Getting My Facts Straight (…oops!)

Posted: 2015/07/27 in Uncategorized

As a sermon illustration, a few weeks ago, I said that there had been less gun-control laws put in place during the Obama administration than the G. W. Bush administration, intending to make the point that there has been considerable unjustified paranoia about threats to gun ownership rights since Barack Obama became president.  Following the worship service, a parishioner disagreed with my assertion, which inspired me to check on what I had said.

I did err in my statement, but not because there is a panoply of regulation on the ownership of firearms. Indeed, with the lapse, during Obama’s first term, of the assault weapon ban enacted some years prior, it is easy to acquire a gun today.

The point of this mea culpa is not to profess my views of gun ownership or the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to The Constitution or to kick off a debate on gun ownership in America. The point is fess up to a lazy and careless piece of improvised preaching.

I try to get my facts in good order before using them in a sermon. It is always a tempting to apply a half-truth or small piece of a larger story when doing so reinforces a point that I am trying to make. But doing so is lazy, intellectually insincere, and misuses one of two basic sermon preparation techniques.

The two techniques I have in mind are (a) exegesis of the Bible and (b) exegesis of the world. Exegesis of the Bible is the process of interpreting the text of the Bible through critical analysis of the text, its content, linguistics, and literary style, the historical milieu within the narrative of the text, and the historical milieu of the writer. In other words, we dig around in the Bible and its world for information, and only then determine what it means. Similarly, to do an exegesis of the world is simply to get a well-rounded set of facts about something in the world of which we are a part, whether the rundown of a recent local news item, the description of a scientific discovery, the narrative of a historical event, of the particulars of a meatloaf recipe. The exegesis concludes with an answer to the question, “What does it mean?” A good sermon then explores the intersection between the Bible and world. To do this faithfully requires working through all the facts and narratives, rather than cherry-picking just those bits that fit a point being made.

My mistake in doing an ad-hoc, unplanned comparison between the gun control records of our two most recent presidents was to not have done the careful work of research to get all the facts. Instead, I took something I heard in a radio piece somewhere and inappropriately used it while trying to make a more important point.

Never again, I hope.

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