Oh Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

My earliest church memory in Savannah, Georgia features willowy Mrs. Boyle, with gray hair twirled in a loose bun, singing while pointing to her ears, eyes, and lips. An earnest child who wanted to be good, I took it to heart. In fact, when I was eight years old I scotch-taped a scrawled note to the family television based on Paul’s words “whatsoever things are lovely, true….” My mother shared my gesture with the church secretary who then put the exact words of my little sign in the church newsletter. A Christian often views attending to what one sees or hears in the context of maintaining moral purity, a worthwhile goal, but I invite you to reflect on the notion in a broader sense. Tending to one’s sensory input is key to liberation from a twisted culture.

Consider advertising in all its forms. Obviously, it causes people to imitate one another in a desire for a certain product or experience, fanning impulses of covetousness or greed. But, for this essay, please consider the fact that nefarious entities use communication techniques to shift people’s assumptions and, in the end, co-opt folks to act in unlikely, sometimes evil, ways. I am fascinated by this phenomenon. Neuroscience supports the idea that once one has an idea, or narrative, or bias, one filters out disputing information, underlining the importance of being careful what one hears and what bias one adopts. Bombarded with incoming data, a person’s mind tends to allow input that will reinforce an original premise.

Inevitably, discussion groups muse about the notion of how Christians in various contexts participated in evil against other people. Like in the Holocaust. Or in Alabama, the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice makes a lot of people wonder about churches’ responses during those many lynchings. May I suggest one root of the problem likely may have been a disregard of the admonition put forward by the children’s song? Were Christians being careful what they heard? Does listening to the narrative of those in power taint Christians? Political slogans? Talk radio? Memes? Do loud voices stifle the still small voice?

Christians have a responsibility to stay rooted and impervious to manipulation by mass media. Mass media has become a political weapon that will, if allowed, taint the minds of those who are supposed to be shepherds or those who are supposed to speak freely and act upon the basis of the goodness of God. Modern society can be divided into three realms: individuals, the government, and civil society. Churches and religion reside in the realm of civil society. Civil society is necessary for democracy as it is a voice to advocate for norms and ideals of the group; a religious leader functions as part of civil society. When a Christian falls under the sway of political narratives, then her mind is under the control of another, and her prophetic voice is muted. So, the natural cognitive wiring of the mind likely will make a person resistant to an accurate picture of the reality of the societal situation. A Christian cannot allow herself to be a part of any narrative that disregards the truth that each person is of value and created in God’s image. She must shun any broad disparaging categorization of a group’s value, intelligence, or morality. Any compromising pact with those in power will yield an evil outcome.

For example, most of organized Christianity in Europe missed the opportunity to reflect God’s character of love and peace during the Holocaust, choosing instead to cooperate with the leader that “God had placed in power.” However, it appears that in certain regions early protest by church leaders about the immorality of discrimination against Jews was associated with smaller harm to the Jewish population over the years of Nazi power. The voice at the pulpit seemed to matter (Fein, 1979). The clear voices of pastors can provide a grounded reality check for those who encounter loud narratives used by power hungry leaders.

In late 20th century Rwanda, society was inundated by radio propaganda that dehumanized the Tutsi people prior to the Genocide in 1994. Tutsis were called cockroaches, enemies of the state, and evil. For the most part, churches failed to speak prophetically amidst slanderous talk about a certain group. Timothy Longman (2010) wrote of this in a comprehensive study of Christianity and the Rwandan Genocide and notes the overwhelming failure of any church (Catholic, Protestant, or Adventist) to register a comprehensive dissent about the issue of dehumanizing the Tutsis. In fact, the general stance seemed to have been that churches must steer clear from politics. (Sound familiar?) In addition, several Protestant groups adopted the position that turmoil was inevitable in the time right before the Second Coming, so no need to intervene or advocate for a different path than what was proposed by the government. (Sound familiar?) This passive posture that refused to use the power of religious voice in civil society shows a massive failure of Christian witness. There is no easy explanation about what factors caused people to act in certain ways in Rwanda, but, obviously, and sadly, churches failed to be peacemakers.

Whatever their individual reasons for choosing to participate, the fact that the churches gave moral sanction to the genocide freed people to act. The attitude of the churches toward ethnic politics and ethnic discrimination reassured those who were motivated by the anti-Tutsi ideologies. Even those who did not hate Tutsi but feared the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) and were convinced that they had to kill local Tutsi to defend themselves took comfort from the support the churches showed to the genocidal government. And for those who acted merely out of obedience, the church once again offered support. In Rwanda, unfortunately, the Golden Rule taught by the churches was not “love your neighbor as yourself,” but “obey those in authority.” (Longman, 2010, p. 319)

Early Christians were not persecuted for offering a vision of eternal life but because they served a different Lord, not Caesar, and were in an alternate society, one that questioned the narrative put in place by earthly leaders. Political narratives, in the end, serve to elevate a select group or person as the mandatory corrective for certain ills, or the narratives denigrate a group, without caveat, as responsible for certain ills. Such ideas are idolatry, twisting the roles of Jesus Christ and the treasured people He came to save. Any narrative that diminishes or elevates a human who has been made in God’s image should be suspect. In this time of overwhelming sensory input, it is time to avoid the stories that powerful people want to push. The Christian narrative of human value has no boundary. The words one hears can form the story one believes. Christian leaders must be catalysts to beckon the flock to leave the twisted culture. This path is not an alignment with political power, but a replacement of the coercive narrative with the good news, the gospel, of Jesus. This will be subversive, but, in the end, every other narrative will fail.

In a tweet earlier this month, Ty Gibson said, “The core logic of the biblical narrative is that relational integrity leads to human flourishing. As Savior, Jesus is the facilitator of relational healing and restoration.” I agree with Gibson’s description. One must measure any narrative against this.

Just as in Paul’s time, the executive authority of Jesus must trump the executive authority of Caesar. As the song goes: “There’s a Father up above and He’s looking down with love. Oh be careful, little ears what you hear.”

Notes & References: Fein, H. (1979). Accounting for Genocide. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing. Longman, T. (2010). Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8860
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Thank you. This is a timely comment in these times. Our religious and political discourses have become so polarized that it helps to take a step back and reflect. Thank you again Carmen.

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Salvation is in Christ as our Elder brother, Our High Priest, and our King of Kings any doctrine that would deviate from that Rock of Ages is to be cut off. The pulpit that would tell us other should be cursed. With out a doubt LGT is part and parcel of that heresy. We have entry into heaven only by being covered with His robe of Righteousness.

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When a political candidate says that he is the only one who can fix the ills of society, and targets sub groups as the reason for those ills, and then continues to spin that narrative once in power, the church needs to speak up and out. We are living under a form of state sponsored idolatry and intolerance, with a would be autocrat looking to create an autocracy. The conservative churches have aided and abetted him through their tacit and active complicity. Enough!

Thanks…

Frank

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Excellent and timely call for action and individual response by each of us to the inhumanity in the treatment of persons who are seeking asylum in our country.
Today our voices need to be heard on behalf of our children. The US Government needs to change immigration policies that result in severe mental trauma to children.No child should be incarcerated in a cage and separated from their parents. There are more than 2,000 little ones that need to be reunited. I cannot believe that as a nation we can condone “tender age incarceration facilities”. Generations of good people are bing hurt by this damage to families. All parents need to stand together to prevent separation damage to our children.
What parents aren’t always prepared for is the return of separation anxiety in “big kids.” Both school-age children and adolescents can struggle with separation anxiety and, in some cases, it can result in Separation Anxiety Disorder. The defining feature of Separation Anxiety Disorder is excessive fear or anxiety concerning the separation from home or attachment figures. This fear or anxiety exceeds what is to be expected of the individual given his/her developmental level. We are accountable…these are our children!

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It is true that we are created in God’s image–but some individuals are not sensitive to it. To live under the assumption that there is an internal sense of right and wrong inside every person–is naive and dangerous.

There are evil individuals in the world that would steal, kill and destroy with no remorse. From my perspective there is a growing lack of ethics in business as well as religion. Instead of becoming involved in the ever changing world of politics and government (as the author speaks of) I believe it is the better part of wisdom to create inside our congregation a strong sense of ethical behavior. Which is: honesty, integrity, justice seeking, faithfulness, not permitting love to falter to family and friends, transparency in church\conference fundings, being an honorable person, compassion, kindness to strangers, courteous demeanor, gentleness, firmness, avoidance of mind altering substances, right eating etc… etc…

Most of our church sermons, from my point of view, are about developing a relationship with a loving God. And there it stops.

I agree with the thrust of your comment. However, perhaps I was not clear enough in the essay. I do not advocate an involvement with politics and government as an end of itself. My point is that we (of religious liberty/separation of church/state heritage) tend to stay away from a broad application of God’s core truths. Rwanda and Europe are two examples when the church failed as it seemed to choose selective blindness and selective application of God’s kingdom way. I want to make the point that a Christian should stay outside of the narratives that seem to sway large parts of political discourse. Focussing on the things you mention: “honesty, integrity, justice seeking, faithfulness…” would be first steps in the process,

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In my readings of the rise of Nazi power reveals that their agenda of cruel annihilation of the Jews and the disabled, was hidden from most to the general population. Furthermore, anti-semitic attitudes was very universal throughout the entire population, including Christians. In reading the bio on Sigmund Freud, he reports that his Father, a Jewish Rabbi, was forced to walk in the mud and yield to citizens on the sidewalk. There are many other accounts…

Sadly, I don’t think that Christians, during the Nazi era, were looking for an opportunity “to reflect on God’s character of love and peace.” The same can be said in WW I & II. The Jews were not universally held in high esteem throughout Europe at the time. Yet the Catholic church must be credited with the only religious organization that openly opposed Hitler. This attitude had its origin very early in the Christian era. I believe that author is writing from her Western cultural viewpoint. Easy to do, looking backwards.

Carmen, Thanks for these very timely thoughts.

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Frank, I would suggest you used Carmen’s article to immediately start “your” political narrative. I was one of “Hillary’s deplorables” who voted for “the facist” Trump according to some authors on this sight, and Christian Century Magazine. Let me respond…enough of “that narrative.”

"An Open Letter to Adventists Who Voted for Trump

It was the “religious conservative aspect” of the “confessional church”/ Bonhoeffer that pushed back against the “German Church” mesmerized by Hitler. Some of us genuinely believe that any religious segment or philosophy that tries to make “heaven on earth” in the here and now by political means is dangerous and are by nature “statist” using religion in a utilitarian way for a desired political outcome. There are “Triumphalist” in both extremes.
It is illegal what is going on entering the USA without passport, Visa and NOT entering through entry point. Jews being killed and Tutsi’s being killed in their own country simply has no comparative similarity or equivalence to those situations.

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Please consider the history of how the RCC helped many Nazi’s escape to South America though assistance of the Vatican. Of course SDA’s in Germany were quite attracted to Hitler’s vegetarianism and other social views.

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I wonder how many Adventists are aware of the history of the church and the nazi state? Or heard of Hulda Jost?

http://www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/holocaust/Research/Proseminar/corrieschroder.htm

Fatal Flirting: The Nazi State and the Seventh-day Adventist Church
https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1042&context=jams

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You are right to say the current situation has no equivalency to Jews being killed or Tutsi’s being killed. Yet, in both instances the killing of those groups did not spring up out of nowhere. It did not come in a vacuum. It came after decades of turmoil in the culture. The turmoil was such that normal and “good” people believed such actions were necessary to keep the peace and goals of a nation/state. Words and mantras and chants do something to a person’s psyche. So that a person’s moral compass is erased. That is the point of this article.

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I don’t disagree with that. There is a degree of that from both sides of the political spectrum in the US. However, I suggest in my 73 yrs. I have never seen the atmosphere of the likes of Maxine Waters encouraging confrontation and cursing of elected officials in the public pursuance of their life …or the practice of not even allowing “free speech and ideas” being expressed at Public Univ, of supposed “higher learning.” Expression of “traditional conservative views” is simply not worthy of being heard or allowed to be heard as it is “considered hate speech” by the radical liberal progressive anarchist. Or, it seems that is what they are trying to cause while deconstructing the present order.
So, that in my view is the biggest threat from those who simply put to much hope and value into the state to cure their ills. By nature, those that believe in “limited government” are generally quite the opposite and in my view most like the “Classical Liberalism” of the founders of this nation in attitude and deed.
Regards,
Pat
PS. I would hope that you are not suggesting there should be no efforts and at times force by legal means to keep the “peace and goals” of the nation state. I suggest that is what Rom.13/! Pet.2 allow to legitimate governments…

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The last generation theology begins with a miss understanding of the human nature of Christ. The early Brinsmead position was that at the cleansing of the heavenly sancturary the soul temple would also be cleansed and In that state the final generation would be tested as was Christ. Of course he neglected to understand the the Investgative Judgment was just a corn field wishful thinking that had no basis in Scripture. The church threw out Brinsmead but keep the primary nonsense of a final perfect generation. The savedfrom first to last are covered with Christ’s righteousness. If you have noticed that Des Ford is r ehashing Glacier View.

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The “Catholic Church” was composed of many individuals, not all of whom marched in lockstep in accordance with some order. Many Catholics, including clergy, gave succor, shelter and asylum to persecuted Jews. Some Catholics, including clergy, sheltered Nazis from post-war justice.
Some protestants, including clergy, supported Hitler and fought in the German armed forces. Others, including clergy, opposed Hitler, some suffering oppression for their opposition.

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Of course Pierre and their is always a danger in an “all or none” view but tensions have always existed between Jews and the Vatican over the coziness that existed between the Vatican, Mussolini and Hitler.
One must not ignore the facts. Those Jews hunting down the Nazi’s that escaped to South America and elsewhere with “church related assistance” don’t.
Regards,
Pat

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