Family, we need to talk. This won’t take long but it is important. I’ll be brief and try to avoid that lecturing tone that no one appreciates.
In the early 20th century, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach developed the famous inkblot test, which soared in popularity in the 1960’s. Supporters of this test claim that when subjects are shown specific inkblots and name the first thing that pops into their mind as they attempt to identify the shape they see, it reveals much about their personality and emotional functioning. In short, just a quick glance can make known a person’s true identity and many other things about them. Whether that works in the field of psychology has been the subject of much debate in the ensuing decades.
But our society seems to be devolving into a Rorschach mentality. We see one image, one short video clip, one Tweet, one soundbite, one quote and we know all we need to know. Within a moment we know the truth of a situation and can safely jump to judgment. She is evil. He is a thug. She is a moron. He is a bigot.
A Case in Point
This has become the norm. This was proven again with the recent flap over the Covington Catholic school boys in Washington DC. One picture circulated the web, and everyone knew exactly what was going on. Within hours the young man’s face was spread around the globe and he was found guilty in the Rorschach test of public opinion. Twitter had spoken; this was worthy of being covered as global news. It was seized upon and pushed by a media that is desperately playing to the pay-for-clicks reality of their profession, and so will thrust forward any headline that sounds sensational and will satisfy the appetite of a society that feeds on the confirmation bias of stories that support what they already wish to believe. Yes, we have become a society that sees what we believe—even if it’s not there.
Let me tell you what I’m not doing. I’m not taking the side of anyone in this incident. This is not even about that incident. The Covington controversy is just another example in a disturbing trend. I’m not telling you what to feel, and you may feel a lot in cases like this. I’m not saying that we should not stand up to injustice or unfair treatment when we see it.
What I am saying is that as Christians we must let our minds and actions be trained by the word of God and not by the society around us. Were the young Catholic boys guilty and deserving of public shame? Were they guilty of everything they were initially accused of? It certainly seems now that the situation was much more complex than first thought. Just as many rushed to demonize them, it is true that many rushed in to defend them before they knew all the facts. I must also admit that these young men were given the benefit of the doubt by many people much quicker than if it was a different group of young men in their shoes. But how others would or would not have been treated in a similar situation is not the point either.
It’s Not Just the World’s Problem
What I’m talking about here is the rush to judgment and punishment. Before we even know the facts, the verdict was in. It was decided by many that their lives should be ruined. Sadly, we can’t just pin this one on the “world.” I went on social media and saw numerous examples of disciples of Jesus Christ from across the country spreading this story and calling the young man from Covington Catholic, “disgusting,” “horrible,” “racist,” “atrocious,” and more. (Let me point out that while this incident is an American controversy, this is not just an American issue.)
It would seem that Christians often jump to judgment as quickly as the world does. These young men were tried in the court of public opinion and many of us piled on because something in the story triggered us. Those triggers may be real, but does that give us the right to behave like the world around us? Others may have been unjustly treated in the same manner or far worse in the past. Okay, but does that justify ungodly behavior now? Those boys were insensitive or displaying bigotry. Maybe, but does that behavior now push someone outside of the bounds of God’s mercy and love or is it okay to judge and hate in that situation because you’ve “seen that look before.”
Let’s slow down for a moment. Now, I know not all of us are guilty of doing this. It’s safe to say that most of us are not guilty. But we cannot pretend that this proclivity to rush to judgment is not a problem in the body of Christ.
As is often the case, more information came in and indeed things do seem a little more complicated than first thought. It was a chaotic situation and there is likely plenty of blame to go around to everyone involved. That’s not always the case, but it was in this situation. There, are many times when people have prejudged a person or situation, ruined their lives, and then cared very little when the facts turned out differently than initially thought.
My point is not to get into the complicated details of any one situation. The details of this case and which side subsequently rushed to judgment are frankly irrelevant. I could easily offer less controversial examples to make the case. Just this morning, a picture of LeBron James sitting on the end of the bench alone during a game with a three-chair gap between himself and the next teammate was all we needed. Within hours, the picture was everywhere. LeBron is hated by his teammates. I’ve already seen at least four news stories this morning on that picture and observed it having been shared on social media by at least a dozen people that I know. Never mind that LeBron has a special padded chair for previous injuries that sits at the end of the bench, or that a teammate was sitting next to him but was checking into the game. Never mind that just a few minutes later, teammates were next to him. A narrative was created around one still shot and the Rorschach mentality was in full effect. This is a trend in our culture that we as disciples seem to be slowly allowing to creep into our own hearts.
And that’s my concern; that many Christians have seemingly embraced the emotional Rorschach effect that has gripped much of the world.
Are We Still Listening to the Bible?
Have we forgotten that Proverbs 18:17 guides us that the first one to state their case seems right, until someone else comes forward with another viewpoint? Have we minimized the call to be ministers of reconciliation? Have we failed to come to grips with the truth that “the one who has shown no mercy will be judged without mercy? Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13 ISV).
Have we lost sight of 1 Peter 1:13 (ISV) which says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep a clear head, and set your hope completely on the grace to be given you when Jesus, the Messiah, is revealed.”?
Peter suggests three important reactions that should be practiced by followers of Christ until it becomes habitual. First, he says, prepare you minds for action. Don’t get taken off guard. Things will happen unexpectedly. Seemingly shocking things will come across your screen. Will you fly off the handle or have you trained yourself to respond in a thoughtful and kingdom-focused manner?
Second, keep a clear head. Don’t get swept along by the emotional outrage culture of today. Train yourself to look at things from the viewpoint of the resurrection rather than those whose hope is rooted solely in what they perceive as justice and comfort in the present age. Being called to love your enemies, for example, means that there are bigger things at play than just giving into anger and disgust at those who we feel deserve it. And by the way, it is never okay, for a Christian to pile on in attempts to destroy someone because we disagree with them. Jesus called for Roman soldiers who were humiliating and oppressing fellow Jews to be treated better than that (Matthew 5:41).
Finally, he says, set your hope completely on the grace given to us in Jesus and the coming resurrection. That must be our focus. The world has different priorities. The priority of disciples is to demonstrate the kingdom of God in every action we take, every word we say, and every post we make. If our responses look and sound just like the world’s, then where is the alternative hope of God’s kingdom? We’ve all flown off the handle before and responded emotionally at times, God knows I have. But we’ve got to do better. We must strive to display God’s kingdom and not our emotions or preferences. That doesn’t mean that we don’t ever confront injustice or evil. That’s not what this is about. This is about the rush to judgment and our role in the world as image bearers.
The next time we see one of these controversial stories in the news, let’s take Peter’s advice. Be prepared for this. Keep our heads. And carefully and prayerfully think about how we can display the kingdom of God to all sides and not just become a water carrier for the various non-kingdom agendas of the world. Let’s put down the Rorschach mentality and pick up God’s word to let it guide us.