When should we, as bloggers or simply as people plugged into social media, ignore an outrageous statement or incident and when should we shine a spotlight on it? I suppose I personally have a two-pronged litmus test. First, is it an individual who has actual influence? For example, if James Dobson or Rick Warren says or does something particularly outrageous, that’s more worth talking about than if some random fundamentalist pastor no one knows or cares about says something hateful. And second, is there some greater constructive critique or point I can arrive at by discussing this remark or incident? If the outrageous statement of some unknown pastor gives me the chance to do some interesting thought work or consciousness raising, then it’s worth discussing regardless of whether or not he personally has any influence.
Still, even with this two-part formula, it’s not always completely obvious to me who matters and who doesn’t. For a while I’ve wondered if it’s even worth ever responding to Douglas Wilson, given how far out of mainstream evangelicalism most people consider him. Then, last week, while perusing Wilson’s blog I came upon this advertisement for his latest book:
Wilson is using the endorsement of Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today, to tout his book. Christianity Today is pretty much the essence of mainstream evangelicalism, and an endorsement like this gives Wilson credibility. And that’s bad. Why do mainstream evangelicals get suckered into things like this?
Similarly, I recently came upon an article by James Dobson in which he has a footnote to an article by the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer. While James Dobson, who founded Focus on the Family, has long been at the center of conservative evangelicalism, I had always thought Fischer was a fringe element whom no one really listened to. Now I’m having to rethink that, because apparently James Dobson listens to him, and conservative evangelicals definitely listen to James Dobson.
Debi Pearl’s books, for their part, are highly influential in Christian homeschool circles, as well as in many smaller fundamentalist churches. Mainstream evangelicals generally favor slightly less extreme how-to manuals for being submissive wives, but those in fundamentalist churches or those involved in the Christian homeschool movement sing Debi’s praises. She has influence in those circles, and that makes her worth talking about. And beyond simply that, looking at her writing gives me the chance to examine the myriad of themes and ideas that transcend just her.
I think the solution to the problem Chris poses is to make sure that we are purposeful about who we give time and space to, and about who we think merits our time and energy. It’s not that we should stop critiquing the writing and ideas of pastors, politicians, or leaders whom most people consider loony, but rather that we should make sure we have reasons beyond shock value for doing so.
These are very good suggestions, and of course I agree absolutely with her last sentence.