Am I Wrong?
Years ago, like in the early 1990’s, I read a book that was “all the rage” called “The Day America Told the Truth.” After a quick internet search for it, I was reminded that it was written by a then relatively unknown James Patterson, whose books have gone on to sell over 425 million copies, and become the first person to sell one million ebooks. 
I don’t remember much about the book, except that it got a lot of people amped up, including young preachers like myself to develop a sermon series on truth and lies. Many of the findings about American’s privately held thoughts and beliefs have since been called into question due to small and inconsistent sample sizes and methods. As well, there have been questions of bias, assumptions and flawed causality (see Chivers & Chivers, How to Read Numbers).
Regardless, I think many, if not most, would agree we have a “truth problem.”
Jesus, shortly before his crucifixion, stood before Pilate and said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Pilate, in vs. 38, retorted, “What is truth?”
In this case, truth was standing directly in front of him.
How often do we too miss it? In what myriad of ways are we ignorant or even delusional? Bobby Duffy, in “Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything” says “our misperceptions are wide, deep, and long-standing” (Duffy, 7). He believes we more often than not get it wrong about a variety of matters, such as, health, happiness, sexuality, morality, money, religion, safety, politics, social media and fear.
Yep, nearly everything.
Now, stay with me, because I want to try to flesh something out, and in the end I may be wrong, and am very open to having my thinking adjusted. Here I go…
Proverbs 14:12 warns us that “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to destruction.” In other words, what we think is right may actually be wrong.
Then, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, challenges “the crowds” (Matthew 5:1) with these words: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13,14).
So, what appears to be right may actually be a pathway to destruction, and we’re told that pathway is wide and there are a lot of folks on it.
There is an general principle that I have discovered over and over, and it is this: the crowd is almost always wrong.
The crowd tends to be more interested in power than it is in truth. When you put power into the hands of the crowd, it’s often used for revenge and scapegoating.
Brian Zahnd says, “When a group of people perceive themselves to be slighted or wronged, displaced or threatened, they can metastasize into a vindictive crowd. When a group of people becomes an angry, fear-driven crowd, the groupthink phenomenon of mob mentality quickly overtakes rational thought and individual responsibility. The mob takes on a spirit of it own and the satanic is generated.” 
In Acts 16, when Paul and Silas dealt prophetically and accurately with the demon-possessed fortune-telling woman, we read that “The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods…flogged…and thrown into prison” (Acts 16:22,23). While in prison the servants of God prayed and worshipped, and it resulted in a miraculous loosening of their chains. They were free. When the jailer, whose sole responsibility was to keep them under lock and key, discovered this, he made the rash decision to kill himself. Sword in hand. Destruction of his life and his family. Now, if the crowd had their way, they may not have stopped him. Perhaps, they may have even egged him on. Such was the discovery in “The Day America Told the Truth” when 7% of the respondents said they would kill someone for a million dollars. Sure, 7% seems pretty low, but really, shouldn’t that number be zero? Thankfully, for the jailer AND his family, Paul and Silas were not a part of the crowd, because the crowd is almost always wrong.
Such was the case when the crowds chanted “Crucify him, crucify him” to the sinless Savior of all humanity. They got it wrong, and we tend to get it wrong quite often too.
Perhaps it’s important for us to delineate between crowds and community.
Crowds (groupthink, mob mentality) tend to affirm our wrong thinking, and support our ignorance, misperceptions and grand delusions.
Community, however, has the power and possibility to adjust our wrong thinking, graciously correct areas of ignorance, misperceptions and delusions.
I believe The Church is a vital place for this kind of community, but here comes the rub: Duffy points out that “the only profession that has significantly dropped in trustworthiness in recent years is the clergy” (Duffy, 222) and that “half of the global public in our surveys believe that religion does more harm than good” (Duffy, 94).
I contend that one factor (among many possible others) is that The Church, generally speaking, has prioritized being “in the crowd;” more interested in power than truth.
I so badly want to keep typing and fleshing out these thoughts, but I have already exceeded my word count, so I will end with this:
Am I Wrong?
By the way, there is a high probability that I am, because I am wrong about nearly everything.
. Brian Zahnd, “When Everything’s On Fire: Faith Forged from the Ashes” (2021).
8 responses to “Am I Wrong?”
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I am wrong about everything too. . . so let’s start a Wrongness group. We have to be okay with our wrongness, right? (Kathryn Schulz). No doubt, there have been a lot of “fallen” church leaders in the news and this has impacted the level of trust people have in clergy and the system of the church. So how can church leaders begin to regain trust? Is it too late? Is it even ours to try to regain? What hope is there? Lots of questions. . . It is hard to be a leader period and then add into the mix, a leader in a church. People are going to examine, judge and often be skeptical of every move, word, and action. They will judge a church leader with greater intensity than others. Why? (James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17; Acts 6:2-4) All of us are sinners, right? Lots of pondering about this one.
Can I join you “Wrongness Group?”
I really appreciated how your addressed GroupThink and the difference between the crowd and community. The community has the potential if it is healthy to create positive change. You wrote, “…The Church, generally speaking, has prioritized being “in the crowd;” more interested in power than truth.” What are your thoughts on how church leaders can address this?
Cathy, you may have inadvertently (or better yet, because I’m getting to know you and how smart you are, let’s say INTENTIONALLY) asked a really important question:
“Is it even ours to try to regain?”
It brings to mind Psalm 62…“I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me; he is my defender, and I shall never be defeated. My salvation and honor depend on God; he is my strong protector; he is my shelter” (Psalm 62:5-7 GNT).
God is our defender. Our responsibility is to walk in HIS truth and light, with humility.
I always appreciate your perspectives Cathy.
John, there are some really perceptive things here.
I have a couple of thoughts:
1. If the crowd is almost always wrong how does that impact “democratic” process? Specifically I’m thinking of denominational and church structure. While (thankfully) our denomination doesn’t have as much of that, we are leaning more and more that way (especially if someone gets on the wrong side of the crowd). Any thoughts on how we can turn a crowd into a community?
2. The fact that clergy is dropping in trustworthiness! What gets me here is that this is not only true with the crowd, but as we discovered over the last 3 years, with those we thought were our community. I don’t have a question here, just a sad observation.
Thanks for provoking me to thought. Great post.
Tim, I wonder if the crowd does have the possibility of coming to right conclusions, and we ought to continue to “trust the process” democratically, and yet hold it with a certain level of suspect and inspection? I don’t want to succumb to cynicism regarding collective wisdom, but rather understand that often “group think” and the like can often produce less than stellar results.
Perhaps shared values may assist in this. Decisions that are made based upon shared values rather than polarizing biases might help the collective US get it right more often.
I had some thoughts when I first read your questions, and then I logged in later and read Cathy and Tim’s responses. There is so much going on here!
First, I don’t know if Cathy was serious or not, but her call to create a “Wrongness Group” is intriguing to me. What if we could somehow change the narrative from our identity not being on about being right, but about looking to The Perfector of Our Faith for the answers… ’cause we don’t have them on our own? Maybe.
Second, regarding trustworthiness of the clergy, I would recommend looking into Kevin Palau’s work here in Portland. He wrote a book about it, “Unliklely” which I enjoyed, but it is important to note that his work still continues and morphs with the needs of the community… all with an aim of helping churches cross the credibility gap that separates it from the world it is supposedly here to serve. The practices he proposes are absolutely the type of thing that builds trust.
John, exceptional post! The way you set up the crowds as the opposite to community is very compelling. I agree with your assessment that the church can easily cross the line into “crowd” territory when it prioritizes power over truth.
So here’s me taking it a step further. Think back to all the ways the church has gotten it wrong in the past. I’m thinking supporting slavery, silencing women, voting Hitler into office (the Mennonites in Germany “liked his economic policy”!) Were the church leaders of the day simply succumbing to “crowd” mentality? Get an answer in your head before you read my next paragraph.
Next scenario: the church/church leader who takes a strong position for or against an issue, not because they are power-hungry but because they genuinely believe it is a sin issue. Imagine they come to this conclusion in all the “right” ways (doing theology in community, staying humble) but they genuinely come to this conviction. To make up a silly example, say they have the conviction that the sky is green. What would you say to this church/church leader about crowd vs. community? About right vs. wrong?
I haven’t thought this through yet and am kind of just riffing on the thoughts in my head right now….
I think some communities (not all) can become crowds and some crowds can become communities. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes a “community” of sorts will think they are all right about something and in love and care for a person they will tell that person they are wrong (or sinning or whatever). For example, I had a student in my campus ministry who came out as a gay man in college. He had a strong Christian faith and truly wrestled with his sexuality and Christian faith. I encouraged him to talk to his parents with whom he was close. They had always loved and supported him. He finally got up the courage to talk to them and shortly after, I received a teary phone call from his mom who was convinced she would not be able to have her son with her in heaven because he is gay. For a long while she, his once community, joined the fundamental crowd of their particular denomination/church, telling him he was going to go to hell for his sexuality. This became a life-threatening situation for him as he contemplated suicide. I can’t tell you how many times I had to go to his apartment to make sure he was okay. Thank God that over the years his mom and his dad have not only come to accept his sexuality but to respect and support him. I don’t know where they stand in their beliefs but I do know they have repaired their relationship.
The reason I write this, I think, is because I think we have to be somewhat careful about our communities and crowds. Sometimes you outgrow your community and they don’t like that – think Jesus returning to preach at his hometown temple and getting almost thrown off a cliff.
Again, these were just thoughts that you sparked as I read what you wrote. I’m not really that cynical about community – I love people! You just made me think.