Narratives and Public Opinion

“Crucify Him!” That is what we Episcopalians shouted out yesterday as we celebrated Passion Sunday, more commonly known as Palm Sunday. On Passion Sunday, we tell the story of the Passion. The story of the Passion isn’t just Jesus’ story. It isn’t just the story of people who lived two thousand years ago. It is all of our stories. It is the story of how fickle public opinion can be.

Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem as the crowds shout his praise. Yet Jesus turns over the tables of the money changes in the Temple and the Pharisees stir up these same crowds against Jesus. The crowds are easily turned against him. It is a story that we see over and over again.

Someone we place our hope in inspires us. But hope threatens the established order and those who thrive on the established order are threatened. They stir up the crowds, trying to convince people that the hope is not justified, that the person is too radical, too dangerous. Too many of us go along with the crowd whichever way it veers and public opinion is easily swayed.

Currently, the fascinating character in our national narrative is Barack Obama. Many people are shouting, “Obama, Obama, Blessed is he who comes in the name of peace.” They see Obama as a savior in our current political malaise. Yet just as the crowds were easily swayed two thousand years ago, so they are easily swayed today. Fox News, the modern day Pharisees have been breathlessly talking about the pastor at the church Obama attends.

Rev. Wright said in 2001 that the 9/11 attacks were like “chickens coming home to roost". This heresy, that America could ever do something bad that might make people dislike us, is almost as bad as having someone testify before the Chief Priests that Jesus said “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.” So, the Chief Priests stirred up the crowd to call for Jesus’ crucifixion and now the Chief Television Commentators are stirring up the crowds against Barack Obama. It seems to be working. Political bloggers are quick to point out a new poll by Rassmussen saying Fifty-Six Percent Say Wright Makes Them "Less Likely" To Vote For Obama. This number is strikingly similar to the number of people that believed that Iraq was either directly involved in 9/11 attacks or gave substantial support.

So, how do we counter these fickle and misguided public opinions? Obama isn’t Jesus. He doesn’t have the options that Jesus did. Yet he does have the same stories, our common narrative dealing with misguided crowds and it is up to us to take the distortions of the modern day chief priest and return us to the truth.

How do we know truth? As a Christian, I believe it comes from the gift of discernment that God provides to those who seek it. Seeking discernment means listening to things we might not want to hear, to people who speak in ways that make us uncomfortable. I’ve often heard good preachers asking God to help them speak in ways so that their words might comfort the distressed and distress the comfortable.

I am not comfortable with all the people that Barack Obama listens to. I am not comfortable with all of his positions. Yet his willingness to listen to all sides of the debate and his willingness to carefully consider the viewpoints and seek discernment is something that is sorely lacking in our current political climate.

So, I will try to avoid being whipsawed by the modern day chief priests as they try to rile up public opinion against Barack Obama. I, like Sen. Obama, will seek discernment, and I hope you will too.

(Categories: )

I also find the media frenzy

Focusing on issues