What I learned about message bias from the Press Corps and Trump

I believe that every pastor should be speaking about politics.  Not to endorse a particular candidate to their people, but to keep us level headed during campaigns.

Campaigns are dirty things.  I recall running for treasurer in middle school; drama and rumors flew.  “Ha!” You think, “middle school and all it’s drama- not like the real world.”  Except when it is.  In every presidential election I have been alive for the scandals and trash talk run deep and wide.  There is no escaping it except to withdraw completely.  But I can’t do that- I believe in my duty to vote or my duty to keep my mouth shut when I don’t like the outcome.

So I find myself in this odd place during this election of trying to stomach all the press on the candidates and trying to sort out who I will vote for with some sense of reason behind it.  But some days, I just don’t want to do the work and I see a headline and think, “OMG, that is horrible! They are just like I thought” and then I post it on facebook after a brief ‘verification’ that this is not just one site posting this.  Sheer laziness…and buy in.

You see, we have come to a place as United States Citizens where we want to be hand fed and we don’t want to know where what we are fed comes from.  It is uncomfortable for us to call “baby cow meat” what it is, so we call it “veal.”  We don’t want to know what went into killing the baby cow or processing the meat – let alone cooking it. So we distance ourselves from the work.

Yesterday I did the same.  I am tired of the election drama and fact checking- so I posted two articles from two sources about Donald Trump that were not factual.  In fact, they were so yellow I would absolutely be guilty in court of slander and inciting hatred and violence were I the only one on trial.  Except lots of people did it.  And then lots of people shared my post and one disagreed and then one flat out called me out (umm, can I get an Amen for best friends both?) And now I am ashamed.

So I prayed about this- I went and did the research and read the transcripts.  And then I prayed some more.  And the Holy Spirit, she is a good Greek mama, she popped me upside the head like she does.  I realized in that moment that we all suffer from message bias.  We all sit down to listen to someone and we immediately put our assumptions and impressions on them from the moment they start.  It got me thinking about how hard it is to preach a sermon that reaches people.  They come to church expecting their preacher to either pander to them or tell them how horrible they are.  And I thought, “Well, crap. That must be how the candidates feel, too.  Their message is biased from before the first word.  Not by the candidate, but by the listener.”

All of my undergrad and grad school lessons on communication and systems came flooding back.  I was guilty of not following my own rule:  Don’t assume that what you hear or read is true.  Check it out.

This rule, this moral compass is a good one- and it applies to life, to elections and to faith as well.  So here it is:
Don’t assume that ANY source is reliable.  Even the Bible on it’s own without context has been used to kill and destry.   EVERY journalist has a skew- because we all do.  Do your research and find your information from a wide variety of sources.   Then sit and pray, ponder, and consider before you make a move or share a story.
It is my sincere prayer that everyone who ever hears me preach or teach will do the same- that they will seek a broad and deep understanding of what is placed in front of them.  It opens our eyes- and that is scary because it puts our assumptions into question, and as a friend said about Trump, “I don’t want to defend him. I sat ready to read the transcript and be able to berate him before I got started.  I don’t like him, but geeze that is really yellow journalism at it’s best.”

Get ready to vote and do your footwork.  And then, if you haven’t been to church in a while, or text study, or you have been going your whole life, sit back and evaluate your sources.  Do you rely on one church, one preacher, one version of the Bible, one study group?  Or do you do your footwork and consider that each time you were in church and didn’t like the message  or read ONE passage in the Bible that you already had an expectation (bias) already at play?

I want to be more than that.  I, for one, have been chastized and I apologize profusely for spreading hatred that was made up. I will open my eyes and ears to consider my bias, my sources, and my intent and then and only then, will I cast my vote.  I hope you will, too.


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