Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Two Stories I Re-Lived Whilst Reading Haidt

Written by: on April 3, 2018

Our small town in Columbus, Montana has a population of 1800, with about 25% of souls attending church on a Sunday morning (nearly 50% attend on Christmas and Easter). We have more dogs/cats than addresses. There are 9 churches in our town, with nearly the same number of casinos.  More people attend our Friday night high school football game than all 9 churches on Sunday combined.

I would like to relate this week’s writing by Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion [1]  to the following two experiences from pastoring here for the past 15 years:

  1. My first month after arriving, I started a “Minister’s Association” and invited all local Pastors to attend. I was kinda surprised they were not already meeting.
  2. My family and some friends recently knocked on every door in our community to invite folks to any of our 9 churches on an Easter, which interestingly took 10 people 21 hours to accomplish.

Our author started out his introduction with the phrase, “Can we all get along” from Rodney King in 1992. [2] Using my two examples from above, I would respond, “Hardly!” When he uses chapter titles like, “Elephants Rule”[3], “Why Are We So Groupish?”[4] and “Religion Is A Team Sport”[5], I knew he would be hitting my exposed nerves.

Let me explain: Of the nine churches in our town, 3 are Baptist, but those good folks won’t talk to each other. The Free Will Baptist pastor heard we might use other versions of the Bible at our Minister’s Association, so he excluded himself because he was King James only. When the “Independent” Baptist church figured out the Southern Baptist pastor would be there, he excluded himself because his church was made up of folks who had broke off.

It gets worse. The Southern Baptist pastor excluded himself from “fellowshipping” with us because the female pastor from the Congregational Church was invited and he could not sit at the table with someone who possibly believed Muslims and Christians served the same God. This did not make our female Lutheran pastor happy, because she thought he was a misogynist. Our Catholic priest was convinced his was the only right church, so he conveniently found a reason to not attend every month. Two of our clergy did not live in our town, and only came in on Sunday mornings, so they bowed out, as well. Most preached DIVERSITY on the week-ends, but aparantly refused to live it out during the week.

At the first meeting, we had 3 attenders–me, the AG pastor, and our reluctant Lutheran “vicar”. The Congregational gal showed up a half hour late with a scowl, saying “I’m glad there’s another female present.” I was very discouraged, and ridiculously idealistic (thank you Hunter in To Change The World) [6]  This was not going to be easy. Little did I know!

I decided we needed something to unify us. So why not try to do a Easter sunrise service together? They agreed, and the service was going so well, with each pastor taking a little part on a bitter cold Resurrection Sunday. They agreed since I was the newest, I should do the sermon.  Fine with me, Oh naive one. What could go wrong, right?

I shared with all my heart, gave a chance for folks to respond to the Gospel, and that’s when things exploded. The Lutherans mumbled about us “born againers” while the Congregationalists questioned where “social action” fit into the message. I was elated several non-church attenders gave their hearts to Christ, but was confused with the nasty letter from another who wrote IN ALL CAPS asking for a “response” was not the way we do things around here. Now I fully understood Haidt saying, “Morality binds and blinds” us into good people who form teams that fight each other “as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle.” [7]

Now, fast forward to my family knocking on each door, inviting folks to any church. (Yes, if they said they did not go to church, we invited them to ours, but if they identified themselves with a church, we asked them to attend their own). By the way, if everyone who said they were Lutheran actually went to the Lutheran church, they would have been the largest church in our town. (grin)

The Baptists accused me of “stealing sheep” while the Catholics said I was “proselytizing”. The Lutherans slammed their vicar by saying, “She should have thought of doing this” as if only the minister does the work in their church. The Congregationalists again asked, “Where’s the social action in this?” Some residents thought we were selling something, others thought we were door knocking Jehovah Witnesses. I honestly thought to myself, “How could anyone have a problem with someone trying to do this?” Again, I am so naive!

I am thankful a former minister in my town put medicine on my wounds by telling me something he called Paradoxal Commandments [8], “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.  If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.”

So this is where I understood our authors assertion of PLURALISM, being a plurality of ideals, cultures and temperaments. [9] I believe the key to getting folks unified in spite of their plurality is to do what Adler suggested in How To Read A Book [10]first seek to understand. The problem is, we are so self-righteous (and selfish). Our book title should have been “The SELF Righteous Mind”…

In closing, I would have liked to have heard more ideas from Haidt of how to fix all this mess, as it was he really only suggested his last two paragraphs [11]. Now I understand why two reviewers, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, stated Haidt did not go far enough into resolving the issues he raised, and he might have done better to further explain “argumentative theory” [12] as a way to understand solutions.


[1] Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Kindle Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 2013.

[2] Ibid., Loc 42.

[3] Ibid., p. 61.

[4] Ibid., p. 219.

[5] Ibid., p. 285.

[6] Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World the Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 24

[7] Haidt. p. 366.

[8] Keith, Kent M. “The Paradoxical Commandments.” theparadoxicalcommandments.com. January 1, 1999. Accessed April 04, 2018. http://www.kentmkeith.com/commandments.html.

[9] Haidt. p.367.

[10] Adler, Mortimer Jerome, and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Loc. 15.

[11] Haidt. p. 367.

[12] Mercier, Hugo, and Dan Sperber. “Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34, no. 2 (2011): 57–74. doi:10.1017/S0140525X10000968.


About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

8 responses to “Two Stories I Re-Lived Whilst Reading Haidt”

  1. M Webb says:

    Thanks for the personal tribute to why Christians don’t get along in your introduction! Wow! For me, I see the underlying schemes of the devil all throughout your narrative, while others may say that is just human nature. Well, both are right, human nature is to sin, and sin is from the devil.
    I’m sad to see you give the atheist now Buddhist biased author a pass for not paying his own dues to learn what you learned. He might be writing about it, but he does not really understand it, nor could he, his heart is lost. That is why there is nothing wholesome or heavenly in his solutions.
    Were you “packing” on your door-to-door Easter service scenario? And if so, what does that say about your community?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. Kyle Chalko says:

    I whooped and hollared when the AG pastor came to your meeting. Way to represent AG pastor!

    Huge kudos to you for starting a ministers association. It is very sad when the pastors cannot get along. It is certainly the type of division that Haidt is talking about. Perhaps its not the moral foundations theory in question, but a theological foundations at the question, and the fact that others value certain things higher than others (action, or holiness etc). It makes me wish more people bought into CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity idea.

    good ending point. Haidt really only explains why weve found ourselves in this problem, but does not offered a true road map out.

  3. Great post Jay! I always love reading your posts because they always have some kind of relatable story attached. Ironically, I did the same thing years ago when I moved to a small town in Oregon as the first youth pastor our church ever hired. I started a youth pastors network and was surprised as you were that none existed already. Thankfully I did not face as much opposition as you, you get the patient and naive award 🙂 It has always been sad to me how much Christians fight with each other over the stupidest things. I also thought your suggestion for a new title being the “Self-Righteous Mind” was pretty clever!

  4. Dan Kreiss says:


    Sad but true, the church is anything but unified and most of the time more energy is expended delineating between factions and ensuring our perspective is clearly stated as the ‘correct’ one. The paradoxical commandments I have seen attributed to Mother Theresa, or at least something like them. I believe that hers was a true spirit of inclusivity with minimal regard for the social or ideological that most of us think matter so much.

    I am glad you are there in that community, working and living out your faith as you feel called. I think if your fellow pastors would do the same the whole community would benefit. I am convinced that God’s love is a great deal broader than any one of us can fathom and there is room for us at the table. I appreciate your vulnerability.

  5. Jay,

    A wonderful, but tragic, post from the divided trenches of Columbus, MT.

    I’m a big believer in interdenominational cooperation and unity, and so kudos to you for trying. Even if it blew apart, it was at minimum a prophetic act to give the town an opportunity to join together in shared witness. Such is our calling.

    I’m about to try something here in St Stephen NB, a town a bit larger than Columbus. The Toronto Mass Choir is coming through on an East Coast tour this summer, and I’m going to get a committee together to billet the choir overnight, feed the folks, and have all churches represented as sponsors. Please say a prayer for us! 😉


  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    Jay you are an amazing pastor and bridge-builder. Holy moly. What an unbelievably frustrating experience that must have been. It reminds you that people bring all their old wounds to a service like that, once again looking for a scapegoat. The irony is that everything that was aimed at you had nothing at all to do with you, but they were unable to reconcile with each other, so here comes the triumphal entry of the new scapegoat – Pastor Jay. Way to love and forgive them anyway, and to press on for the sake of the gospel.

  7. Greg says:


    I love the passion of young pastors. It makes me sad when I have seen communities crush the idealism of young leaders. This reminds me that I was placed in a great and loving community to try and dream big dreams. We should all be challenged to live what we preach. How ironic and true is that quote from your retired pastor friend. I am glad he didn’t discourage you to give up and just focus on your flock. I hope we can inspire those that follow us.

  8. Shawn Hart says:

    I walked by a baptist booth at the fair once (I’m not going to pick on the baptist), and the minister was asking three questions to passer-bys. He waved me over, but I politely said, “no thank you.” After all, religious conversations with me can last a long time, and other religious groups normally get irritated.He insisted…finally I surrendered. We started talking and I answered his three questions confidently and with scripture…always with scripture. I promise…I really was polite through the entire encounter. But finally he reached over an patted me on the shoulder…while I was in the middle of a sentence and said, “It was nice talking to you;” making it clear that the conversation was over. When I tried to finish the bible verse I was reading, the man literally walked away from his own fair booth. How I wish back then I had the courage I have now…I would have preached from his booth the rest of the day. LOL

    All of that to say this: There is a reason there are more people falling away than ever before. I’d love to say it was all the Devil’s doing, but sadly, I fear professed Christians are more to blame than he is. We allow pride, selfishness and ego to guide us more than God and Scripture. Great Post Jay.

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