How opinions change

As the Foley sex-page scandal works its way through the national consciousness, we are beginning to see the opinion expressed that it is all quite unfortunate that this scandal is taking attention away from the "important issues", the War in Iraq, the National Intelligence Estimate, Bob Woodward's book, the torture and warrantless wiretapping, the slow pace of Katrina recovery.

Yet, it appears that it is against the war in Iraq that the public has turned, and that turning includes turning toward electing Democrats to Congress.

All this turning has apparently gone on with fairly weak Democratic Party messaging against the war and the Administration, and without a public anti-war movement with a strong voice.

It raises the question of how do people change their minds in this political and information environment.

Maybe active argumentation, and the political rhetoric of persuasion, does not work anymore? The powerful speech against the war made by a politician, the leaflet decrying the War and urging mobilization for a demonstration, the ad in the New York Times signed by hundreds of opinion leaders, may not be persuasive anymore.

Maybe people change their minds in private, and through a process of seeking out the information that they want, and on their own timetable and schedule. They go to the Net and read the sites that give them the info that they want. I wonder if people don't resist "being sold" or "being propagandized" -- information and argument that is being directed at them. Instead, they prefer to actively seek the information that they want when they want it.

I also suspect, and I think that this has always been true, is that people don't actually read or listen to arguments in which opposing points of view clash in one setting. Instead, that clash of opinions occurs over time in their own minds, and that they usually seek out sources of information that confirm where they are all ready intuitively heading. The question is "is this where I really want to be?"

If the data about how many people are reading Daily Kos and other liberal blogs is at all true, then it is clear that strong antiwar sources of information have been consulted by many people over this period of massive public opinion shifting.

What this means for the church is this: we have to get better at providing sources of information that can be consulted at people's own schedule.


  1. The last few weeks, I’ve been doing all sorts of “chores” as I prepare to leave New England for a stint in southwest Florida as the interim in Ft. Myers. This apst week I have been hit with the worst cold of my life!

    I’ve spent time online looking at church websites. The quality of design varies. My point though is that few of them make it easy to find the information I seek. Finding out who is preaching this Sunday or finding newsletter articles or sermons is rarely self-evident. This is not rocket science my friends! More and more of our brothers and sisters are podding their sermons, but finding them is not easy – and I’m pretty good at this stuff.

    Must admit that I’ve not put much energy into ensuring that the websites of the congregations I have served have been well designed and/or that information is easy to find. I also wonder about the use of blogging – not just as ways for us to each express our opinions, but also as a way of inviting conversation with our congregations and visitors or curious folk surfing the net.

    Early evening thoughts of someone who is SO tired of not feeling well!!!!!

  2. Hey Arline,
    I think you are right. The NUMBER ONE reason to have a website is to invite people to come to church THIS WEEK. Most likely, it is the number one reason why people are looking at your website in the first place.

    Best of luck in Fort Myers.

  3. Jay Lavelle7:15 AM

    Back in the day. people went to movie theaters and concert halls. Now, peope can get a reasonable approximation of those expereiences at home, on their own schedules, without the seemingly increasing complexity of "going out." The control of information is moving from the "providers" to the "customers." Is this where churches are heading? Moving from a centralized Sunday worship controlled by the "providers" to a distributed worship that the "customer" uses whenever it is desirable. (Home-schooling RE packages are another variation.) Is the idea of the "beloved community" enough to bring people out on Sunday or is that a quaint relic of the days of black and white movies and afternoon newspapers?

  4. LT, I'm worried about you. Is everything all right or are you just swamped with ministerial duties? We miss you out here in blog-land.


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