The more I listen to news commentary, read social media posts, and peruse other forms of media, the more I realize that the art of listening carefully, and reading closely, is extremely rare these days.
Just this week, I saw a Facebook post where the author was lamenting the fact that when, in an effort to better understand the arguments on all sides of the LGBTQ+ debate -- specifically where people use the Bible to support their positions -- he asked people for recommendations of books, articles, podcasts, etc. on both sides of the issue, almost immediately people started to label him as "affirming," when he had already stated that he held to a traditional Christian view of sexual morality. People didn't even bother to carefully read his post -- they simply saw that he was looking for resources, and proceeded to jump on him with allegations that were unfounded.
Within the past two weeks, a certain podcaster (who shall remain unnamed to protect the guilty -- and to avoid having to deal with blowback from his fans should this article gain much notice) was doing a "sermon review" of a message preached by J. D. Greear, the outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the things Greear was lamenting in his address to the SBC messengers in June 2021 was a pattern of character assassination, innuendo, half-truths, slander, and power plays within denominational politics. Greear told assembled denomination that, thankfully, this was not the practice of the majority of the denomination's ministers and delegates.
The podcaster then proceeded to bring up a recording from an address Greear had made to the denomination's executive committee a few months earlier. In that talk, the Greear stated that these improper attitudes and activities had become the norm among some leaders in the denomination. The podcaster claimed that Greear was contradicting himself, and asked, "Which is it? Is it 'not the majority,' or is it 'the norm.'"
While I do not have divine insight into the podcaster's heart and motivations, it appears he was looking for a way to catch Greear on something that could be used to discredit the message being preached (which the podcaster was already opposed to), rather than actually listening to what was said. It is entirely possible and reasonable for both statements made by Greear to be true. A particular attitude or set of behaviors can be the norm for some people in leadership, while not being the attitude of the majority of people in the entire organization.
What makes this particular example even more egregious, in my opinion, is that the podcaster is a pastor, whose duty it is to rightly divide the Word of truth for the feeding of the flock. But if he can't properly interpret this simple instance on speech in a common modern language, how can one trust his interpretation of an ancient text that involves understanding multiple layers of context?
It is well past time for all of us (but especially those of us who claim to follow Christ) to stop looking for "gotcha" moments and actually take the time to listen carefully to what is being said by our "opponents." Misrepresentation and mischaracterization is a form of bearing false witness, and has no place in the life of someone claiming to represent the Truth.