Preaching Outside the Choir

Preaching to the choir is easy, they are already on your side and ready to sing your praises. Preaching to people who disagree with you is much harder. Sometimes you need to take a different approach than the one that convinced you. You need to look at how the person you are talking to approaches decisions and the framework they have for passing judgment on the world around them (that judge not stuff is overblown and frequently misinterpreted, a person sans judgment is a helpless, mindless waste, unable to choose what to eat for breakfast). Each of us uses a framework of heuristics and a moral and ethical code to pass judgment on the ideas we encounter all day long. By understanding the framework another person is using we can frame our arguments in such a way that they may exploit that framework to help that person reach the desired conclusion. This is not about manipulation, but about finding a common ground to aid communication and the exchange of ideas.

I wrote a post a while back about the right way to build web sites called What Would Jesus Build. In it I explored some of what I consider the right and wrong ways to build things. It’s been trendy the last few years to ask what Jesus would do in a given modern situation. Since he is widely regarded as one of the most ethical people to have lived, and I live in a majority Christian country, asking people to reflect on how he would have behaved can be a useful exercise. Barack Obama did this recently when speaking to an unreceptive audience about gay rights in Texas. At first they were cool to his message until he took a different approach and described homophobic behavior and attitudes as un-Christian. There are often many reasons why something that is right is right. Sometimes people will be indifferent to one line of reasoning and highly accepting of another based on their framework for judging ideas. If one argument is falling on deaf ears, it is okay to try another, more convincing, one to help people reach a correct decision. I believe that Obama is correct in trying different approaches to reaching people. This demonstrates that he is flexible in his thinking and able to find ways to reach out and connect with those who disagree with him. Note that he did not put them down as individuals, but merely described homophobic behavior as un-Christian and let people think over that behavior in light of their own moral framework.

In my own techie world I’ve found that a similar take on things can help in reaching people about Digital Rights Management (DRM) and closed, proprietary technology choices, versus open formats and web standards. I’m proud to say that with AxiomTV we have just helped CrossRock to start selling DRM Free videos on AxiomTV. The videos work regardless of your choice of operating system or browser and help them spread their message to as wide an audience as possible. DRM would have restricted the spread of their message, which runs counter to their own goals. Locking up the videos also sends the wrong message to their fans and customers that they are not trusted.

I’ve found that it is very hard to make the argument that a Christian group trying to reach out to as many people as possible should put DRM locks on their video and audio content. They should trust that their audience will do the right thing and respect their copyrights with regard to making copies of the works. And if someone is willing to steal a video of a sermon or The Ten Commandments, aren’t they the one who needs it the most? You’d never find a church unwilling to give out a copy of the Bible or tell someone to leave a sermon if they can’t afford to pay to attend. It runs counter to their moral and ethical framework to do so. However, when it comes to the intersection of their church and the business of selling video and audio they sometimes lose sight of this and start to worry too much about theft and copying. It’s not manipulative to point this out in light of their original goals, it is helpful and enlightening.

This doesn’t just apply to using Christian principles to convince Christians. The same idea applies to dealing with all people. If you are dealing with someone who’s framework for making decisions is profit and loss then you need to approach them knowing and respecting that. In that case calling something un-Christian is futile, you need to get them to do the right thing by showing that that is also the best thing for the bottom line. It’s about looking at things from someone else’s point of view and then working within their decision making framework to communicate with them effectively to get you both to the right ends.

Kevin Hall
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