Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pray for Advisory Committee

Our team has finished meeting and the Advisory Committee has been given until July 15 to review the report of our work (http://grinfree.com/Report.pdf)

The Executive Summary is as follows:
Early in 2015, various Christians (mostly clergy in Wisconsin) volunteered to develop a plan to hold an event to develop a Christian response to evidence of evaluativism, a form of discrimination supposedly perpetuated by churches. Five of these volunteers agreed to serve on a core team which would write a plan and organize the event. The others agreed to serve on an advisory committee which would review the plan.  
The core team met on a monthly basis from May 2015 to April 2016. They made discoveries and produced work which merits review, but also came to the conclusion that it would be inappropriate for the core team to take responsibility for organizing a Christian response to evaluativism. Thus, this report presents the work of the core team, but does not come with a promise to implement it.  
The core team found that the problem of evaluativism in the church deserves attention but is deeply complex and too challenging to be addressed by most Christians individually. Cancer is another example of a problem that deserves attention but is too complex to be addressed by individuals—in fact, most individuals do not work to address cancer, yet we do not feel humanity should ignore cancer. Some people may be surprised that a matter of discrimination can be similarly complex and important. In the event that some Christians do respond to evaluativism as a church, we hope they will find this report helpful.
Please pray for the Advisory Committee as they review this report.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Answer to Prayer as in John 17:11

On May 18, Ben asked you to pray as Jesus prayed in John 17:11 that we "be one as we [He and the Father] are one." Your prayers are being answered.

Gregory Carpenter, the interim chair of the Conflict Transformation team in the UMC Wisconsin Conference has invited Chris to help him lead a workshop entitled "Embracing Conflict" at Laity Leadership Convocation 2016 in Oshkosh on March 19th. This invitation begins to fold the work of our team into the activity of the Wisconsin Conference.

The purpose of the workshop will be to review resources which prepare churches for when conflicts arise. Although the resources will include intervention tools, we plan to emphasize tools used proactively to prevent conflict from escalating to the point at which intervention is required in the first place. Here your prayers can be answered again, as congregations apply these resources to be one as Jesus and the Father are one.

Chris' contribution will be to answer questions about the tools on the GRINfree website and the research described in the books Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences (i.e. we are built to disagree with each other), The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (i.e. societies are rapidly evolving "superorganisms"), and Teamology: The Construction and Organization of Effective Teams (i.e. teams built to disagree experience greater internal conflict but are more effective at innovation).

The research Chris will share may surprise some attendees. It implies that we are designed to be in tension within our congregations, much as bone and muscle are designed to be in tension within our bodies. Please continue to pray as in John 17:11, so that the participants can process this evidence and bring more oneness to their congregations.

Thank you so much for your continued prayers!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pray for the creation of expert witnesses

To flesh-out what it would take to realize our vision "Authentically me living as gracious community", we have developed the following list of milestones that would need to be achieved (not necessarily in this order):
  1. New concepts (e.g. "authentic being", “evaluative diversity”, “evaluativism”) are developed
  2. Multiple people become expert witnesses corroborating objective evidence that evaluative diversity can be mapped, measured and managed
  3. Driven by the responsibility of having special knowledge, the witnesses develop tools/practices to measure authenticity, evaluativism, and evaluative diversity
  4. Driven by the responsibility of having special knowledge, the witnesses develop tools/practices to manage authenticity, evaluativism, and evaluative diversity
  5. The management tools/practices are applied and measurements objectively confirm their effectiveness 
  6. Driven by the reasonable expectation of reproducing the effect, the tools/practices are implemented broadly
The "expert witnesses corroborating objective evidence" are key players in this process. When Jesus was about twice as old as his parents were when he was born, he began to pass a legacy to the next generation by teaching social reform and performing miracles which established the authority of those teachings. The witnesses to his teachings and miracles were foundational to the institution through which his social reforms were realized. The witnesses probably felt a responsibility to share their special knowledge. Now that we have science, God doesn't need the same kinds of miracles to create expert witnesses and social reform--people who conduct experiments discover the wisdom God has encoded in creation and feel a responsibility to share that wisdom with others.

For example, there was a time when it was generally believed that people of certain races are inferior, but some people conducted the experiments of actually getting to know people of other races and tracking differences through population-level experiments. Like people who study the Bible, these people were receiving wisdom from God. When they discovered that our racism is actually a kind of deceptive instinct, they felt a responsibility to expose the deception. There was social reform supported by objective evidence, and God triumphed.

Leah Sprain told me that her team at the University of Colorado Boulder is developing instruments funded by the Spencer Foundation to measure the quality of deliberative engagement across difference. That sounds a lot like milestone #3. I asked Leah if she would consider including churches and families in her pilot studies. She explained that, although deliberation can be dysfunctional in churches and families, her instruments need to focus on deliberation in classrooms because schools are the focus of her funding. You see, the Spencer Foundation is not an expert witness to evaluativism--it seeks merely to improve education. Even Leah's field of expertise is communication, rather than evaluativism.

Perhaps churches will someday fund Leah as the Spencer Foundation does, but first they will need to have enough expert witnesses to decide whether it would be worthwhile. That means the church needs to include "citizen scientists."  Darlene Cavalier, inaugural board member of the Citizen Science Association, described citizen science as a repair to the situation in which “If you don’t have a science degree, and you’re not going to go into teaching or policymaking, you’re relegated to passive consumer of this wonderful information." It sounds a lot like the relationship the average Christian had with the Bible before it was translated from Latin. The US government seems to be committed to citizen science, and it makes theological sense for churches to become centers of it.

Therefore, on January 25, I will address the bible-study group at my church to suggest that we split our time between seeking God's guidance through scripture and seeking it through science. This proposal is consistent with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (that theological development should be based not only on scripture and tradition, but also on reason and experience). Many of the experiments relevant to the topics we study (e.g. those supporting conclusions about love, freewill, fulfillment, and morality) have yet to be replicated because they are new and because professional scientists are rewarded more for discoveries than for confirming or disconfirming discoveries. I will propose that we conduct and publish replication studies for such experiments as a church group.

The goal, of course, it not merely to produce expert witnesses among the laity of my own congregation, but that all congregations will follow suit. If every congregation had a group of citizen scientists, then we would simply submit to them the experiments which raise alarm about evaluativism, they would test the experiments, any appropriate reforms would be motivated, and God would quickly triumph. Please pray not only for the creation of expert witnesses in my church, but also in every church, so that churches can benefit whenever new science turns-out to be God's way of answering our prayers.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fourth Answer to Prayer for Power to Discuss Evaluativism

I asked you to pray for God's help in developing power to engage in a godly discussion of the event we are planning.

Our prayer was answered, in part, by empowering us to develop elevator-speeches to introduce the concept of evaluativism to others (e.g. see Eric's and Ben's). In the digital age, however, communication includes not only words, but also pictures and videos we can circulate.

My church blessed me with an invitation to preach on any passage of Ephesians, so I chose Ephesians 4:11-15 which compares our differences of priority (e.g. of pastors vs. prophets and evangelists) to differences between parts of a body. It speaks of our evaluative diversity as a gift, and implies that we can overcome our evaluativism by recognizing our interdependence.With encouragement and feedback from my church and with technical and artistic help from my father, the message I delivered has been translated into a secular video called Overcoming Evaluativism: How to let people be themselves (and why you should)


It seems clear that Ephesians 4:11-15 was written because evaluativism threatened even early churches. The success of the early church recommends the strategy it described as a model for addressing evaluativism today.

Thank you for your continued prayers, especially that videos like this will circulate and find audiences that empower the broader public to discuss our evaluativism and ways to overcome it.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Third Answer to Prayer for Power to Discuss Evaluativism

I asked you to pray for God's help in developing power to engage in a godly discussion of the event we are planning. Here's another update about how that prayer has been answered thus far:

To improve our ability to communicate about this topic, each of us composed an "elevator speech." This is Eric's:
One of the things that gets under my skin is the feeling of dismissal. Perhaps you know what I am talking about. I can think of multiple occasions where I was asked to serve on a committee at church just to be a warm body. When I offered my opinion, many times it was met with enthusiasm because the young person was speaking. But when it came down to it, my ideas were dismissed because they were different, difficult, or new. The worst part was that I felt dismissed because of how I approached conversations and decisions differently. I felt hurt. I found out later that this is called "evaluativism," or rejecting other viewpoints because they are different from your own. In a church that preaches love and grace, I believe it is important to honor everyone's authentic style. This means we need to create contexts that are affirming of each other and safe for both agreement and disagreement--a place where we can help each other grow--and I believe that learning about evaluative diversity is one route to that place. Would you care to be companions on this journey? 
At the meeting in which Eric shared that speech, we settled on a vision statement--a sort of north star that can tell us if we have gotten off track. Here it is:
Authentically me living as gracious community 
This vision statement came from three months of prayer, thought, and discussion, and we felt it opens the door to share the discussion with others. What does it mean to be authentic? What does it mean to live? What does it mean to be gracious? These are questions worth discussing. 

Debi offered this brief explanation:
Authentically me = centered and truthful
living as = action of being something intentionally
gracious community = the grace-filled community or group 
We recognize the tensions between individualism and communitarianism, designing and being, knowledge and mystery. Even though this vision statement does not resolve those tensions, we believe it is clear enough that sincere reflection on it can allow a person to recognize whether evaluativism remains a destructive part of our world.

Our next step is to develop our mission statement and objectives. What needs to be done to turn this vision into reality? We deeply appreciate your continued prayers!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Answer to Prayer to Discern Jesus' Response to Evaluativism

I asked you to pray for discernment in interpreting Jesus's example for responding to evaluativism, especially as churches studied Mark 9:38-50 from the lectionary for September 27, 2015. I can't tell you how your prayers impacted all the other churches that day, but the interpretation I delivered in my church can be found here.

Each member of the congregation was given a small bag with salt similar to the salt familiar to Jesus' disciples. That is, the salt was not refined, so it would absorb moisture and lose it saltness if not stored in an airtight container.

I made several points:

  1. Modern science shows us that Jesus' disciples, like modern humans, would have had different physiologies which would cause them to have opposing perceptions of the in-group/out-group issue. How Jesus handled the conflict his disciples brought him in Mark 9:38 provides an example we can follow in addressing evaluativism today.
  2. By speaking poetically, Jesus allowed people of both kinds to feel affirmed. I personally do not communicate that way, but, by God's grace, I have friends who can speak differently. We must take care not to take sides against a kind of person. We all deserve affirmation.  
  3. Jesus' message is different for societies at different stages of development. Modern science has revealed that certain popular interpretations of this passage are wrong, but Christians with less advanced science would not be able to interpret the passage in the same way. Likewise, we might speak about evaluativism differently to people at different stages of development. 
  4. Jesus' final conclusion is a compromise: On the one hand, His disciples would recognize salt as a metaphor for something that needs to be segregated most of the time. Some kinds of people similarly need to spend most of their time with people who share their own values. On the other hand, as in our interdependent meal, salt shows its value in those rare times when it is mixed with other ingredients, and not all other ingredients need to be stored as salt does. Scientifically advanced people can build a society in which the kinds of people who benefit from segregation are segregated most of the time, and other types of people are not.  

Mark 9:38-50 is probably not the only passage in which Jesus responded to evaluativism. Please continue to pray for discernment, that we may recognize other examples and interpret them in a godly way (perhaps the conflicts Jesus navigated in Mark 2:16, Mark 2:18, Mark 2:24, Mark 3:21-22, Mark 7:5, Mark 9:16-18, Mark 9:33-34, Mark 10:2, Mark 10:13, Mark 11:28, Mark 12:15, Mark 12:18-23, Mark 12:28, and Mark 14:4-5 ?).

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pray to Discern Jesus' Response to Evaluativism

The lectionary includes selections from Mark for each week this fall, so the pastor of my church has decided to preach a series on Mark. In two weeks, Sept 27, we (and probably many other churches) will be talking about Mark 9:38-50. I have been invited to teach on this passage in my church. This is also a big opportunity for other churches to consider Jesus's response to evaluativism.
Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org
Many of the miracles Jesus performed are acts we would leave to doctors today, but His miracles of conflict resolution seem like miracles we might reproduce if we followed His example. In Mark 9:38, John brings Jesus a conflict to resolve: the disciples have tried to stop a stranger from casting out demons in Jesus' name.

Today, people who act in Jesus' name disagree about the degree to which such in-group/out-group distinctions should be made. At one extreme, Unitarian Universalists insist that everyone qualifies as a Christian, even if they prefer to seek truth through the teachings of Buddha than through the Bible. At the more conservative extreme are denominations who insist that those whom God has elected to save should honor God's holiness by setting themselves apart from the rest of the world.

Disagreement about the degree to which in-group/out-group distinctions should be made is a classic dimension of the tension that persists today between liberals and conservatives. We can turn to Mark 9:38-50 as an example of how to address that tension. Does Jesus side with liberals? Does He side with conservatives? Can we find rebuke in Jesus' answer, or does it show us what we want to see?

Some of the language seems poetic: "cut off your hand", "salted with fire", "have salt in yourselves." Previous theologians have not achieved consensus on what this all means. It has been called one of the more difficult passages of the New Testament. The poetry may refer to elements of the ancient world we no longer appreciate in the same way, and different translations of the Bible include or exclude translations of Greek text potentially added by scribes trying to clarify Mark's original.

Please pray for me as I try to interpret this passage, but also for all the other churches who will be facing the same challenge as they follow the lectionary. Important seeds could be planted on Sept 27th. To handle the conflict between liberals and conservatives would be a miracle. In Mark 9:38-50, Jesus might not only have performed that very miracle among his disciples, but also have given us a way to repeat that miracle today.

Thank you!