Charles Colson discusses in a recent blog on an experiment that shows how easy it is to make people go against what they believe to be true.  This is how he described the experiments.  “One of the experiments involved wine-tasting, in which participants evaluate both the wine and one another’s wine-tasting skills.  The participants were given three samples of wine.  In reality, all three samples were from the same bottle.  One had even been tainted with vinger.  Before they delivered their evaluation, they listened to other participants, who were plants, who praised the vinegar-laced wine as the best.  Half of the participants went against their own taste buds and joined in praising the vinegary concoction.”

Colson goes on, “Even more interesting is what happened next.  Another participant, who was also a plant, told the truth about the wines.  But when it came time for the participants to evaluate each other, some of them were permitted to do so confidentially, and the others had to do so publicly.  The ones who gave their evaluations confidentially praised the truth-teller.  But those who had to evaluate the truth-teller publicly actually turned on him and gave him low marks.”  The researchers described this as “false enforcement”   – “The public enforcement of a norm that is not privately endorsed.” 

The norm was upheld not by popularity nor its validity.  It was upheld by their desire to “avoid a negative social judgment from one’s peers.”  Wanting to avoid “a negative social judgment” has been called the “spiral of silence.”  Colson’s conclusion: “….out of a desire to avoid reprisal or isolation, people go along with what they think is the popular opinion – even if they object to that opinion personally.  Instead of voicing their objections, they remain silent.”

I thought it was important enough to quote Charles Colson rather extensively on the blog.  I personally have a great deal of respect for what Colson does in helping followers of Jesus to think through the profound social issues we face in post-modern and post-Christian America.  Living in a pluralistic culture can be challenging for us men.  I was convicted reading his post, when I reflected on the times that I have remained silent about what I really believe, for fear of being in the minority or not being accepted. Listen to Peter’s exhortation to us in I Peter 3:15-16 from The Message. “Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master.  Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.  Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.”

I find that asking for discernment in knowing when to speak up and what to say is important.  I don’t want to be offensive and pushy, but I also want to be true to my convictions.  Men, in our day there is significant voices that are trying to quiet a clear witness of the gospel.  It is actually intimidation.  The present cultural climate will continue to militate against a clear witness of the truth.   But the darker the conditions, the more that the light of the gospel is needed.  Here is some encouragement from our Lord. “When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family.  There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate!  But don’t quit.  Don’t cave in.  It is all well worth it in the end.  Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.”