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bias1Bias

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’
‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.   (Joshua 5:13-15)
In my letter to CCK this week I want to talk about the vexed matter of bias. Joshua asked the man with the drawn sword, “Whose side are you on?” It is a question that many of us are being asked as we seek to engage with the student protests. We have an assumption that neutrality is the ideal, but are we right in that? None of us is neutral. We all have our biases with regard to events on campus. We are all inclined to give credence to stories of good or bad behaviour reported about one group or the other. Then in conversation we are quick to charge one another with bias and to correct each other’s perceptions. Yet none of us sees the situation with perfect clarity.
We have only to think of our history as a nation. There was a time when Nelson Mandela was defined by his support of the Defiance Campaign of the ‘60’s and the rise of the dreaded Umkhonto we Sizwe. People feared what might happen if he were ever allowed off Robben Island. There was a time when the Afrikaaner Christian community pilloried Beyers Naude as a traitor to their cause. Desmond Tutu was vehemently challenged by Anglicans in the late 70’s and 80’s as more of a left-leaning politician that a God-focussed bishop. Those who chose to meet with the ANC in exile had their integrity sharply questioned. In all these cases the perspective of history casts them in a different light and we see them now as agents of peace who guided this nation away from a potential blood-bath. But none of them were unbiased.

I confess to an enjoyment of watching bowls, despite the image it has as “old man’s marbles”. The thing is, the genius of the game is the bias that is built into the woods. It is their bias that enables them to come from either the right or the left and thread their way through a crowded head to nestle up close to the jack. The bias is immaterial, the aim in both cases is to hit the jack.

When Joshua asked the angelic commander of the Lord’s army, “Whose side are you on?” he answered “Neither”. Is the Lord “for” the protesting students or “for” the vice chancellors, staff and administration of the universities? Is the Lord for the students who say, “No academic programme until our demands are met” or those who desperately want and need to finish their degrees? Should we, as Christians be seen standing for peace and justice closely alongside angry protesting students, or offering solace and support to the hard-pressed vice chancellors and deans who are striving to create forums for reasoned negotiation?

In the period before 1994 there were Christians in close support of the leaders of the ANC and the National Party and the generals of the SADF. They were not unbiased. Yet from their different stances their aim was to bring the situation to the “jack”, and, by God’s grace, that is, by and large, what they did, and we are all grateful for it.

The critical thing for me is that we don’t step into a posture of calling one another’s integrity into question because we perceive a bias in one direction or another. I see huge potential for hurt in accusatory conversations. None of us can say with certainty how this will look in the future and which “side” God is on. Our aim is peaceful resolution and making the presence of Christ known to all parties. That is the “jack” we are all aiming for, so let’s affirm and encourage one another in that.

There is a call to churches to join in a march to Parliament on Wednesday 26th October in support of the student’s struggle. Many of us will feel we need to be part of that march. Others of us will feel equally uneasy about identifying with the students in that way. So we find ourselves calling one another’s integrity into question. Yes, bias may be involved, but bias is not necessarily a bad thing if our ultimate aim is to bring the presence of Jesus into all sectors of this conflict and to strive for a resolution that avoids violence. Only in the longer outworking of history will we have a clearer perspective on these days. All-in-all, however, whatever our bias, I think engagement towards a peaceful solution, rather than criticising from the sidelines is the preferable course of action.

You may not agree with my sentiments in this, but then, I am biased, of course.

Blessings Rob
 
 

Rob Taylor, 18/11/2016

 
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