What the Mirror Can’t See

Only God knows what is in our hearts. But sociological findings can get us closer.

When journalists describe journalism as a mirror, quoting Joseph Pulitzer’s old metaphor, it’s usually to deflect criticism. “Let those who are startled by it blame the people before the mirror, not the mirror,” Pulitzer said. But longtime CT editor David Neff rightly used the image to describe journalism’s corrective function and calling. We don’t use a mirror because we’ve forgotten what we look like (James 1:23–24). We use one because we want to see what needs fixing. At the same time, we don’t want our mirrors to hector us or only show us our faults. Mirrors can reassure us, too: You no longer have spinach between your teeth.

If we need journalism to function as a mirror, we need sociology and other disciplines to function as a body scan. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, ESV). Somewhere in between, physicians and sociologists can reveal issues we hadn’t seen before.

Consider a 2013 Baylor University study of 389 congregations. Many had accomplished what seems impossible to many US churches: they attracted and retained people from diverse races and ethnicities. But even in churches with a nearly perfect three-way ethnic split (with the largest racial group making up 35% of the congregation), the slim plurality is enough to create an in-group with strong attachments to the congregation, and out-groups feeling like they don’t belong. People in the dominant group—even a barely dominant one—are more likely to have a close friend in the congregation, to be involved in small groups, and to say they feel like they belong.

It must be frustrating to hear this when you’re a pastor ...

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What the Mirror Can’t See
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July/August 2015

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