students at George Fox University (Church, I really don’t make this stuff up)http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/09/four_george_fox_students_confe.html.

On a positive note, another Christian institution, Bob Jones University, published a statement apologizing for their history regarding race relations:

“For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.

In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.”

God is truly good.  You can read Edward Gilbreath’s post at http://edwardg.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/bob-jones-universitys-statement-on-race/ where you can link onto the entire statement.

Peace,

Roc    

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