Richard Clark over at the Christ and Pop Culture blog has a problem with people who “hate-watch” the church, looking for any reason to point out its numerous flaws. He specifically calls out the excellent site Stuff Christian Culture Likes, which is targeted to those “who have been harmed by Christian culture.”
But these Internet communities too often aren’t about healing. Not really. They funnel all of these triggers into one place, providing an opportunity for us to direct all of our rage, anger, and malice at what we have deemed to be rightful and deserving targets. These places of supposed healing become places of malice and mockery.
Here’s why I find this trend so frustrating and distasteful: biblical healing doesn’t happen this way. Hate doesn’t solve spiritual problems, and God’s Church isn’t sanctified by mercilessly mocking those who have done us wrong. These groups are hate-watching real-life drama, laughing at all the horribly written lines, mocking each villain’s downfalls, and gawking at bizarre plot twists. But these characters are human beings, whom the Bible refers to as neighbors. These plot twists have real consequences.
Clark is ignoring that fact that mockery is a form of healing. It’s why so many atheists love(d) to listen to comedians like George Carlin rail against the Church — he let you know that it was okay not to respect a flawed belief system run by a corrupt organization. Even if you are religious, it’s important that you call out your leaders when they screw up, and SCCL does an excellent job of that (better than a lot of churchgoers do, fur sure).
I asked SCCL founder Stephanie Drury why she thinks her site strikes such a powerful chord with readers and she told me this (via email):
I feel that Christianity has been forced on many of the people who read SCCL, so it was never fully their own belief. To express dissonance with the Christian tradition to those closest to them could mean profound shame or even estrangement. And, in my mind, that is the opposite of what Jesus did. He went towards the prostitutes and tax collectors, some think to save them, but I wonder if it wasn’t because they were more honest and less arrogant than those in religious circles.
I feel real movement takes place when both atheists and Christians together question Christian culture. There’s honesty and vulnerability taking place that isn’t safe to express in the church. And if what Jesus said was true, then the faith ought to be able to handle our questioning.
There are, of course, two kinds of people who enjoy SCCL, as Stephanie alluded to.
The first are people like me, atheists who want to expose the lies and antics of Christian leaders, in the hopes that it might shake some Christians out of their shells and give them the evidence they need to get the hell out of church.
The second are Christians who think their faith has been hijacked by people whose motivations don’t align with their own. It’s cathartic to realize that the shit you hate about the church is the same shit other Christians hate about the church. (Hell, that’s part of the reason a Christian publisher asked me to write I Sold My Soul on eBay.)
David Hayward is part of the latter group and he empathizes with Drury (emphasis his):
Why do you like that page Mr. Clark? Why are you following it? If you didn’t follow it, it wouldn’t come up in your newsfeeds. Just like your TV, you can turn it off. They aren’t forcing themselves on anyone. It’s up to the reader to like the page. The fact that these sites are growing, as Clark acknowledges, is because nothing it being done about the abuse and the voice of the abused is not being heard. I have a novel idea: stop the abuse and the complaints will stop. But no, let’s continue blaming the victim because that’s far easier.
Part of the reason SCCL and sites like it are so popular is because the Christian leaders they “pick on” never change what they’re doing in response. They keep on saying the same things. They keep assuming they’re on the right track. They never bother to listen to their critics.
The only other alternative for the rest of us — remaining silent — is not an acceptable option.
As David suggested, it would be a lot harder to mock the church and its leaders if they didn’t give us so much fodder to work with.
By the way, it’s worth pointing out that, much like The Daily Show, SCCL doesn’t just make jokes about Christian leaders. Often, Drury just links to their own words, quoting them verbatim, and that’s enough to make us cringe. It’s the same thing we do when it comes to anti-gay bigots. We just have to repeat their own words. They make themselves look bad. All we’re doing is letting other people know it.