A Plea to Pastors and Theologians who Preach on Social Media

Many of my Facebook friends and those that follow my blog may not be aware that I am a PK (preacher’s kid). I know how difficult a pastor’s life can be. It’s a tough job with high expectations, where everything said from the pulpit to the Sunday afternoon put-luck (or more theologically accurate, pot-providence:-) lunch line to the coffee shop on a Monday morning is carefully scrutinized. Ideally, pastors hold a special place of respect and trust with their congregants.  Pastoring a flock necessitates an added expectation of responsibility to be truthful, to speak wisely, and to apply biblical principles consistently in all avenues of their and their family’s life (James 3:1). In short, pastors lead by their words and by their actions. This is an extraordinarily difficult calling, one which has become even more difficult in the age of social media.

In the age of social media, pastors, youth leaders, and professional theologians—like everyone else—have a chance to have their voices heard (and their lives examined) in ways like never before. Many have taken to social media outlets to be more accessible to their congregation and in some cases to build a “brand,” allowing them to generate a following well beyond their local circle of influence. The latter necessitates that they share far more than pictures of their kids’ birthday, cats chasing a laser light and recent vacation adventures. They also share their opinions on a wide variety of social, political and scientific controversies. This comes in the form of writing posts, sharing articles, commenting on articles and sharing memes.

Although I arrived relatively late to the social media age I have been actively engaged on FB and Twitter as part of my blogging efforts at Naturalis Historia. In particular, my Facebook and Twitter friends include over 500 pastors and theologians, mostly from theologically conservative backgrounds and Reformed theology in particular. Following so many Christian leaders, I have become distressed by the lack of discernment that many of them have displayed in their social media interactions.

Increasingly, I have lost respect for many pastors and theologians that I either know personally, have heard speak or whose books and articles I have read. Before encountering these individuals on social media I believed them to be discerning exegetes and trusted sources of information as they applied the scriptures to many social, political and scientific issues of our day. But observing these same people on social media routinely sharing fake news that two minutes of Internet searching and reading would debunk, engaging in debates using fallacious argumentation, and painting uncharitable caricatures of social and political leaders is disheartening. As a result I have been unfriending and unfollowing social media friends that engage in such behavior online.

I expect all Christians to care about truth and engage in basic practices of background reading and checking of facts before sharing their thoughts and links on social media, but given their roles and position as leaders of people, I hold pastors and theologians to a higher standard, as does the Bible. They should show greater discernment. It’s not enough to ask if a particular meme meets some minimum standard of truth (or more commonly, simply sharing an opinion with the one posting it) or that a story headline sounds true but they should ask if what they are sharing is truly edifying (Ephesians 4:29). So many memes are meant to speak to a particular audience at the expense of another. Many are guaranteed to be offensive to someone. Yes, we can acknowledge that the truth can be offensive—and may need to be—but in most cases when we offend, it should be because we are defending the Gospel. But what happens when you offend not because you present the truth but because you are telling a lie—even if unwittingly? Surely, damage to the reputation of that individual is done. The qualification of leaders being “above reproach” is not met. I know this to be true because my respect and that of others for particular pastors has been irreparably damaged by their use of social media

Pastors and theologians, if you can’t show good judgment, if you aren’t willing to do research to understand the nuances of a subject before stating your beliefs to others, how can I trust that you are doing the same with the scriptures as you preach from the pulpit or teach in a seminary? I can’t help but think of the qualifications of church overseers laid out by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:3-7, especially “above reproach,” “not quarrelsome,” “hospitable,” and “gentle.” If you can’t be faithful in the little things (social media presence) can I trust that you are faithful in the big ones (preaching the Bible)? (Matthew 5:14-30) For many of you I have serious doubts, and that is especially troubling to me.

Many of you sound very confident of the truth on all manner of social, political and scientific matters and are willing to tell others what they ought to believe on these issues as if you are an authority. But from your comments and posts I am not confident that there is any evidence from any source including scriptures that could convince you to change your mind. Your use of links advocating conspiracy theories from agenda-driven lobbyist resources with poorly researched articles, trite memes and pithy but inaccurate sayings suggest you aren’t even willing to spend a few hours to read books or source materials (e.g. original research papers, affidavits, court documents, etc.) to assess the evidence for yourself. You rely on third parties with hidden or overt agendas to distill information and tell you what to believe and what you want to hear. The warning of 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” can be true of pastors as well as their congregation.

I read your words on Facebook and blogs and have to wonder if what I hear you say from the pulpit is just as unreliable. I wonder if this lack of personal research and reflection on topics you address on your blogs and media posts are reflective of your approach to your meditation upon and interpretation of the Bible and how you will present it to others? Do you begin your sermon preparation each week knowing what you want to say from the pulpit and then devote your time to finding scriptures and commentaries that agree with your beliefs? Is there nothing in the scriptures that might change your mind? I’ve lost much confidence in pastors who don’t seem to care about looking for truth but only seek to confirm their own fallible intuition.

What is especially troubling to me—a believer in the benefits of seminary-trained pastors and teachers—is that denominations (such as the one I grew up in) that require years of rigorous pastoral and theological training have often not yielded pastors and theologians any better prepared to tackle social, scientific or political issues than pastors who lead independent Churches which require little or no theological training.

Among reformed Presbyterian denominations there is a strong—and I believe admirable—tradition of stressing training in original Biblical languages and methods of interpretation. In seminary, future pastors are exposed to many debates and difficult questions about doctrines and the application of those doctrines to the Christian life—pastoral theology. They also should have been provided the perspective of the history of the Church. They, of all people, should realize how much work is involved to research and evaluate evidence from multiple perspectives before forming a conviction and applying that to practical issues in Christian life and that such convictions ought to be held with humility, subject to change with more understanding, maturity and evidence. They should realize that topics such as immigration, gender identity, poverty, medical ethics, climate change, etc. don’t have solutions that fit into the space of a meme, tweet or FB comment. Rather they are multivariate problems requiring a thoughtful and measured response just like when discussing positions on baptism, eschatology, apologetic methods, pneumatology, liturgical practices and so forth.

There is no simple solution to engaging in discourse in the modern era but the general rule that one should avoid being or appearing to be a fool should be obvious advice which many pastors have apparently not taken to heart. For many it is not that they think that their lack of knowledge is no barrier to qualification to speak on a topic, but that they think their faith and Biblical training is a substitute for knowledge on any topic, because they have “The Truth™.” They see verses like “If God is for us, who can stand against us,” and assume that anything they say on any topic automatically has the force of God’s might behind it.

Most pastors would not regularly quote from a supermarket tabloid, yet I follow several that routinely share articles from online resources that are no more reliable than those tabloids—they just happen to espouse views that those pastors find agreeable. They just don’t realize how unreliable their source is.  This may be because they have not taken the time to research it or  don’t have the discernment to recognize when they are being manipulated.

I hope that I am addressing a minority of pastors. Unfortunately they are a vocal minority since they inhabit the social media space and are willing to share their thoughts on everything. There are some thoughtful theologians and pastors whose wisdom from the pulpit is reflected in their careful and introspective comments on FB, blog posts and tweets. Most pastors and theologians don’t have a social media presence and if they have accounts don’t venture into making commentary on politics, science and social issues. Many of them probably have wisdom to share but recognize the minefield that social media can be and stay away. Generally, I think this cautious approach to social media is wise but part of me wishes that some of the competent but silent consumers of social media out there would make a greater effort to speak out when and where they are competent to do so.

Living in the age of social media has caused me to have a greater appreciation for my father—a pastor for more than 50 years. He has been a model of careful and thoughtful dialogue in person and in limited interactions on social media. He does not allow himself to be dragged into internet banter nor does he share sarcastic or insensitive memes which are today’s version of bully rants in the schoolyard. He understands that there are multiple and intertwined sides of most issues that are difficult to appreciate in a single meme or 160 character tweet. He does not treat those with whom he disagrees as an enemy to be vanquished or in today’s vernacular “scum” or “animals.”

Likewise, I have come to appreciate my pastor’s self-control on social media. He could readily have a large following, get lots of likes and accolades but he is focused on building personal relationships in the local church. Having a virtual following is not his thing. I’m not suggesting that pastors can’t have an effective witness on social media but it takes substantial patience, time and wisdom to cultivate respect on such a platform.

Personally, I infrequently comment on politics or other social issues on social media. I am not without opinions on these matters but prefer to develop personal face-to-face relationships within which to engage in those debates.  Occasionally I will speak out on topics for which I have researched and thus can provide a meaningful contribution. Even on topics for which I have expert knowledge, I don’t feel that memes and similar forms of communication provide any tangible long-term value and thus avoid their use.  

On the rare occasions that I do share articles or quotes, I make an effort to inspect the sources and determine if I should trust them and whether I wish to be affiliated with them. For my own writing, I stick to areas for which I have expertise and thus can judge the quality of other work. This doesn’t provide 100% assurance that I am right but it’s a good hedge against falling into serious error. Also, I don’t anticipate that my expertise will necessarily cause readers to accept my views but at least I won’t be responsible for spreading false facts, gross exaggerations or be serving someone else’s interests.

Many of you will recognize that I do write about and share material that expresses strong and sometimes unpopular viewpoints. Most notably, I have written regularly and strongly about what I have concluded are abuses of scripture and science of Ken Ham and colleagues. However, despite expressing strong opinions, I don’t believe I’ve ever posted a meme poking fun at Ken Ham. I’ve also made it a point not to like or promote any Facebook or Twitter post that puts Ken Ham or other creationists’ brothers in a position that denigrates them as people and makes caricatures of them. Mocking, name-calling and so forth is inappropriate and does nothing to foster understanding and fruitful dialogue. It would greatly harm my witness and my periodic lack of self-control in this area is truly embarrassing to me.

Engaging in profitable, honest dialogue is hard but necessary work, especially for those that have been called to preach the gospel (See Book Review: The Fool and the Heretic for an example of how it can be done). I know it is a lot to ask but I, along with the apostle Paul, ask it anyway. Christian leaders on social media: you need to take the truth seriously. You cannot simply assume that because you know the truth of the Gospel that everything you believe and consequently everything you say is true.

Am I guilty of the errors for which I am writing about? Of course I am. I know I have held tenuous positions too strongly in the past and regret many things I have said. I will redouble my efforts to do better—but how much more important is it for those in a greater position of authority to lead by example? By the grace of God we can all do better.

Grace and peace to you,

Joel Duff

Preacher’s kid, Father of 5, Justified by grace alone through faith and in the process of being sanctified

Editing kindly provided by LC
Cover Image:  Screenshot of Social Media images – Google Images

24 thoughts on “A Plea to Pastors and Theologians who Preach on Social Media

  1. Thank you so much for this needed corrective! I see and hear so many crazy things promulgated by Christians, across the political and social spectra I must add. There are numerous new or newish believers in my church, and it grieves me deeply when I see them getting drawn down rabbit trails on the internet, rather than really getting to know the Bible and to spend time in God’s presence. The pastors at my church have begun addressing OCD-type addictions to phones, computers and social media. That’s another facet of the problem. Like the weeds in Jesus’ parable of the Four Soils, the sheer amount of the limited time we have each day used for social media, rather than seeking God or showing kindness or service in person to others, can rob our lives of spiritual fruitfulness.

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  2. Thank you, thank you, Dr. Joel! I am grateful that you have taken the considerable time and trouble I am sure it took to put your thoughts together and express them as you have. I have sensed–without knowing much, if any, of this background–that you actually do seek to live and act in the manner you have expressed. I have been very grateful for your kindness and consideration for all parties I have seen you address on this blog, no matter where they are coming from.

    Blessings to you and yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I cringe at some things some Christians say on the internet, the literalist Christians on YouTube teaching a flat earth is horrendous and no amount of evidence makes a dent in their belief system. William Lane Craig in one of his pod casts thought it is a phony video put out by atheists to make Christianity look foolish. I don’t know either way, but I know some YECs went to a flat earth interpretation of Genesis going with a wooden literal view of the Bible. There are plenty of YEC videos on YouTube as well.
    I don’t use dubious websites for any facts I use when talking to an unbeliever. I have found being respectful is very important on the internet as any perceived slight can turn into name calling and that’s the end of the conversation.

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  4. Three cheers to you, sir. You echo my own thoughts from recent years–or, decades. A sad fact is that many pastors are too afraid to broach this subject, because the cute little old ladies who are so often the remaining core of our churches, would revolt. Generations of rejecting and insulting young people with any technical understanding, in favor of familiar old Medieval interpretations, has left our congregations down to most the geriatric of mind and body. The TV ‘ministers’ so often, and gleefully, denounce all science, yet purchase and employ the most modern of it to broadcast. This is hypocrisy, at best. We live in a time of scribes and Pharasees.


  5. Lot of good points here Joel. A shame you can’t control what respondents say on their post. I think we all know that given any, and i mean ANY group that may hold to any perspective on issues social, scientific, religious, political, etc, you will always find a portion of each group to hold to extreme or minority positions. This is just the human condition, and i doubt that any amount of individual research is ever going to eliminate this entirely. What you can do is correct with humility and compassion, but correct none the less. I think, from my experience with your blogs, the you do try to be careful yourself not to use the ad hominem attack weapon, but many on your site do this frequently and, disappointedly, without any correction from you. There are always comments made trying to conflate YEC beliefs with the fringe flat earth movement. I personally have known countless hundreds of YEC’s personally and have NEVER encountered one who believed the earth is flat. I can only assume, per your article, that you have apparently met or known of many. Using any argument from a youtube video is going to be fraught with danger, so i agree great care must be exercised. And i would agree that laziness is no excuse. If one wants to be honest here, this laziness can be found in any particular group think, including the scientific enterprise. As a lifelong contrarian and skeptic i have always felt comfortable challenging anything i have read or been told, including my own beliefs. I still do so today, from science to theology my shelves are full of books that challenge my particularly held beliefs.
    If however, you are sincere in your just expressed viewpoints, and seeing as how this is YOUR blog site, perhaps you could offer encouragement to those who post here who think the genetic fallacy is a substitute for actual facts in debate. I have read many many posts here on this site that degrade the mental or intellectual faculties of those with whom they disagree, and never with a response, that i have read, from you. You leave to assume, which i don’t like to do, that you are okay with this. You can set the tone. You have the ultimate say. As scripture says, remove the log from your own eye before you focus attention on removing specks of sawdust from others. When i see this effort on your part, i will take more seriously your admonition for others to practice such. There are, in this case, many many christians who take issue with your viewpoints who are as educated, in some cases more so, than are you and your posters, even in the field of science. You probably, i sense, grieve over the lack of facts offered by others but at the same time acknowledge how difficult it is to actually change someone’s mind. I agree. But this is often NOT a fact friendly site, but devolves into ad hominem attacks, genetic fallacy, etc. Perhaps if the tone became different and more conducive to actually logical and factual arguments without the insinuations of stupidity, enemy of science, etc. it might become a more interesting and educational site. I certainly would find it a such. Fairness and balance. That’s all most of us really want.


    1. Chuck: Amen to so much of what you have said!

      And a good reminder for all to be careful of what we way, how we say it, how we argue.

      I am curious: Have you ever moderated a forum or blog? If you have, perhaps you have some insights about HOW to do what you have suggested in terms of “calling people out” for bad arguments? (I mean, effectively . . . while not getting oneself [i.e., the moderator] too deeply embroiled–so that one is spending hours–in the task of providing moderation? (I.e.–because I have attempted to moderate, and then provide oversight to moderators I hired! . . . and this was a site dedicated to the discussions of Christian homeschooling moms! . . . –I was stunned and eventually defeated [we closed down the site] because so many discussions devolved into mudslinging over the [claimed] gall of moderators to call someone out for matters of tone or ad hominem, etc., etc. Rather than discussing the subject matter itself, “even” among these Christian moms, “discussions” devolved into shouting matches over the meta subject matter of how the moderators were attempting to moderate!)

      I have little doubt your criticism is well-founded (i.e., that Dr. Joel doesn’t speak to many–and probably not even most–ad hominem attacks). On the other hand, I have seen him model a graciousness that is almost always absent on or in forums and blogs dealing with subjects like this. And I have a faint sense or recollection that he does–at least occasionally–call partisans, at least on the old-earth and/or evolutionary-creation side, to watch their words and the character of their arguments. . . .

      That’s my recollection.

      I have found him to be remarkably gracious and as consistent as makes sense for him within the strictures of his time and monetary capability.

      I was just about to hit “post” when I re-read your comments and realized I should “call you out” a bit yourself in what you said and how you said it. . . . And by doing so, I have a sense–if you respond–my comments, here, will be a great example of why offering the kind of moderation you suggest (i.e., providing moderating services to those who post comments) is so difficult and time-consuming. Because one must parse things out extremely carefully.

      You said, “If . . . you are sincere in your just expressed viewpoints, . . . perhaps you could . . .”

      The way I read that, you are saying, “I don’t believe you are sincere.”

      I was going to suggest: Why not simply make your suggestion, without impugning Dr. Joel’s motives?

      But then I realized there is a reason you wrote what you did: because, in truth, you really do question his sincerity.

      So let me respond a bit more directly to your skepticism about his sincerity. This, of course, is merely my experience and, so, my testimony (as a long-time reader).

      Because–as I understand things–Dr. Joel is coming from an avowedly biblically-based (old-earth, evolutionary-creation) perspective, I imagine he feels his hands are tied a bit when he’s dealing with anti-biblical, atheistic evolutionists. Their ad hominems are just as barbed toward his perspective as they are to the YEC view.

      But then, in the same way, I imagine Dr. Joel feels his hands are tied when he is dealing with young-earth creationists (since they want to argue that anything other than a young-earth perspective is unbiblical).

      And when–as Dr. Joel is–you are dealing with people (both YECs and atheists) who are trying to destroy you as much as they are interested in destroying one another: when you refuse to respond to the ad hominems and genetic fallacies lobbed against you, you are, implicitly, also failing to “protect” “the other side” (whether that “other side” is YECs or atheistic evolutionists).

      My guess: part of what you are seeing as insincerity or inconsistency is the result of the fact (as I have experienced things) that Dr. Joel gets far more comments on his blog by old-earth and evolutionary-creation (or atheistic evolutionary) readers than he does young-earth creationist readers.

      So his failure to respond to every–or most, or even many–poorly stated/inappropriately-argued comments will make it seem as if he’s biased in favor of the old-earth and/or atheistic perspective . . . because there are so many more old-earthers and atheistic evolutionists commenting on his blog than there are young-earth creationists.

      But the fact is, in my experience he lets virtually all ad hominem attacks against him go unremarked-upon whether from old-earth atheists or young-earth creationists. So there is a kind of “balance,” or consistency, there.

      In sum, then: In the many years I have been following Dr. Joel, part of the reason I have been so attracted to his blog is because, in general, I have found him living out–or, at least, seeking to live out–as consistently as possible, the kind of principles he expressed in the article to which you and I are here responding.

      FWIW (which may not be much, but I felt I should say something).

      Thanks for listening.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you John for your kind words and exhortation. Yes, i do doubt the sincerity sometimes because in my experience on this site (and you are absolutely right, mud is slung from both sides, which as a christian is embarrassing though i confess i have thrown a few mud balls myself in response to attacks on my intelligence) that the old earth, and or/evolutionists are allowed great freedom in these attacks. Joel and i have had our conflicts about this. I find that many on both sides of the debate are seldom interested in an actual factual exchange because they have already decided that they can’t be wrong. I seldom argue facts or their interpretation. I argue more for civility and respect.
        You ask how i would moderate. I would allow free exchange of ideas and the freedom to rebuttal. Certainly language should be civil, and personal attacks not allowed. Yes, it would take more time, but the more you eliminate the dross and childishness, the more time and space can be given to factual exchange. Those who continue to violate these perimeters can be asked to leaved or be blocked. I’ve just noticed what appears to be a lopsidedness in the application of this. Maybe i am wrong. I don’t think so. Joel and i have had exchanges over this.
        Perhaps the reason that reasonable people show up here in small numbers, no matter what their viewpoint, is that they don’t want to have to deal with insults or character smears. I wouldn’t either. It is not up to Joel to micromanage the arguments. Let people make them. Let others respond. Let the Site deal with this. Just keep it as friendly as possible. If YEC’s (of which i am not one) or creationists can’t abide by the rules, then warn and then block if the warning is ignored. This would only require Joel to read the posts, and not to have to reconfigure someone’s argument or correct it. The site will often do this. An argument either stands or falls on it’s own. Joel can pick the beginning point and then let the responders respond, to him and to each other. But the moment a participant feels or figures out that the site is skewered to one side or the other, and which side that is, and then notices freedoms given to that side not necessarily given to the other, they will react with dismay and/or anger, and will leave.
        I would love a factual, friendly debate. I would LOVE it. But it always devolves into personal attack. From both or all sides. Yes, that’s a shame. I respect Joel’s perspective. I know he has put a tremendous amount of time into it’s development. And continues to do so. If one wants to have a site where only one perspective is allowed and discussed, by all means one is free to do so. Just let that be known. If other perspectives are allowed, enable those to be shared in a rational and reasonable manner. Don’t allow those of the other perspective to be attacked or mocked, as long as they share rationally or reasonably. And don’t be surprised when people respond to attacks with attacks. Yes, we could wish for more, but this is the human condition. I am a creationist. 6-day, But not young (6,000 year) earth. My objections to evolutionary theory as it stands are all scientific. I don’t need to quote the bible. I don’t need to tell people stupid things like you will go to hell. That’s childish and assinine.
        There is, as Trump might say, fine people on both sides. I for one like to be challenged. Who want’s to believe something untrue? I have Christian brothers and sisters whom i disagree with. But we can talk. And we can respect and love each other. Because in the final analysis, none of us were there in the beginning, whatever it was. None of us observed the origin of life. None of us watched evolution, if it occurred, take place. We are all searchers for the truth. We should, with humility and love, express our differences but keep them in perspective. Humility and love, from all sides. Sounds like heaven.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. !!! 🙂

          I’m very much with you. (At this point, not either a young-earther nor a literal 6-day-er. [But we’ll get REALLY far afield if I begin to get into the biblical text. –That is, for various reasons, my primary area of interest. The science concerning either the age of the earth or how God actually created things is of interest to me, but not of primary concern.)

          May this site . . . and Dr. Joel . . . (what’s the phrase? something like) . . . move forward from glory to glory!


          1. indeed. I try to be always open to new information and not to cement myself in an immovable paradigm. Yes, i too am most interested in the biblical text, which is why i am a 6-day creationist (the passage does say six days) but not a 6,000 year yec (it does not tell us how old the universe). There could be some great discussions here but i am not sure that there is any eagerness for “discussions” or debates.


  6. Thank you, Joel. A helpful reminder and exhortation that I, for one, certainly need to take to heart. I would just point out that we all need to exercise discernment in terms of how we distinguish “fake news” from the real thing. While we need to be careful to avoid wacky conspiracy theories and the like, in my opinion there is also much evidence that a large segment of the so-called “mainstream” media has a strong ideological bias to the hard left – a bias that I think is often sincerely held but often unrecognized by those who hold it. (As we all have biases and tend to be blind to our own biases.) For example, when I read a “fact check” by one of the mainstream media outlets, I don’t automatically take such a fact check as gospel truth. I take it with a grain of salt and want to dig deeper before believing the outlets, because I often sense a biased undercurrent motivating such fact checks. (I.E., the fact checkers themselves often need to be fact checked.)

    As an example of such media bias, I think of how the media portrayed President Trump’s Charlottesville comments about “fine people on both sides” as if he were saying that there are “fine people” amongst the white supremacists. I actually took the time to look up and read in context the full transcript of Trump’s comments on that occasion, only to discover that about two sentences after his “fine people” comment the president clearly stated that he was not talking about white supremacists. In other words, supposedly respectable and objective news outlets had clearly, unapologetically quoted the president out of context. This only took me about five minutes to discover, but the supposedly professional, objective journalists somehow missed it. (As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve posted some articles and video clips about this on FB as an example of the problem of journalistic malpractice.)

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we all need to exercise discernment in terms of who we trust as the arbiters of truth – something that takes increasing care in an age of social media where the line between facts and ideological narrative often get blurred. And, yes, you are correct: We need to be careful, nuanced and Christ-like in the way we express ourselves, and when we have not adequately done our homework it is best that we remain silent.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I very much appreciate the kind words and additional wisdom. I will probably need to add an addendum when I have time. Its rather daunting to think that we have to be an expert and research everything to be able to speak but I’m not suggesting that every topic is equal or that we can possibly check every fact. I frequently talk in class about how we all depend on experts at some point and we have to believe what they say or we would be unable to function. I can’t research everything and so I have to trust that someone else has done the work to understand a topic and then distill important truths for me. Once I have a trusted source, I then feel confident to share what I’ve learned from them as my beliefs. I also may share things that come from that expert with some confidence that I am sharing valuable information. The problem comes when we place our trust in a source that really isn’t trustworthy but then we turn around act confident in our views which have been informed by an untrustworthy source. Pastors, whether its fair or not, are looked to as trustworthy sources on topics far removed from their understanding of scripture and in this way what they say will have a profound influence on many people. In this way I say that pastors are placed in a position of needing to be careful of their own sources since it is unreasonable that they will have a full understanding of every social issue they will have had to have trusted another source.


      1. well said, as was your original post. I have learned after all these decades that i must be willing to question even the sources i usually trust. I have learned all too often that even these are capable of biases, as Geoff said, they may not even be aware of. You’re right, it’s a drag. Takes time. Wish we didn’t have to do it. But we do.


    2. Thank you, Geoff, for your thoughtful and careful commentary! (I had actually never seen or known that Trump had made any modifying comment about his “fine people” statement, so I had wracked it up to “just one more” among many false/foolish statements he is known to make.)

      Your comments remind me of something I just wrote to my oldest grandchildren yesterday, about Martin Luther King. I noted that, for some reason of which I am not wholly aware (he was murdered when I was only 12 1/2 years old), he was a kind of hero to me when I was young. And I am referring to before he was murdered.

      What I wrote to my grandkids:


      blockquote>[T]here is much evil spoken of Martin Luther King. This article (“MLK: Communist Revolutionary, Plagiarizer, Degenerate”), is an example of what I am referring to. And, first, where the criticism is accurate, I think it is inappropriate to attempt to deny or cover over what is true and accurate. The author of the article I have just referenced does a lousy job of documenting his charges. Even the FBI Report the author references, once you get familiar with the language (how it is written): it is pretty obvious how the author has biased various observations, including, especially, quoting other people’s statements about King to put him in the worst possible light. (One example that particularly jumps out at me: the claim that “King is such a slow thinker he is usually not prepared to make statements without help from someone.” –Really? A man who could write a letter like the one he wrote—and nobody would deny it—on his own, while sitting in the Birmingham jail?!?)

      But whether some of the worst charges are true or not, we need to be careful, as we evaluate people—indeed, as we evaluate ourselves—to be careful in what we think, say and do. We must be careful not to over-weight the evil or bad nor to underweight the righteous and good. It seems common for people to think the absolute worst of those with whom they disagree and focus as much as possible on those aspects of character and behavior that they find most repugnant in those they despise; meanwhile, for those with whom they believe they are in agreement, they overlook and justify as many flaws as possible while lauding every aspect of these friends’ character and behavior as they possibly can.

      My sense: We need to practice, as much as possible, to offer those with whom we disagree all the same care and compassion and thoughtful graciousness as we provide those we agree with.

      (Someone I heard recently commented, “Take all the parts of the Bible out that were written by a murderer. What would you have left? NOT MUCH!”)

      But where I’m wanting to go with this: 1) Let us not deny accurate criticisms. But, 2) Please know that you, when you seek to do good: you, too, will be criticized. You will be lambasted. People who oppose you will seek to destroy your public image at all costs.

      That’s what J. Edgar Hoover, the long-time head of the FBI sought to do with King and anyone in government with whom he disagreed.
      It’s what powerful attorneys have done for years when seeking to help their clients: they use every lever possible to try to destroy the reputations of those on “the other side.”
      It’s what political lobbyists often do when trying to advance the interests of their clients. Yesterday, at our Rotary meeting, our speaker—a former NFL football player—suggested that the NFL itself sought to destroy the reputation of the medical doctor, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first documented the dangers and damage to the brain resulting from repeated jolts and concussions (what is now known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE for short. The words in CTE stand for bad brain [encephalopathy] associated with trauma (i.e., injury) [traumatic] over a long time [chronic]).

      I mention these things to you so you will be aware of it. Plan for it. But, I pray, by God’s grace, don’t back down out of fear of it. Do whatever good God calls you to do, no matter the potential pain of opposition and public humiliation. Remember “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

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    3. Geoff, let me also add that your example illustrates problem very well. I’ve found that they story is never a simple as any headline or 30 second clip on cable news makes it out to be. I generally assume that there is more to the story much like the one you mentioned yesterday about the church that was reported to have asked old people to leave. But it really is quite fatiguing to keep up on every news story. We form quick opinions and reactions because if we didn’t we would be wracked with indecision and basically psychotic. The trick is to find reliable resources on a variety of topics that can be our default positions and we also temper our views such that we don’t hold on to them too tight if we haven’t read all the sides of the story. The frustrating thing for me these days is that finding trusted resources is getting very difficult. Some people that I trusted in the past I don’t trust so much anymore. Everything is so partisan and effected by some agenda that I find myself instinctively distrusting everything (thank goodness for the scriptures in this world!) that almost everyone says.


      1. amen to that Joel. Amen! Of course, then there are all those different interpretations to deal with. LOL. The most i think we can do is to do our due diligence but be wary. No one is perfect. None of us are without an agenda. Being self conscious of them is the hard part. We trust ourselves too much. It is by rubbing up against one another intellectually that we may refine the coal of our thoughts into diamonds that reflect truth.


    4. well put Geoff. well put. Ultimately, we are responsible for seeking out the truth and questioning everything, even what we might immediately approve of, to verify we are believing the truth and not just someones agenda. Again, well done.


  7. I should add to my post that I am not saying that each one of us has to do hours of research on every topic before we can have opinions and share them. We all have to make thousands of decisions each day and we can’t research each one to the nth degree before making a decision. In my general biology class I give a lot of examples of how we form opinions and make choices. I ask simple questions like you are in the drug store and you are buying hand soap and some of them have “antibiotic” properties and claim to kill more bacteria and other don’t. The antibacterial ones are more expensive. How do you decide? There are a lot of factors at play. Do you trust the advertising on the soap and what you have heard on TV? Can you afford the more expensive soap? Is there a way to know if the one soap really does a better job than the other? The average person doesn’t have time to do a bunch of research to make the most informed decision and they are going to trust their gut which will be informed by whether they trust the advertising source or maybe their mom told them that it doesn’t make a difference and so forth.

    This is a rather trivial example and who you believe and what choice you make doesn’t matter a whole lot. But there are hundreds of more important questions we face very day. We can’t all do the work to understand every one of the nuances involved in every question before coming to a decision or forming an opinion. In most cases we are going to be drawn to a source that we trust to tell us, this is what you should believe concerning X. We have a news station or paper or particular commentator we “trust”, we have a certain friend that we trust and go to ask advice. And for Christians we have a pastor and elders who we look to guide us through the difficult path of applying our faith to a multitude of social, political, scientific questions. Anyone who is in a position in which what they believe will be trusted by another person and will become their own belief is in a position to shape the thoughts of others and thus has a great responsibility. Pastors don’t have to do all the heavy lifting and do all the research on every topic but what they should do is carefully examine their sources so that what they are feeding themselves is the best information they can get.


  8. An old professor of mine used to say pastors shouldn’t have blogs. I didn’t appreciate this advice when I first heard it, as a young seminarian at a time when everybody was blogging. And while I wouldn’t make it a hard and fast rule (I have encountered some truly interesting and edifying pastoral blogging), I do think it would be wise for any pastor to consider his own motives for expanding his circle of influence beyond his own congregation or presbytery. I also, like you, have grown increasingly disturbed by the general lack of intellectual integrity of pastors in my corner of the Christian world. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    By the way, a couple things I appreciated about your blog, when my views were changing on Creationism, were your careful approach and respectful tone. Without these, I might not have stuck around long enough to have my thinking changed.

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  9. I’m a bit late to this discussion. I’m also a PK, born in 1944, less than 100 miles east of what was reported last April at: Robert DePalma Tanis (the “last day” of the dinosaurs). I try to read 5 or 10 authors on any subject, bell-curve “truth” likely to be in the middle. I’m writing to point everybody at what I think to be the best book of 2019, “Clearing a Path for the Gospel — A Lutheran Approach to Apologetics,” including Chapter 5 on “Creation and Science.” (Find some quotes from this chapter in the “winter 2020” issue of “LSI Journal,” from Lutheran Science Institute.) For a “preview” of the first part of the book, go to: eggert kieta book. On the Internet page, Barnes & Noble provides excellent pages, and Northwestern lets you see the Table of Contents, and more. Dr. Eggert (chemistry, and so much more) and Rev. Kieta (also a man to respect) reject Delugism (changing the laws of nature) in favor of Created Thus (“a supernatural process”). This is encouraging. GLL

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