Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

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Perspectives: The Elect and the Election

Perspective by James Standish

Many people are shocked by the outcome of the election. Not Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind Dilbert. Over a year ago, Adams predicted Trump would win.

The odd thing?

Adams nailed it.

How could a Clinton-supporting cartoonist see what all the pundits, poll producing prognosticators and professional politicians missed? Easy, Adams explains, he doesn’t study polls, instead he studies the art of persuasion. And, he explains, persuasion is based on emotion. Tap into the emotional truths of your audience, and you persuade them.

In Adams’ analysis, the most persuasive candidate wins. Everything else is just noise. 

Most of us live in that noise - focused on the details of distractions rather than the emotional heart. And then, like the world’s press on Tuesday night, we’re surprised results don’t match our projections. The disconnect between our expectations and what we actually achieve is particularly stark in church land.

We want young people to be fired up for Christ. The numbers tell us we’re losing them in record numbers.

We want authentic, sacrificial discipleship to become the norm in our church community.

We want to set the world on fire. Instead we’re fighting a rearguard action, just hoping to hold onto a higher fraction of who we already have, and making up the empty pews with recent immigrants, whose own children may grow up to drift away from the faith at rates approximating everyone else’s.

How can we be doing all the right things, and not getting the right results?

Learning a Lesson From the Election

Maybe there’s a lesson for us from the election.

If the election showed anything, it’s that people don’t care about mounds of data, carefully crafted arguments and 16 point plans. They care about their fears and aspirations. Put another way, emotional truths are much more powerful drivers of behavior than intellectual truths.

But to tap into emotional truths, we have to understand the truths of the people we’re trying to reach. And to do that, we have to humbly listen to them. Which isn’t generally our expertise. We have a message to “tell the world,” not moreso than an ear to “hear the world.” It turns out that if we want to change the world, we may need to change ourselves first.

This includes abandoning the idea that “because we’ve got all the answers, and are so obviously better informed” people will love us and embrace our ideals. In fact, human nature dictates the opposite is more likely. After all, who likes a “know it all” - especially when they’re right!

In recent years, we’ve spent enormous sums trying to explain to the developed world our carefully studied truths, presented in logical succession, documented and cross referenced. We’ve mailed pallets of “The Great Controversy” to strangers, ran large evangelistic efforts in cities from New York to Sydney, produced thousands of hours of TV programming. Many of our efforts are unconnected from the emotional truths of the people we hope to reach in the developed world. Scott Adams wouldn’t be surprised by our disappointing results.

We’ve been paddling in the noise. Maybe we need to reverse the narrative. But first, we’ll have to stop talking for long enough to hear what our world is telling us. By understanding their emotional truths, we can reframe our message to reach our society today. And maybe we’ll do a better job at reaching ourselves in the process.

James Standish is an author, attorney and religious freedom activist. He has an MBA in marketing from the University of Virginia, a JD, cum laude, from Georgetown University (D.C) and his bachelor’s degree from Newbold College, England. He recently gave the Week of Worship at Spencerville Adventist Academy, and he’s just completed his first book, “Disneyland’s Back Door,” a collection of inspiring and humorous adventure stories for kids aged 8 - 13... and their parents. Contact him at

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