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  • Jeff Chacon

Beware the trap of binary thinking

There’s a long overdue nationwide awakening to social injustices for a large segment of our country and it affects many of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ.


God’s Word is filled with calls for his people to act on behalf of the oppressed:


“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)


“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)


“This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)


It’s a time for all of us to educate ourselves about the problem and pray about ways to be part of the solution.


Does this mean that we all need to align ourselves politically with one side and see the solutions the same way?


Absolutely not. Uniformity is the evil twin of unity: they may look alike, but they are vastly different from each other.


Insistence on uniformity of thought in the political arena is simply exchanging one master for another. We must resist the urge to overreact, oversimplify the situation, and judge those who think differently than ourselves.


“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)


The world wants us to choose sides and begin firing at each other. No one wins in that war.


Beware the trap of binary thinking: it often pits one extreme against another and vilifies the other side. That kind of thinking is argumentative, inconsiderate and unproductive.

All healthy relationships must work together for the common good of all.


Jesus was faced with this dilemma in his life and ministry.


In one instance, we are told that the Pharisees and Herodians joined forces to try and trap Jesus by getting him to pick a side in their debate: do you support Roman oppression (the Herodians side) or Jewish revolution (the Pharisees side)? (It seems the one thing they could agree on was their mutual desire to get rid of Jesus.)


They set the trap with this binary question: “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Mark 12:14)


If Jesus said, “No, don’t pay the tax”, then the Herodians would report him to the Roman Governor and he would be executed for treason before his time.

If he said, “Yes, pay the tax”, then the Pharisees would denounce him to the people as disloyal to his nation.


So, what did Jesus do?


“Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.” (Mark 12:15b-17, NIV)


Jesus would not be trapped by endless political arguments doomed by binary thinking.


The image of Caesar on the coin reminded them that there are obligations to the state that must be fulfilled by all law-abiding citizens (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17).


And the image of God in which we are made reminds us that we owe him our entire lives (Acts 17:29-31; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:5-11).


Thus, Jesus easily eluded their binary trap by pointing out the more nuanced truth that we have certain obligations as citizens and other obligations as humans that do not conflict in God’s eyes and need not be set against each other.


I would urge you to resist the urge to engage in binary arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong on social media, and instead opt for productive conversation (preferably on the phone or in person) that seeks to listen, learn and share with humility and love.


I’m personally trying to listen, learn and share as I educate myself as much as possible with materials and resources from a wide range of divergent perspectives – prioritizing the Bible itself, of course, as its timeless wisdom applies to all of these issues. And I’ll try to pass along to you whatever spiritual lessons the Lord teaches me along the way that might be helpful to you.


Meanwhile, here’s what I know:


1) Social change is long overdue in this country.


2) God cares deeply for the oppressed, the vulnerable and the disenfranchised and calls his people to work for justice, so we must be part of that change in some way, even if it is simply in our own spheres of influence.


3) The causes, solutions and specific changes that must take place are debatable and must be discussed with mutual respect, humility and love.


4) We must resist the trap of binary thinking that oversimplifies, vilifies, and bullies us into choosing one side or the other. Jesus would not be trapped like that and showed us that the truth is often both/and, not either/or.


5) We must all educate ourselves (and be sure to include material that does not already confirm your biases) and pray for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)


Just a reminder that Ron and I are calling for an all-church fast tomorrow (Thursday, June 11th) in order to call on the Lord for his wisdom, guidance and strengthening in this important hour. Please join us for that in whatever way you can.

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