The heart of the issue

Andrew C. Schroer 

For nearly three years now, I have had the privilege of serving on the ethics board of one of our local newspapers. The ethics board consists of various personnel from the newspaper, including the publisher and editors, together with three at-large members of our community. We meet monthly to discuss controversial articles, concerns readers have voiced, and the overall ethics of journalism. 

Recently the newspaper published an exposé on a local politician who is now embroiled in controversy. Almost immediately people began accusing the newspaper of having a political agenda that was clearly biased. The complaints were that the editors were getting revenge for previous wrongs or just didn’t like the politician. 

Having been allowed to peek behind the curtain and listen to the discussions beforehand, I am fascinated by how painstakingly the editors sought to be objective and evaluated the ethical ramifications of what they printed. 

Are they always perfectly objective? No. Do personal feelings at times affect decisions? I’m sure they do. But overall, I’ve learned that they truly do seek to be honest and objective. 

The comments I read from various sources this last week remind me of something God once said to the prophet Samuel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

Only God knows what thoughts and feelings fill our hearts and minds. 

Yet, so often, we fall into the delusion that we are God. We fancy ourselves mind readers. We presume to know other people’s reasons and motivations. 

When your husband suddenly doesn’t answer you, he must be mad at you because of what you said to him in the morning. When your coworker doesn’t respond right away to your text, she must be ignoring you because she is a jerk. When the newspaper runs an article that says something negative about a certain politician, it must have a political agenda and is therefore biased. 

That could be true. Or maybe your husband simply didn’t hear you. Maybe he was distracted. Maybe your coworker’s phone died. Maybe the newspaper is simply trying to report the facts its journalists found in their investigations. 

One of my favorite phrases from Martin Luther comes from his explanation to the Eighth Commandment. As he expounded what it means to not give false testimony against our neighbor, Luther encourages us to “take [their] words and actions in the kindest possible way.” 

In other words, don’t assume the worst. You cannot read minds. Only God can do that. You don’t know why they did what they did or said what they said unless they tell you. 

Remember that, especially when you and your spouse are having an argument. You can’t say, “You said this or did that because. . ..” You can’t see into your spouse’s heart. Don’t assume you know why. Talk about the behavior. Ask why. Tell your spouse the impression it gives you, but don’t assume you know. Only God can see into people’s hearts. 

Are people, politicians, and news organizations at times driven by selfish and nefarious motives? Of course. In this sinful world, all of us at times are moved by misguided motivations. But be careful. As sinful human beings, we tend to assume the worst about people—particularly those who have hurt us or with whom we disagree, and especially in our politically charged world. 

May God forgive us our sinful assumptions and give us generous hearts that take other people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.  

Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas. 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

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