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Proverbs 18:17, Perspective, and the NFL

“Perspective” is a word I hear quite often when I work with pastors and churches. Considering I’m revealing parts of my story here on Substack, I thought it might be important to take a commercial break from the previously scheduled series and deal with this concept head on. If anyone from my previous church reads this newsletter, they may wonder why the story they’ve heard about my husband and I leaving is so different from what I share. I think, for my sake (as well as the other’s I know who have heard this word in their situation), we need to tackle this idea of “perspective.” What’s being said when church leaders use it? And how do we navigate what to think?

For me, “perspective” has a sound that recalls nails on a chalkboard. If you’re not familiar with that sound, it is the high-pitched scratchy tone of five fingernail tips slowly dragging across the surface of an abrasive, flat, slate-like surface. Simply imagining it has the power to send shivers down my spine. Hence, the correlation of that sound to that word. Same impact. Chills.

One of the first times I personally heard it spoken I remember being dumbfounded. The pastor said, “That’s your perspective, Ann Maree, but that’s not what happened.” But, I knew I wasn’t delusional. I had emails, and texts, and screen shots, and voice messages…all of which easily demonstrated that the version of the story I was telling was correct. Funny thing, though. When people in power want to re narrate a story, it doesn’t matter how much evidence exists. Just by using that one little word (perspective), individuals—even organizations—“own” the information and they can bend it all they want.

Of late, “perspective” is the word I hear most often to silence informants and victims. Shorter than “that’s not what happened,” it has a similar objective. It’s used as a “clarifier” that re narrates a situation and removes the so-called “impurities” of a person’s story. It’s meant to say, “Once you hear my perspective, you’ll be able see the situation truthfully.” It then successfully creates doubt in the storyteller’s mind, “You don’t remember,” “That’s not what was said.” “That’s not what I/he/they intended…” If uncertainty can be established, suspicion moves right in; both for the storyteller and for the one who hears. The storyteller questions themselves, “Am I crazy?” “Did I overreact?” The listener concludes, “They must be crazy.” “It’s probably an overreaction (aka hormones)” or, as I touched on in my last post, “They’re just more susceptible to deception,”[2] or untrustworthy…a liar.”

Proverbs 18:17 adds an additional effective tool, a subtle twisting of Scripture. Layering the misuse of a Bible passage provides the definitive, “God said it, so it confirms my perspective.” Throw in an authority figure speaking this “truth” and, well, we’ve got an open and shut case. Judith Herman wrote, “The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”[3]

So, I think there are a few questions we need to ask. First, I want to start with the Scripture passage. What does Proverbs 18:17 actually say? Then, what doesn’t it say? And finally, considering this passage, how should we as believers think about “perspective,” particularly as it relates to a person’s story?

First, what does Proverbs 18:17 say? Let’s look at a few translations.

He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. RSV

He that pleadeth his cause first seemeth just;
But his neighbor cometh and searcheth him out. ASV

The first to state his case seems right
until another comes and cross-examines him. CSB

The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him. ESV

In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
until someone comes forward and cross-examines. NIV

There’s not much difference between the versions. The phrase most translations use, “states his case,” is indicative of a courtroom setting. In the Hebrew, one potential translation is “case at law,” and the NIV states it outright; “In a lawsuit.” This means that the context of the Proverbs passage is a Judge adjudicating a case and there are two opposing sides. So, note, the context here is legal. Now, that’s not to say that the precedent this verse sets cannot be transferred onto other situations when there are two opposing sides. In fact, I want to agree that these verses do indicate that there are (at least) two sides to every story. But hang on to that thought—we’re talking about a courtroom. This is going to inform some things we’ll identify the passage is not saying. For instance,

This passage is not saying that the first person’s account is a lie. In fact, his or her story may be perfectly plausible. To the best of their ability (charitable judgment—innocent until proven guilty), they may believe they’re telling the truth.

This passage is not saying the second person is giving another perspective. The second person is “another,” perhaps a “neighbor” (i.e. close friend, or, jury of their peers). The second person is “examining” the first person, they are drawing out more information. In a courtroom, this is the opposing attorney, not the plaintiff, not a witness, not the defendant (i.e. it’s not the opposing party).

This passage is not saying the second person is the party who is telling the truth. Again, this is a courtroom. The second party’s role is examiner. An examiner has as much potential to lie as does the first party. Which brings up another point.

This passage is not saying the first person is the accuser and not the accused. The first person may well be the accused. The examiner may actually be drawing out information that could exonerate the first person.

It can happen.

That brings up another important point about this verse and that is, it’s a proverb. There’s not a lot of context for interpretation. For instance, this passage doesn’t say anything about the final result. Did the Judge in the situation have enough information to unequivocally discern the truth? Did the first person, convicted of sin, recant (as David did with Nathan), repent, and ask forgiveness after the examination? We also have no information about intent, or motivation. Is the first person protecting someone? Are they protecting themselves from an enemy in the courtroom? So many questions remain unanswered from this text.

And the last important point is this passage is not telling us that if a person in authority has a different version of a story, the other person’s account is automatically wrong. No one person can claim to possess the truth. Yet, that’s the interpretation applied in cases across the abuse victim landscape by those who use this passage to silence.

So, how are we to think about “perspective.” Well, allow me to take a step out from under my biblical counseling hat and instead investigate something found in common grace. In God’s goodness bestowed on mankind, He graciously conferred wisdom to an organization eager to improve their “perspective.” He enlightened the National Football League, and we might be able to glean some understanding from their example.

It may be hard to believe, but before 1976 there was no such thing as “instant replay” on an NFL football field. It was in that bicentennial year that Art McNally, then director of officiating, decided he wanted to find out how long a video review would take and if what they could observe from film of the game might add value to how they officiate. So, he took a stopwatch and a video camera to a Monday night game and observed the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills from a press box. His premiere test run demonstrated that a called play on the field might have been ruled differently had the referees seen another perspective. Hence, instant replay was born.

Now, I realize these details will likely bore the female audience of this article but stick with me a minute. The NFL currently uses 30 to 35 cameras for Sunday Night Football and has used as many as 43 for a single game. Thursday Night Football uses 35 to 45 cameras during its broadcast, and Monday Night Football employs as many as 49 cameras. That’s a whole lotta perspective. Here’s my point…

Every one of these camaras perspective tells something truthfully. If you’re watching the game during an instant replay, you won’t see the cameramen arguing about whose perspective is right or wrong. The coaches (nor the owners) won’t rule out video from a particular angle just because they have authority and saw the play differently. There’s a reason there are so many cameras on an NFL field. Each one tells a different story. ONE of those cameras may tell the definitive story, the one the officiants need to know particular to a ruling in the game. But every camara’s story adds a unique perspective to the overall story.

If we’re going to map this idea on to the stories from informants, victims, and survivors—but also alleged perpetrators—there’s a caveat.

The general principle remains, to the best of each person’s understanding, their perspective is truthful. There will be elements of truth from every perspective. But that doesn’t mean one of the parties isn’t self-deceived. Perspective may be informed by inaccurate presuppositions (such as what one believes about each gender), or preconceived notions (aka not based on any discernible evidence). Perspective can be murky because of past experiences stored in the brain, or shame, or life lived in a state of hypervigilance. It can also be confused because of a false sense of self, or false sense of others, or entitlement because of position or authority. Just consider the following variety of frameworks potentially in play when interpreting a perspective,

As a victim advocate, I look at circumstances with an eye for abuses. My antenna will be up for certain words, or a posture, and definitely destructive patterns.

A pastor may see the same situation through the grid of total depravity, or conversely, charitable judgment.

The narcissist will expect the other person’s actions in the circumstances as personal against them and having an intent to harm, diminish, or control.

An abuser will approach the situation, people, and even things as matters to be controlled, or worse; destroyed.

An informant, victim, or survivor may be watching things unfold with an eye for how they may need to act fast to protect themselves…

Or any other variety of a multitude of conditioned thought patterns. It is our responsibility (to the best of our ability) to share our perspective truthfully.[4] As believers, we are called to be who we are. Christ followers are truth tellers.

Instant replay in an NFL game, and ultimately Proverbs 18, demonstrates that what’s important is what each perspective reveals. Perception is enhanced when examined from multiple perspectives. We have no problem accepting this when we read the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all recorded their accounts with a variety of discrepancies, yet consensus defers to their unique perspective rather than presuming one or the other is untruthful or uninformed.

Which perspective was definitive at the end of my story (mine or my pastor’s)? Well, despite having had two witnesses at EVERY conversation during the investigation, and regardless of the public statement by a direct witness to all proceedings;[5] our pastor’s narrative regarding our departure was conveyed to the Session (and subsequently members of the congregation). Why wouldn’t the rationale we expressed take precedence? I’ll tackle that next time when we return to the series on women to women caregiving, role theory and authority.

[1] Additional catch words and phrases to pay attention to may also include, “created order,” “special instruments,” “ordained,” “rulers,” “leader,” “head,” “unique privilege,” “essential worker,” “overseer,” “divinely appointed,” “dominion,” “order,” “divine authority,” “authoritative role,” “his calling,” “ordained shepherds,” “their shepherding responsibility,” “authoritative leader,” “spiritual authority,” “decision maker,” “divinely ordained,” “accountable,” “ordained leader,” “headship.” As with a similar list in a previous post (Let’s Start at the Very Beginning), some of these terms are biblical and can/will be used in a positive sense. For a better understanding in your context you may want church leaders to define and clarify their position and how it might impact a caregiving ministry for the women in your church.

[2] “If Eve’s deception speaks to the nature of women, then Paul forbids teaching or authority because women—who outshine men in other areas—are, on the whole, more likely to acquiesce to doctrinal deviation,” DeYoung, Men and Women, 85.

[3] Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

[4] This includes accurate (even biblical) language for our circumstances (see the Safe to Hope series here and here) as well as an honest assessment of self. See, David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself.

[5] My husband’s statement read to the called Session meeting on February 28, 2023.

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