I recall with great shame the many presumptions I’ve made over the years. Perhaps you know a little bit about this too. People come into our view or friendship with their self-identifying labels or names (e.g., Christian, LGBTQ, Democrat, agnostic) and we often presume much about them. We also give labels to people we don’t know and yet presume much about, (e.g., liberals, fundies, non-believers, idiots and of course much worse). The names and labels are almost always related to race, sexuality and gender, politics, and matters of religious belief or the lack thereof.
After publishing the first essay (Ending the Decade of Quiet) I received a kind note of encouragement on Facebook with a gentle request that I not paint all the Religious Right with the same brush. I had written: “People and place need devoted voices expressing the third way between the noise of the religious right and the silence of the privately embarrassed, disillusioned follower of Jesus.” I felt that “noise of the religious right” was sufficient and accurate enough. It wasn’t. So I changed it to “far right.” I’m confident the new edit is open to criticism too.
This is the challenge of expressing our thoughts in public and wrangling words to be as accurate and graceful as possible. Sometimes our best efforts and words fail. I do believe there are noisy, unhelpful voices on the left and right of most societal issues. Rather than naming names and giving reasons beyond presumption, perhaps it’s more helpful to attack presumption head on. It’s a problem we can do something about even while we agree, disagree, and work out what we believe about being citizens of the planet.
The poison of presumption: Writing, speaking, and acting out of presumption poisons our relationships – existing and potential ones. We end up interacting with each other at a deficit, one that affects our communication for the worse, e.g., “I’m so sorry for not asking. I just presumed because you’re gay you wouldn’t want to go to church with us.” Yes, gay people trust in God, even go to church and temple. This is a fact. And contrary to the culture/media clichés, people of various religious beliefs, including Christians, enjoy sex, are the most learned intellectuals in the world, and don’t believe the earth is only 10,000 years old. Knowing and being known is the most effective antidote to the poison.
The power of presumption: Presumption has the power to delude the one who presumes. Presumption + Social Media is rocketing culture and civility back to the Dark Ages. Repeatedly, people post as if everyone reading is just like them in race, sexuality, belief and worldview. Ironically, if people really believe that life on the planet is best summed up as Us vs. Them Culture War, they ought to cease posting their battle plans on Facebook. We are all reading over each other’s shoulders. This is the world we live in. With presumption comes a kind of inability to see and hear, to truly know, and to understand where you’re at and what time you’re in. I have seen this power interacting with Christians who wrongly presume everyone in my recording studio is Christian and Republican – simply because I profess to follow Christ and produced for a Christian record label in the 1990s. We are all more complex than the presumptions people make about us. The real, life-giving power is in listening, getting to know people, and leaning into the similarities and not the differences.
The politics of presumption: Untrue presumptions about others are lies and convenient half-truths. Never forget that presumption is a political tool and the dark side of politics uses it to its shame. Presume, label, lie – is no recipe for life, despite such inhuman behavior written off as “just politics.”
The prison of presumption: It’s a caged life, presuming and judging, with little to no relationship with the actual subjects of our presumption and judgment. Freedom is found in pursuing deeper, personal knowledge through relationship. Then continuing to love because of, and in spite of, what you discover in relationship. My friend Steve Garber often asks, can you know the world, truly know it and still love it? I believe you can and so does Steve. This direction of thought may be complementary to other beliefs, but I know it’s right at the center of Jesus and his ways of being and doing. And so I follow. I invite you to as well.