Stalking Horse?

January 31, 2007

Occasionally I run across a metaphor that I am not familiar with, so I will attempt to determine what the meaning is. Often I find that these metaphors are not only odd, but inappropriate (see, for instance, a column I wrote last year about the use of the “rogue elephants” metaphor).

Consider the metaphor of the “stalking horse.” I had not heard this one used until I saw comments made by the Reverend Parker T. Williamson, editor emeritus and senior correspondent of The Layman . He argued that the National Council of Churches “has served as a stalking horse on issues that Presbyterians in the pews soundly reject.”

I knew Williamson was attacking the NCC, but I had to look around to understand the referent. Its meaning is: “Something used to cover one’s true purpose; a decoy.” It refers to: “A horse trained to conceal the hunter while stalking.” In essence, a hunter will try to sneak up on potential prey by hiding behind a horse (whom the animals are not as scared of) and then pop up from behind the horse and shoot the animal.

Once the meaning was uncovered, I was able to realize that this was an inappropriate way for one Christian to describe another. Williamson is making his brothers and sisters in Christ the enemy. In this metaphor he is claiming that the NCC is helping someone to shoot at Presbyterians. This is important because metaphors offer insights into our thoughts. As long as Williamson thinks this way, then there is no chance of him being able to work together with the NCC. He has made them out to be the enemy instead of fellow members of Christ’s body (which is a very good metaphor for Christians to use).

For more thoughts on metaphors and why Christians should be careful about which ones we use, check out my book: For God’s Sake, Shut Up!: Lessons for Christians on How to Speak Effectively and When to Remain Silent. There is a whole chapter on metaphors (and I think the others are worthwhile as well).