Back in G.W. Bush presidency, someone coined the term “BDS” or “Bush Derangement Syndrome”, in order to refer to that unhinged segment of the punditry who couldn’t mention his name without the words “Nazi” or “anti-Christ.” (Now, for Obama it’s ”Muslim/Socialist” and “anti-Christ.”) I’d like to submit three new terms: PDS, RHEDS, and DDS. John Piper, Rachel Held Evans, and Mark Driscoll Derangement Syndrome. Those three number among a set of high-profile names you can attach to any story and immediately pique the interest of the bizarre, tribalistic, and over-active Evangelical segment of the social media universe. They’re also among the select group of people that we’re beginning to lose our ability to speak to, read, or read about, sanely.
I’m not talking about the regular, normal, justified criticism any one of these high-profile teachers and authors deserve. But if you pay much attention to evangelical culture, you know what I’m talking about. So and so tweets out a tweet, and it’s extrapolated into an entire political philosophy, or psychology of parenting, or what-have-you. We have heard so much of their teaching (actual or reported), made our judgments, and now we read every sentence waiting to pounce, publicize, and mobilize the troops in shock and outrage.
Rachel Held Evans could tweet about how great oranges are, and a bunch of angry Reformed guys will starting make an exegetical case that this was the fruit offered up by Satan in the Garden.
John Piper could confess his love of puppies and you’d get some bitter progressive snarling back quickly “Oh, right, but only the elect ones, right? All the other puppies are burning?”
Driscoll could innocently tweet out a picture implying another ministry aggressively confiscated material and everybody would think it’s a silly PR stunt. (Oh wait… nevermind.) You catch my drift, though.
I’m not denying that there are proper times to criticize and engage in polemics. I’ve criticized some of Evans‘ writings myself, and, as you can guess, though I’m Reformed, I’ve got some issues with Driscoll’s recent publicity stunts (among other possible qualms.) Still, in our polarized, politicized American online culture, the habits of the world are those of the church to the point where we have those moments where we don’t actually read what a person says before jumping all over it.
We think to ourselves: “So and so said it, so it must imply some assault on orthodoxy or human decency,” without slowing down to think it through. We rush out to post, comment, tweet, and make our horror known to the world, kicking off an avalanche of spleen and fury. Of course, it doesn’t help that we have a ridiculous celebrity culture that magnifies the writings and personalities of a select few, over the particular voices of the faithful pastors and mentors who actually know you. But, that’s another subject for another day.
Tips For Reading Christian Celebrities
I’ve already written about the proper way to read things on the internet, engage in polemics, as well as the importance of criticizing your own tradition, and making proper distinctions in this sort of thing. Still, I want to offer a word or two on the proper practice of reading famous Evangelical types on the internet, especially the ones you’re already predisposed not to like:
- Before you read the article, breathe.
- Count to 10.
- Read the article slowly noting key nouns, verbs, modifiers, and transition clauses.
- Count to 10 again.
- Read it slower.
- Now go ahead and tweet it out with the appropriate commentary.
- Don’t read the article.
I’m half-joking here, but seriously, nothing is gained when we launch off on someone for something they didn’t actually intend to say. It may feel good to impute the dumbest reading possible to that person, but it does not further understanding, or draw you and your sister/brother who happens to be that person’s devoted fan, together in Christ.
Of course, this is one of those times I wish I could write under a pseudonym as Kierkegaard did, in order to avoid the appearance that I actually think I’m good at what I’m commending to others. I failed at this yesterday.
A Plea to Christian Celebrities
In the unlikely event that anybody in this mega-category reads this: please remember that you, for better or for worse, have significant clout and influence. If you’ve got some monster Twitter following, a well-trafficked blog, or a bazillion Facebook friends, don’t feed this.
In the immortal words of Uncle Ben Parker: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Use your platform wisely. In other words, read and comment as you’d like to be read and commented on. Hopefully the people you influence will imitate you at your best.