Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Snapshot or movie. . . the weakness of leading by polling

Polls are wonderful at gauging the feelings or thought of a moment.  They are like a snapshot.  They capture nothing of the past and nothing of the future but give you an image of one brief moment in time.  But that is all they do.  They give us a snapshot of what people are thinking or feeling at a given moment but no roots or context for that image nor any indication of how the future might look.  Some polls are taken regularly in an effort to string the data together like and collage of snapshots.  Again, that gives you a static image of a moment, even many moments, but nothing more.

Movies on the other hand have a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  They give you more than a one sided image of one moment but a sense of perspective.  They are more like a panorama of past, present, and even a hint of future as the conclusion moves off screen to follow the plane established by the track from yesterday through today.  I am not saying movies are perfect but they give a much fuller picture than snapshots.

Some would insist that polls be given weight and significance in determining what it is the Church believes, confesses, and teaches, and how this is practiced in worship and piety.  There is no shortage of polls on all the controversial subjects and many of them are decidedly against the mind of the Church.  But they are mere snapshots in time, subject to change depending upon the circumstances and media influence, and not reliable nor even predictable.  Furthermore, they present us with no uniform understanding or perception but a range of feelings and opinions.  Polls tell the Church little except to show us where we have failed in the work of catechesis.  They cannot direct the Church because the Church is captive to the Word and Spirit of the Lord.  God's voice is the decisive voice whether or not it is popular or supported in the minds and hearts of the people.  The Church's role and purpose is not to present God with our choices but for God to present us with His own self-revelation that gives life to the dying, forgiveness to the sinner, freedom to the captive, and grace to the unworthy in Jesus Christ.

Frankly I am very tired of constant polling.  From the perspective of politics, the constant polls have not led to unity or decisive action but to a fractured and broken politic and a gridlock in the halls of government.  I cannot see how anyone would want this to be what rules and governs the life of the Church.  Yet we continue to poll and discuss the results as if somewhere there is some hidden answer to all the problems faced by Christianity, Christians, and the Church.  Why do we subject ourselves to such opportunities for angst?

We cannot do much about the media and its insistence upon using polls to challenge established church teaching from Scripture but we need not feed into such incessant curiosity that only distracts us and detracts from the Word of the Lord which endures forever.

If you must survey people and take polls, make sure that the instruments do not create even more problems by allowing people to presume that they are voting on what is good, right, true, and the faithful practice of this in the Church.  Second, make sure that you use the information for what it can and should do to inform us and not as a barometer of our success or as a compass to chart the direction for our future.

The Church teaches like a movie, presenting us with the beginning, tracing the development of God's plan and purpose throughout history, and leading us to the future He alone can reveal to us and for us.  When we become transfixed by a moment in time and lose this sense of perspective from where we have come and where we have been, we are crippled by the lack of faith and its assurance that seen or unseen God is at work even now working His will to bring to completion all things in Christ.  We better not forget it. . . or exchange this noble panorama for the one sided snapshot of but one brief moment in time.

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