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Echo Chambers

November 7, 2014

One thing that has struck me in the aftermath of this past election is the way that both the right wing of the Republican Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party seem to live in echo chambers; hearing nothing except voices saying the same things they do.  The Republican right was warning their leaders not to compromise with our dastardly President in any way.  The Democrat left was imploring/warning Obama to stand firm against the tide of Republican evil.

Pundits and advocates on both sides gave succinct analysis of the evils of the other, clearly stated reasons why they must be defeated at all costs, and made it clear that the future of our country was at stake if we failed.  The America we know and love seems to hang in the balance.

Life in an echo chamber has a certain comfort to it.  When everyone you know and trust already agrees with you it is easy to accept the righteousness of your cause.  When you only allow the opinion of outsiders to come in via selected analysis done by those you trust, accompanied by brilliant refutations from your side, you never have to stop and wonder if you might be wrong.

Yes, life is good in the echo chamber.  Sadly, this exactly describes most evangelical churches.  Little, if any, actually engagement with the evil others outside the chamber actually takes place.  We don’t learn from them and about them by personal listening to them or even by following what they are saying from the lips of their own spokespeople.  There is no need to; we have trusted advocates on our side who have already done all that nasty hard work for us.  Groups like the Family Research Council or Ladies Against Feminism have already told us there is no need to listen to “them” over there, we can be assured they have been weighed and found wanting.

The problem for evangelicals of course is that we are sure we’ve been instructed to reach “them” with the Gospel.  Most of us aren’t comfortable just closing ourselves in and ignoring them; although a good portion of the church does just that.  This only leaves us a few choices.

Option one is to launch Gospel rockets from within our circle our comfort.  We write articles and blogs.  We specialize in impersonal, large-scale, hit-and-run outreaches to strangers and then hope they knock on our church doors.

The second option is confrontational evangelism.  We can attack head-on the evils of the other side, telling them how wrong they are.  Never mind that this approach has caused most outside the evangelical camp, and a few of us in it, to see our faith as being defined by what we are against, we know we are right and, if people don’t like it, too bad.  After all, we know that the Gospel is an offense so if I’ve offended someone I must have been preaching the Gospel.

The third option it to take the time, one-on-one, to listen to “them” directly; to hear what they have to say; to understand why they think the way they do.  The problem with this option is that it takes a long time.  There are no easy four or five step instructions to follow.  Worse yet, if we do this, we run the risk of beginning to believe that “they” may actually have something to teach us.  We surely can’t allow that.

Or can we?

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