Listen To Article

Have you ever noticed the sheer stubborn tenacity with which people hang on to their beliefs and opinions – even in the face of overwhelming counter evidence?

Examples both trivial and monumental litter human history.

People used to think that the earth is flat – some still do! – even when observing the curvature of the earth by watching a ship sail off to sea or considering a photograph of our shining blue planet taken from a space station. Nevertheless, not-withstanding, in spite of all that – people hang on.

Two examples with momentous consequences come to mind. First, the looming crisis in Great Britain over Brexit is a case study of the sheer stubborn tenacity of a large slice of the voting population in the UK. In the face of solid facts, some Brits are hanging on to the delusion of a post-EU future of prosperity and autonomy. Check out a few YouTube clips of James O’Brien, a British radio host who tries (and fails) to apply cold sober facts and logic to the Brexit mess. You will be amused but also chagrined.

The second example of wrong-headed tenacity with serious results is the immigration crisis in the United States. This crisis, too, often resists careful analysis and debate. Rather, angry citizens with few facts toss verbal grenades at vulnerable displaced people. A month ago, I sat in a crowded airport gate area and had no choice but to listen to a man who tried to convince me that the “caravan” of immigrants moving north from Central America were violent gang members and criminals. I pointed out that, actually, the “caravan” was mostly families with children. This ignited an angry attack that included accusations against President Obama, feminists, and all Latinx people. It was a disheartening encounter.

Christians formed in the Reformed theological tradition know a thing or two about the tenacity of principalities and powers. The deep awareness of systemic sin characteristic of Reformed theology is one tool to engage the stuck and stubborn places in our culture today. People are irrational and stubborn partly because they themselves are stuck in systems that have embittered them and narrowed their vision.

None of us is immune from these systemic sins – even a blogger who points out the myopia of others is perhaps not so aware of her own.

Spiritual disciplines are needed for the long road ahead.

The seminary that I serve hosted an international conference on migration and border crossings a few weeks ago. The final keynote address, by Dr. Emilie Townes of Vanderbilt Divinity School, mapped the territory of virtues and practices needed for the long road of service ahead.

Leaning into the prophecies of Amos and Ezekiel, Dr. Townes recommended a discipline of lament, action, and hope. These are familiar words, of course. But the lament must not be generic; it must be particular and exact, naming the reality of frightened, hungry, desperate people. And the action that is needed is not episodic; it must be patient and persistent, knowing that it will also, inevitably, be partial and imperfect. And the hope is never solitary but must be grown and nurtured in community.

Lament, action, and hope – these are virtues for the journey ahead.

Leanne Van Dyk

Leanne Van Dyk is the President and Professor of Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. She served, some years ago, as a co-editor of The Reformed Journal in its previous life as Perspectives.

5 Comments

  • Kathy D Van Rees says:

    Thank you, Leanne, for your wise words.

  • RLG says:

    Leanne, you ask, “have you ever noticed the sheer stubborn tenacity with which people hang on to their beliefs and opinions – even in the face of overwhelming counter evidence?” Are you talking about Christians?

    You cite two examples. Let me cite two other examples here in the U.S. Homosexuality and the abortion issue. I guess I’m thinking more of our Reformed tradition, seeing as this is the Reformed Journal now. So have you noticed the tenacity with which our Reformed denominations hang on with tenacity to our so called Christian views. Not only do we hang on to our views for ourselves (which may be fine) but we try to impose them on our society with laws (Christian laws) that come straight from the Bible. Try doing that with Islamic Sharia law. We do believe in a separation of Church and State in our country.

    You mention the conference on migration and border crossings held at Columbia recently. Calvin Seminary’s latest issue of its Forum was dedicated to similar issues. I couldn’t help but to notice in your comments, as well as in the articles in Calvin’s publication its heavy emphasis on Scripture. That’s well and good to let our Christian views be known. But please recognize that our country is not a “Christian” country. Other views abound, different from ours. In the eyes of others, other views are valid. I hear so much talk amongst Christians that our views on immigration and migration must become law. It sounds, once again, that Christians are hanging on with tenacity to their Christian views which they want to impose on others regardless of differing opinions. I look forward to the day when our democracy can come to some agreeable solution on migration and immigration and then see it enforced. Thanks, Leanne, for your thoughts.

  • George E says:

    What many people overlook, and not just Ms. Van Dyk, is that everyone ignores “solid facts.” Using the alphabet as a metaphor, Ms. Van Dyk sees A, G, H, M, N, and Z as “solid facts,” but ignores other letters. And she may observe an O but insist it’s a C, because she ignores half of it. Such as: “…the ‘caravan’ was mostly families with children,” as if being a Guatemalan family with “children” automatically excludes any possible engagement with MS13! And then, in using scripture, she commends her speaker for citing Amos and Ezekiel, but fails to recognize the apparent absence of Nehemiah!

    So yes, Ms. Van Dyk eas absolutely right when she wrote: “People are irrational and stubborn partly because they themselves are stuck in systems that have embittered them and narrowed their vision. None of us is immune from these systemic sins – even a blogger who points out the myopia of others is perhaps not so aware of her own.”

  • Matt Huisman says:

    “…cold sober facts…” That’s what passes for facts? Wow.

    It is the height of arrogance to declare an “obviously” correct side in th Brexit issue. The O’Brien video is funny, but it’s a pathetic example of an argument from authority. It reminds me of another “expert” who once told us “we can’t just drill our way out of the problem (of soaring gas prices).”

    To not recognize this is truly amazing.

  • Susan says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful blog and for providing the comments by Dr. Emilie Townes.

Leave a Reply