This is the tame version of the original quote:
"Opinions are like buttholes; everyone's got one."
Yes, we have buttholes. And yes, we have opinions. (I can sense my mom cringing from here.)
Let's clarify that I don't mean opinions about scripture and theology in this column, although it would be just as applicable. I'm referring to cultural or local issues. Things that get the locals hot under the collar. Things that "get out the vote."
It seems culturally hip these days for pastors to go to one or the other extreme with their opinions. One camp conceals their personal druthers while the other parades it. One camp smiles and wants everyone to be their friend, while the other has no friends. One group embraces politics and soundbites while the other communicates through books and speeches. Think of Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson as being representative of each.
The strategy, unspoken or not, of this line of thought is that it's more important to be able to relate with everyone than isolate yourself with a strong opinion on a matter. It has its merits. Not every opinion is worth offering, and why would we who seek to offer the joyful truth of Christ have it ignored because someone can't stand how we think about an issue of irrelevance?
This camp of leaders is confident of their rightness and often expresses it. No need to whitewash things, they say. So they wield the truth according to them as a sledgehammer. Few are spared, including other mediating opinions that might urge a conciliatory tone.
Where I Stand
Over the course of being a Christian leader (for 20+ years now), I've wandered in and out of both of the above camps. I enjoy it when people like me, so I've worked up a good smile. On the other hand, I also enjoy being right and at times have even ignored information that might disprove my stance.
Recently in our community of Blacksburg, VA, two strong issues have come up that have provoked my thinking about whether to offer my opinion or not. (Of course, who really cares what I think, anyway?) As I've discussed my thoughts with others, it always seems to be those that feel the same way I do. Do you tend to gravitate towards approvers as well? It certainly makes me feel like I'm right when others are nodding. And of course, I affirm their rightness as well. So we leave as happy campers, mutually appreciative of our wisdom but frustrated with "they" and not able to effect change.
It's that effecting change stuff that gives me the willies, honestly. Change. We had a candidate recently run on that mantra, and he meant it. I won't offer you my opinion about that... unless you feel the same way I do.
What do you find yourself getting frustrated about that isn't related to issues of ultimate or eternal significance? When is it appropriate to speak up, to try to change things, to offer an alternative viewpoint? When is it better to keep the peace? As a pastor, I struggle with those questions. I don't want to lose an ounce of influence that has been divinely won for me by matters that are meaningless.
A few questions I filter as I consider the publicity of my opinions:
Will they be more helpful in the long run to others or will they simply "stir the pot?"
By speaking up, would it be possible that I might gain influence or improve the situation?
By speaking up, would it be possible that I might lose influence and hinder true solutions?
Is it more important to speak to issues or to befriend those who might shape the solution?
As a leader and an influencer of a small amount of people, I am probably oversensitive to the extreme importance of being a steward of my ideas and thoughts. What I think about things really isn't important. What God thinks of them is. But does God care about the issues, big and small, that mark our lives and divide our neighborhoods?
I believe He does.
To be continued...