Rick Warren and the etiquette of critique

vulture edible soon cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
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All adversaries are worthy. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be on the battlefield. This is always my assumption of all persons engaged in theological, ecclesiological and philosophical discussion in a public manner.

I was not surprised but saddened with some of the responses to the suicide of Rick Warren’s youngest son last week. But I’ve been cartooning and writing online long enough to know that vitriol finds full expression on the internet. I get it every day. But that’s the game. We play beneath the hungry stare of countless vultures.

I would like to share with you the way I try to critique. I might not always succeed, but I make sure to ask myself three questions when critiquing others. Rather than use Warren since I don’t think it is appropriate right now, I’m going to use a post I wrote yesterday as an example. The article I wrote critiquing Lee Grady is called “Women Leaders We Apparently Need to Avoid” because I asked myself these three questions to make sure it followed good critique etiquette. These are the three simple questions I would ask before I click enter:

1. Is this necessary and therefore constructive criticism?

This is always the first thing that motivates me to cartoon or write a critique: is it necessary? If it’s necessary then it has to be constructive because it is crucial to the lives of people. What I usually critique are things that I think damage people and the organizations we gather in. I don’t care about a lot of theology that is going on out there, but if there is theology that validates and supports inequality, abuse and the dehumanization of people, I’m on it. Why? Because I believe in people and want to see them set free. I believe that’s what Grady wants. So my hope is that the person I’m critiquing wants that for people too and doesn’t realize how self-destructive his theology is to that end. Usually the best time for this is when it is very evident, either in his words or deeds, that he is compromising peoples’ freedoms. Critiquing someone in the wake of a tragic death of his son is not such a time.

2. Am I critiquing his words and actions rather than maligning him?

When he sees or reads my critique, I hope he says, “Hm! I never really thought about it this way. Maybe I need to reconsider my position.” No one knows the motivations of a person, not even the person himself. They are beyond finding out. I know this not just because the bible tells me so (Jeremiah 17:9), but because I’m a critical observer of myself. A person is like the law: a lot of it is revealed in policies… that is, the words and deeds. I critiqued Grady hoping that he meant the best but missed it with his word choices. Never once do I malign him, but I do go after his words which might betray an underlying sexism that he isn’t aware of that infected his article. I wouldn’t want him to feel personally attacked, although I can’t help that if I believe my critique is fair. But I would want him to realize that the troops he put in the line of fire… his words… are under attack and as their commander he is responsible and should respond. Saying things that polarize people rather than ideas accomplishes nothing.

3. Does this highlight or hide the fact that he is my brother?

I try to work with what I believe is the correct assumption: that I and the person I am critiquing are one. I believe in the unity of all things and I endeavor to work towards the manifestation of that present reality at all times. Even in the middle of a heated debate, I try to always remember that I am fighting with my brother or sister and I want this to end well. At the end of the day I want us, no matter which way the argument may go, to be able to consider each other family still. Because we are! I believe Grady is my brother. I believe Warren is my brother. Joyce Meyer is my sister. I may disagree with what they say and do. And if I disagree enough because what they are saying or doing is harmful either to themselves or others, I’m going to say so because I care. My assumption is that we all want the same thing: the liberation of all people. Saying mean things about or to him is cheap and fruitless.

However, there are times when someone is doing something so harmful that I think they need to shut up or resign or they need to be fired or put away. I wished for years that Jack Schaap would shut up or resign or get fired or be put away because, as this disgusting video of him ranting against women reveals, he was harmful to the church and women and men. It turns out he was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison because of having sex with a minor… necessarily silenced by his own demise.

I also get frequently reprimanded for critiquing my “brothers and sisters in Christ” publicly and that the biblical way would be to first approach the person one on one. But that’s silly. When someone publishes something or publicly does something, then it is commonly understood it is fair game for critique. Mature players know this.

I extend my condolences to my brother Rick Warren during this tragic time. Vultures back off.

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  • kathy

    The last church I went to, and I went there about 15 years, was a Unity Church. When someone died, Reverend Linda would say Bless Their Soul Ongoing. I might not have left there on good terms, but I still say that when someone dies. Admittedly I have a hard time recognizing Ann Coulter as my sister or Ted Nugent as my brother. But if they died, I’d like to hope that some small part of my being would say in all sincerity, Ann Coulter bless your soul ongoing. Matthew Warren seemed to have been a bright, warm young man who was loved and needed and appreciated by people. I am sorry for the pain that led him to take his own life, I am sorry for the hopelessness that engulfed his spirit with some kind of death grip such that he couldn’t see his unique value in this world. I pray for all of us who struggle with depression and other faceless adversaries. Matthew Warresn, Bless Your Soul Ongoing.

  • There is much to criticize in R. Warren’s theology.

    But now is not the time.

    Let him grieve his son.

  • Carol

    This post reminds me of when a very wise pastor shared with me the advice his Mother gave him:

    Before you speak ask yourself three questions:
    1. Is it kind?
    2. Is it true?
    3. Is it necessary?

    If you cannot answer “yes” to all three questions, be silent.

  • Adam

    Yup – with you there David on not helping it if someone feels personally attacked and can’t help that if I feel what I am doing is fair. A Vineyard pastor once said to me “you can be direct with me” and in me doing so said “I feel you are attacking me” and responded as if I was. When I stayed slient, he said that it was awkward and I said that I don’t know how to speak without you feeling I am attacking you. This difficulty led to me leaving the church. On the last day at church, someone came to me with an encouraging and comforting letter saying she had a vision of an acorn for me, that she was sad I was leaving, that what I had done with her was made her feel welcom in the Vineyard, that she was sad I was leaving and wishing me the best with my journey. It juat so happens that the acorn wa the empblem of the squadron I joined when I was in the Air force with the motto “few are chosen”. If that was not God giving his approval and affrimation to me through her then I don’t know what would be.

    In the next church I went to, I needed a feeind to talk with over something. What I shared with was a difficulty I had with a female menber of my familty. It is important I mention she was female at this point in time because I was treated as if I, as a man, was the one with power in that situation with the presupposition that this was the case. I explained why it had not been the case and why it had been the female member of my family in the position of power that had been wounding for me. Because it was a leader in the church that had spkoen this way and it was clear that there was not any enabling for the healing I was in need of then I saw that as not being a place where I wanted to be.

    What I have learned through all of these expereinces is to be more guarded with my heart, following Chirst’s direction in this. And in having compassion for myself. I’ve learn that sometimes, we don’t get that form others, and we just have to be the onese who give that to ourselves, lonely as it is to be that way. What I’ve also learnt is having served in the Air Force, with my conduct being desribed as exemplary and service honourable, nevertheless, the same conduct that would be considered as such in war is not always appropriate in civilian environments.

    It seems to me that if we are willing ot be healthily self critical and challenge one another to be the best we can, done in dignity, humour in being willing to laugh at appropriate times at the silliness of things we do and the inappropriate things we do onece healed fomr such things. And to face the consequences of wrong doing and fight against evil and for justice for all, then we all will be in a better place.