How to not learn from experience: the blame shifting game

Here’s an article at that gives a good example of how you can avoid learning from your mistakes by shifting the blame for your failures onto someone or something else. Frank Pastore is interviewing Frank Wright (president of the National Association of Religious Broadcasters) on the subject of the “Evangelical Manifesto.” Wright gives us some background on the document.

50, 60 years ago the term “fundamentalist” in our cultures wasn’t a bad term. It described those people who were committed to the fundamental teaching of scripture, the fundamental articles of faith, the means of grace. “Fundamentalist” was once upon a time a good thing. Over time the culture sort of decomposed or destroyed that word, and gave it a very pejorative meaning.

Ah yes, “the culture” gave fundamentalism a bad name. It’s all their fault, right? Well, not exactly. Fundamentalists worked hard to give fundamentalism its eventual reputation by repeatedly associating the term with their own behavior, which was stereotypically intolerant, self-righteous, and invasive of other people’s rights and freedoms. It got so bad that even fundamentalists were ashamed to be associated with the term any longer. Rather than changing their behavior, however, they decided to blame the label, and to look for a new one. Hmm, that’ll work, right?

And many fundamentalists, including my mentor Dr. D. James Kennedy began to describe themselves as Evangelicals. They felt that term was a better fitting term.What’s happened in the last 20 or 30 years is the same thing: The term “Evangelical” has been deconstructed by our opponents on the left and made into something pejorative.

What a shock. Put the same crap in a different package, and give it a new brand name, and what happens? The new brand gets the same reputation for being crap as the old brand did. And once again, instead of admitting that evangelical behavior is giving evangelicals a bad name, Wright tries to shift the blame to “our opponents on the left,” and to pull another re-brand.

[W]hat attracted me to the Evangelical Manifesto was that it was an affirmative articulation—and I thought a biblical one—of what it meant to be an Evangelical, what doctrines did you hold, what defined who we were. In other words, it was an attempt for Evangelicals themselves to define the meaning of the term, rather than having unbelievers and the culture continue to define it in a pejorative manner.

In other words, the first two times they tried to define themselves in terms of fundamental Biblical doctrines, the result was failure, so the third time they decided to try and define themselves in terms of fundamental Biblical doctrines. Well, third time’s a charm, they say, and sure enough this time the results were different. This time, it resulted in evangelicals attacking each other.

In the aftermath of the press conference introducing it, it took on quite a different character. Instead of an effort to reach the culture with a different understanding of “what it means to be an Evangelical,” it turned a little bit into a skirmish between Evangelicals on the left and conservative Evangelicals on the right.

The problem has been that this time, the Manifesto made a point of distinguishing between doctrinal activism (evangelism, preaching, teaching, etc) and social activism (pro-life politics, anti-gay politics, anti-First-Amendment politics, etc), and this gave ammunition to a group Wright calls “left-wing Evangelicals” (whatever that means).

[T]he Manifesto is being used to have some groups of Christians throwing stones at others. And, as you rightly said, the stones are being thrown at those who are particularly involved in cultural engagements. I think that is dead wrong, so I have stood up and said I do not support that effort, I will not stand with those Evangelicals that criticize those of us that are involved in engaging the culture. So, you’re right in saying that’s where the debate seems to have drifted. I don’t believe that’s where it was intended, and in some ways it was hijacked by some of the more liberal signers of the Manifesto. So, it’s been disappointing from that standpoint.

So they’re still not learning: the bad reputation comes from the practice of “Biblical” intolerance, and not from trademark management issues. If they could learn to just get along with people whose beliefs are different, the bad reputation would get better. But no, stubbornly and self-righteously they continue to point fingers, deny personal responsibility, and insist that the guilt all lies with “them” (some amorphous group of liberal and/or secular opponents). But even the Bible says it: you reap what you sow. Their faith prevents them from admitting (and repenting of) their mistakes, so you can bank on it: they’re going to try the same solution, and achieve the same failures, over and over and over again. And each time they’ll shift the blame onto someone else.

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One Response to “How to not learn from experience: the blame shifting game”

  1. Raffi Shahinian Says:

    I had to do it. Andrew’s call at TSK compelled me.

    A POST-EVANGELICAL MANIFESTO is now up and awaiting comment, criticism, or, more probably, to be blown out of the water.

    Grace and Peace,
    Raffi Shahinian
    Parables of a Prodigal World