Truth or Perception?

Posted on July 12, 2012 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

The previous blog on the illusion of unity in the SBC stimulated a significant level of interest and response. I feel one of the reasons for lack of unity may be the tendency to judge one another on the basis of our perceptions rather than reality.

Forgive the indulgence in personal reflection, but as one previously in a denominational leadership role, I was appalled to find that criticism and misunderstanding was usually based on distorted perceptions rather than truth. Controversy over my election as president of the IMB was tainted by the perception I was “charismatic” though efforts to define what that meant were elusive. I certainly didnʼt hold to neo-pentecostal doctrine, but I did yearn to walk in the fullness and power of Godʼs Spirit. Perhaps the perceptions persisted because I was not a cessationist and believed the gifts of the Spirit are relevant today; I still find it difficult to understand how an inerrantist can believe otherwise, but obviously there is a high level of intolerance of contrary viewpoints.

Every year during the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering emphasis reports were rampant of pastors telling others the IMB was using the offering for administration and promotional costs rather than 100% being used overseas. Others justified not promoting the offering due to the perception the IMB was sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent reserves. Both of these perceptions were blatantly untrue, though few bothered to inquire and understand what was reality and what was rumor.

Unfortunately in the needed conservative resurgence many were judged unjustly, labeled and alienated; if someone had past associations with known moderates or had any past affiliations with questionable institutions or programs they, too, were perceived as moderate and not worthy of respect or leadership. Never mind that those past alliances many have crystallized more solid conservative convictions, but no one bothered to ask.

The problem is still prevalent as we characterize and demonize Southern Baptist brothers who vary in their ecclesiology or interpretation of commonly-held doctrines. Those opting for reformed theology are perceived as hyper-calvinists when that may not be what they believe at all. Rather what they believe is filtered through the perception of the critic. I discovered there was a defining axiom at play, “Why bother with truth when perception serves oneʼs purpose?”

It would not take much to respectfully inquire as to whether oneʼs perception is accurate or not and then dialogue to gain understanding of one another, if not agreement. It is often said, “Perception is the cruelest form of reality!” My retort was to say that perception is not any form of reality, but a maligned distortion within oneʼs mind. Only truth is reality, but are we really interested in truth?

Certainly the spiritually-minded man and Christian leaders should have the integrity that would carry with it a commitment to truth and honesty. During my tenure at the IMB I received a lot of angry letters from people who heard something or read something and jumped to their own conclusion about a policy, strategy or decision. Seldom did any graciously acknowledge they may be misunderstanding the situation and inquire as to whether or not the objective of their disagreement was based on accurate information.

Basing opinions, positions and actions on perceptions, whether accurate or not, reflects a lack of grace. Failure to exhibit grace, and give one the benefit of the doubt, is contrary to the Christlikeness and character of God we should be seeking to emulate. The divisiveness will continue, fragmentation will proliferate and unity will continue to be a illusion until we communicate and relate to the diverse elements of the SBC in truth rather than allowing perceptions to dominate our thinking and relationships.

One Comment on “Truth or Perception?”

  1. Brent Hobbs

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could really allow secondary issues to remain exactly that? It really is discouraging to think about how much energy and unity is sacrificed because some feel like we must be cookie-cutter replicas of their own views on every minor issue. Thanks for this post. I hope many will read and hear the dangers of factionalism and forced conformity.

Leave a Reply

More News