Scorn Profits the Blogger, but Costs the Kingdom

I recently posted a piece entitled, “If You’re Selling Scorn for Conservative Christians, the Market is Hot.”  The essential thesis was that some progressive Christians are so angry with conservative Christians (especially the “culture warriors”) that they are accepting uncritically, legitimating, and perpetuating caricatures about their fellow believers.  Genuinely concerned that the Religious Right is harming the witness of the church, progressive Christians who fulminate against the Religious Right are actually harming the witness of the church by reinforcing negative (and generally untrue) stereotypes about their fellow believers.  In a world that says, “Christians are hateful, bigoted and hypocritical,” their response is not to say “that’s a caricature” but to join in: “Yes, I despise them too — but there are other Christians (tacitly: like myself) who are more enlightened.”

One of the examples I cited was a recent viral post from Rachel Held Evans, called “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation.”  Lest I be accused of doing something similar — of throwing fellow believers whose politics views differ from mine under the bus — I tried to be charitable and civil, and tried to imagine that Rachel were sitting across the table from me.  (A pleasant prospect.  I like Rachel and I’m sure we’d have some nice conversations.)  As I said in the post, I think her anger simply got the better of her in this case.  This does not make her a bad person.  It merely makes her human.  She responded in the comments and on Facebook, and I asked if I could carry on the conversation here.  Here is what she wrote:

Hi Timothy, – wish I had more time this week to respond to your post in depth. You made some great points. One thing I would like to clarify, though, is that I’m really not trying “sell scorn” with my writing. I try to be thoughtful, fair, and persuasive, and I’m careful not to write in anger. I care deeply about the future of evangelicalism, and that’s why I am calling for change in this particular area. My purpose with that post was simply to make the point that legislative action against gays and lesbians is counter-productive, that young Christians are growing increasingly uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Obviously, people of goodwill can disagree, but I believe this is a position one can hold with passion, but not scorn. (Note: Also, you will notice that I’ve never referred to folks who are against gay marriage as “bigots” or “hate-filled” or anything like that. Many of the people I love most in my life are against gay marriage, and I know they are nothing like that…and so I would never make that generalization.)

This was followed up later with:

Also – and this is what’s bugging me at this late hour – you gotta know I’m getting mixed messages when you say I’m a person of “good heart and mind” who is simultaneously “selling scorn.”

A perfectly kind and fair response.  I could have been clearer that when I refer to “selling scorn” I’m not commenting on Rachel’s motives, as though she is merely out to profit from writing critical blog posts but does not really believe in them.  In fact, I’m quite certain she believes she’s doing the right thing, and quite certain she’s genuinely concerned for the church and its witness.  I try (not always successfully) to avoid speculating on motives.

What I’m saying is that there is a booming market for this sort of thing, and it ought to give progressive Christians (and indeed all Christians) pause.  Anger sells.  Derision sells.  Condemnation sells.  Secular liberals who say “Conservative Christians just despise gays” would love nothing more than to see liberal Christians joining in the caricature and condemnation of conservative Christians.  Secular conservatives who say “Those progressive Christians just want to be liked at the liberal cocktail parties” would love for conservative Christians to agree with them.  But we can’t, because we have an obligation to the truth and because we have a special obligation to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The internet incentivizes scorn.  Let me illustrate the point.

I said that I did not want to speculative on Rachel’s motives, so let’s abstract from her particular case.  Motives are complicated and multifaceted things, but, even though I find it theologically implausible, let’s assume that her motives are entirely pure.  Moreover, she may have felt no scorn as she wrote that post, but I hope it’s helpful for her to hear that it came across that way.  (Also, I chose her as an example because the blog post went viral.  To be fair, while I think she lets a drip or two of scorn for “culture warriors” or the “Religious Right” come through on occasion, there are other bloggers who serve it out by the barrel everyday.  More on that tomorrow.)

Leaving particular cases aside, then, let’s imagine Blogger B.  Blogger B writes a hundred posts over the course of a year and comes to see a pattern.  When he writes pieces that are angry and derisive, he gets massive traffic and a lot of kudos from his fellow travelers.  He can write pieces that are thoughtful and nuanced, that avoid inflammatory language, but he notices that if he just adds a little spice here and there, if he ladles on some more partisan sauce, then the traffic explodes.  His fellow travelers are more likely to promote his blog posts on social networks, the post is more likely to get linked on the big websites that drive a lot of traffic for people in his political camp, and so forth.  Blogger B begins to see this as not just playing into the angers and animosities of the world but as actually being “prophetic,” a reformer, the voice of a generation.  He interprets the flow of traffic as a kind of sign from God that he is doing the right thing.  God is bringing together a movement!  God is moving this generation at last to get it right.  God is giving him a platform.

Of course, Blogger B wants traffic (either for its own sake, because 99.99% of bloggers do want traffic, or because he is compensated for it, or because it expands his platform for speaking engagements and the sales of books, etc.) and so he wants to believe that writing the angry pieces (the ones that draw big traffic) is right and justified.  He joins the multitudes of young Christian writers today who are clamoring to “be prophetic” by condemning how the other side or the older folks lived their faith.  (Ironically, and aware of a bit of self-contradiction here, I consider this eagerness to be prophetic one of the great afflictions of the church today.)  Blogger B is not a worse person than others, but he — like everyone — is a complicated creature and he has mixed motives.

Never blog angry.

The internet incentivizes scorn by rewarding his righteously angry condemnations.  When you write on an already-massive platform like the NYTimes or WSJ or CNN.com, then the demands are different.  It’s awful hard, however, not impossible but very hard, to build an audience from scratch unless you play into the partisan currents of the internet.  I can certainly think of numerous cases where I have succumbed to the temptations personally — and perhaps a worthy followup to this post would be to explain those and use them as an illustration.  (The title to this post is not aimed at any one individual, but I could certainly aim it at myself.)

The general point is that there is a great deal of scorn flying back and forth between conservative and liberal Christians today, especially online, where scorn is rewarded.  This should be of great concern.  We may profit from writing scorn, but the kingdom pays the cost.  Scorn is corrosive.  It cuts us off from fellow believers who could teach us many things.  And it hardens the world’s caricatures of Christians.

My constructive recommendations for all of us would be:

  1. When a Christian on the Left sees conservative Christians being caricatured, he or she should (as a general rule of thumb) first of all seek to correct the caricature, and then explain why he or she differs from conservative Christians on that issue.  And the same goes for the Right.  We on the Right should defend progressive Christians when they are being misunderstood or unfairly maligned.  We can except truly exceptional cases where a small sect believes something genuinely evil, of course.  But as a general rule of thumb, we ought to defend one another against caricature, not affirm the caricature but say it only applies to those Christians.
  2. If you find that you cannot explain charitably why your fellow believers come to a different conclusion on this issue, then you should probably not write about the issue until you can.  Christian charity and intellectual integrity really require us, I believe, to understand fully before we criticize.
  3. Let’s be very, very careful in how we use the internet.  We may think we’re addressing only believers, but then our post goes viral and the world reads it.  Or we may write something in a moment of anger that soars across the blogosphere and slanders our fellow believers.  We should bear in mind that the world of online media incentivizes scorn, ridicule, exaggeration and caricature.  So we should never blog angry, and we should always examine our motives.

If we can model a better conversation amongst believers than the world can find elsewhere, that will count for something.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Ron

    The recommendation I give to myself, but admittedly, too often ignored by me is simple – Grace.

  • Larry

    Needed advice for everyone … well put.

  • http://mkholmes25.wordpress.com Mike H

    Great article, advice that we all need to hear and heed before we write.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    Very legit and convicting. Thanks for writing this. The only thing I wonder about is whether Jesus would be tactful and nuanced and charitable towards the Pharisees if He had a blog. Matthew 23 suggests otherwise. Jesus didn’t distribute His scorn equally between Pharisees and tax collectors. His harshest words were for the Pharisees particularly in situations where they tried to pit love of God against love of neighbor (such as Sabbath healings).

    I know that as an ex-Southern Baptist who grew up in the 80′s during the fundamentalist takeover, whenever I clamor against fundamentalism, I understand myself to be emulating how Jesus called out the Pharisees. One could even consider Jesus’ public denunciation of the Pharisees part of His evangelism strategy. How do we emulate Jesus’ prophetic stand without being scornful and unfair? Moreover, how do we avoid becoming the self-assured Pharisees that Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being?

  • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

    Good, sound advice, Timothy. Thanks for challenging all of us (on all points of the theological/political spectrum) to seek first the kingdom … and not assume that our position is the tacitly more “kingdom-y” position to hold. And that modeling civil discourse “will count for something,” hopefully something very much honoring to God and the kingdom where our partisan differences will not matter at all.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    Very well said. What makes Rachel different from, say, Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, or Michael Moore is that they don’t deny that they are selling scorn. They don’t pretend they are trying to get along with anyone. Rachel Held Evans, on the other hand, has, at least in the year or so I have been reading her, convinced a lot of readers that she’s against the use of divisive language, but many of her posts do show her scorn for those on the theological or political right. It’s often subtle, and sometimes not.
    It saddens me, to be honest, and I commented there a few times a few months ago, but the hate was palpable, so I stopped reading. I went back this week and read her “June Cleaver” post, and was pleasantly surprised at her treatment of those who disagree with her about that topic (egalitarianism) and I told her so in the comments. I hope this is the development of a new pattern, and her posts will begin to line up with her reputation.

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    I’m not interested in defending myself any further, but I feel compelled to say that you will NEVER hear me say that, because a post received a lot of traffic and shares, “God gave me a platform” or that whatever I say is somehow justified as “prophetic” because it is popular. Never. In fact, I hate it when writers tell me that “God told me to write this book” or “God wrote this blog post, not me” because it leaves no room for healthy disagreement or debate. (Also, it makes God look kinda petty and bored.)

    For all my faults, I am far more prayerful, self-critical, and realistic than that.

    Like any writer, I make mistakes. I fail to articulate myself clearly. I forget to give other people the benefit of the doubt that they deserve. And I have, on more than one occasion, apologized for that. But I think that if you look at my work – as a body – you will see that I am not a peddler of scorn, comparable to Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh – but rather a girl who loves Jesus and who just wants to make the Church are more hospitable community for women, gays and lesbians, the poor, and misfits like me.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Rachel, I tried to disentangle the conversation from you and your post before going into Blogger B, because I really cannot claim any insight into your motives, but maybe I needed to make that a separate post. I was trying to illustrate how good people can find themselves “selling scorn,” even if that’s not their intent. I wouldn’t liken you to Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh either.

      • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

        Fair enough. I’m sorry if I took your criticism too personally. You make some great points, and indeed motives are complex when it comes to blogging. There’s no doubt about it that critique-based posts typically bring in more comments and shares than positive ones (as I’m sure you’ve seen this week), and this poses a moral dilemma for all bloggers, particularly Christian ones.

        • Captain DG

          @Timothy, I put you with Walter Russell Mead at the top of the blogger class. Good work.
          @Rachael, your interactions with Timothy are so interesting. Sometimes, some subjects cannot be got at except after some misunderstanding. But they can be got at so there is hope.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            WRM is my favorite blogger, Captain, so that is high praise. I’m humbled by it. And that’s an interesting observation about misunderstanding.

    • Jerry

      What but not like Maher and Moore? Our biases show up more in the small things sometimes.

    • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

      Rachel, I hope it’s clear that I was not comparing you to Limbaugh or Coulter (or Maher and Moore), but contrasting you with them. My comment was intended to point out that while I have seen you as divisive in the past, I’m not seeing it lately. I hope it wasn’t taken any other way.

  • http://www.tabledallas.org/ Nathan Hill

    I’d like to push back against this a bit, because I think the underlying assumption is that our numerous little blog posts are shifting the rise and/or fall of the North American Christianity in any significant way. We are small beans in all likelihood. Jesus didn’t mind using occasional scorn either. Do people really get turned off of the Christian faith because of blog posts?

    Sure, it is nice to be balanced in all of our conversation and critique… and a little politeness never hurt anyone. That always helps. Are these blogs meant for conversation or as isolated sounding boards? Many who blog go back and forth on that. Do we really want to hear what people think about our ideas? Are we just trying to stay on with the news cycle and what is controversial so we can get those clicks and possible ad revenue? And does any of that really matter?

    Ultimately, I think it is a gift when people write courageously and truthfully about their experiences, even if doesn’t cast all parties in a favorable light. Our faith is a broad one. We are strong enough to take critique, big questions, and disagreements.

    Peace to you!

  • Larry

    Robust debate is sometimes essential in ferreting out truth and mapping strategies. Our opinions, because they spring from our beliefs and values, are extensions of our identity. We may feel personally attacked when our opinions are questions or ridiculed. We shouldn’t. We’re adults.

    It seems though, that we often, rather than grow “up”, simply grow larger. When we blunder, either by causing offense or easily taking offense … ought to remind ourselves that we’re big boys and girls now. Let the debate continue.

    I have no problem with that. What I find untenable is intellectual sloth or outright dishonesty. No real dialogue is possible then. Worse, when that sort of behavior is challenged, almost invariably now, the ad hominem attacks begin. Dishonesty and caricature. When that sort of artillery rolls out you either duck and run … or call a spade a spade.

    What is now referred to as “hyper-partisanship” is, I think, little more than a full throated defense of truth in the face unrelenting lies and a thuggish disregard for civility … all with the aim of acquiring power.

    I used to fall silent rather than disagree … until I realized that I, and many like me, were surrendering the field of battle to people whose aims are destructive (whether the realize that or not). That realization was transformative. I’m still trying to locate a balance … but I have no intention of surrendering to bullies any longer.

    • Kubrick’s Rube

      This is a great comment. You can post it on any blog- liberal or conservative- and get near-full agreement. Beams and motes, as they say.

  • Tanya

    Sorry, I can’t read your essay without coming away all muddled up and confused. You say “scorn sells,” then concede that people like Rachel are motivated by a desire to express genuine beliefs, but then you launch into the example of the hypothetical blogger concerned with “increasing traffic” to his blog.
    So your point might be: Rachel, meh, but others are just trying to increase their traffic, make money, or increase their popularity. You offer hardly any room for earnest conviction. But whatever, maybe what you are really concerned about is anger, derision, scorn — no matter the motive.
    And now that I’ve read both your articles, I think they are crying out for real, solid examples. Ones we could agree on. The billboard and Rachel — don’t qualify in my book. They don’t tell lies or use “caricatures,” they call out particular behaviors. Behaviors which are either real or not. But that’s another topic. The billboard has strong words, but they are not your words –”hateful, bigoted, hypocritical,” they are “narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions . . .” Not words I’d appreciate coming in my direction, but words that must be parsed.
    Without solid examples, I’m afraid we’re trafficing in caricatures in this very conversation! Are people really saying that progressive Christians just want to get invited to liberal cocktail parties? Are progressives really saying, “I despise . . . those conservatives!” And who is motivated by money or simple popularity in any of this?
    I say all this with whole-hearted agreement with your 3 reccommendations. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what is wrong with Rachel’s post or that billboard.

    • http://conservingtheculture.com Linda Whitlock

      Tanya, I wrote a longer post, but for some reason the spam filter kicked it out, so I’ll make this one brief. The problem with both the billboard message and Rachel’s post is that both make unfounded assumptions about the motives and actions of their fellow Christians who voted in favor of the NC law and in the process by implication — though probably not intent — make themselves appear more “Christian” by comparison. Neither make room for the possibility that those who voted for the law did so out of genuine concern for the possible moral and societal consequences of recognizing same-sex marriage and not simply to gain a conservative “political victory.”

  • Matt Stromberg

    I remember reading the blog in question when it first appeared. I don’t think it caricatured conservative Christians at all. In fact, I read the article as coming from a conservative Christian who was frustrated by her fellow conservatives. I thought it did a good job in showing that people can hold a variety of positions about the legitimacy of same-sex marriage while still acting in a loving way. As a Christian who is conservative on the issue but sympathetic to my gay friends, I felt she did a very good job of dispelling the caricature that all Christians who are conservative on the issue hate gays and are out to stomp on their rights. Is it wrong to ever criticize one’s fellow believers? That seems silly to me. I think that she was just expressing the fact that she felt strongly about the issue. That is perfectly alright as far as I see it.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Can you point to some citations for this: “I felt she did a very good job of dispelling the caricature that all Christians who are conservative on the issue hate gays and are out to stomp on their rights.” I’d love to see if you could produce a quote to that effect. Thanks.

  • http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com Elena Louise Richmond

    I’ve got a Facebook page called Civilities: https://www.facebook.com/Civilities (open to anyone who can find his/her way there, send a friends request if you need to) where I want to talk with people more conservative than I because I want to understand. I am truly concerned about the ugliness of the way we talk to each other and the destructive ways we are responding to the deep philosophical differences many of us have. A society that behaves this way cannot sustain itself. I would love to have some real conversations without any intention of trying to convert one another. If anyone is so inclined, please go have a look and pick up any of the subjects already there or start your own.

  • Jason

    I echo the affirmations of the intent of your reflections above. May we all grow in our efforts to “maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” I wonder, however, if you haven’t unfairly characterized the nature of Evan’s piece, which was not personal attack of people on “Side B” (my spiritual home), but rather a critique of the efforts by conservative Christians to codify their beliefs with the force of law. I’d prefer that Christians of all stripes not be involved in partisan politics because I think it does untold damage to the Body, but given that reality, our churches would be healthier–and less easily co-opted by political hacks of both major parties–if they were places where people of differing political viewpoints could practice what you preach in #2: genuine efforts to understand each other. The scorn–or feeling of betrayal–coming out of the Evangelical Left often stems from the frequent assertion in evangelical circles that there is really only one “Christian” way to be involved in politics: conservative (i.e. Republican).

  • http://www.rickmcopy.com Rick Middleton

    So we lefty evangelicals are going to take the high road and not say anything remotely edgy while the Christian Right continues to say genuinely vile things about the President, Democrats, immigrants, and anyone else they dislike? That’s like serving oatmeal to a crowd that has grown used to spicy food, I would think. Didn’t Christ himself use forceful language, sarcasm and extremely dramatic turns of phrase to make some important points? He described the hyper conservatives of his day as a “brood of vipers” and “open tombs”, which are not the words of someone trying to make nice.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yes, that was precisely the point I was making. (/sarcasm)

    • Christopher B

      Rick, I see exactly what you are talking about with your words. I’m with you in that it’s impossible to merely sit by and say nothing while the Christian Right constantly spouts out vile and hateful things about anyone who is not exactly like them. Your example of what Christ said in regards to the ultra conservatives of his day is dead on with respect to today. On my end, I am not one to sit back silently and listen to the Christian Right repeatedly say vile and ugly things about those of us here who are liberal, the President, Democrats, moderate Democrats and independents, immigrants, non-heterosexuals, those who are not of their particular faith, and anyone else they dislike…or more accurately, hate.

      I have argued for quite some time that the Christian Right merely uses the Bible to justify the things they do. At base, I suspect that much of the Christian Right is greedy, sexist, intolerant and racist, and with good reason. Every time someone from the religious right spouts off anything that fits into one of the above categories (and this happens quite often for those of you who pay attention), it reveals their true character. It shows the rest of us who disagree with them in almost every regard a few fundamental things, or at least I hope it does. What are those “fundamental things”? I’ll lay them out as I see it: 1. A dislike of representative or democratic government 2. A dislike or hate of science 3. A hatred of freedom of speech and religion 4. A love of the Second Amendment – this I will explain shortly 5. A hatred of almost all non-white individuals (you really see this all across the South and in a lot of other rural areas – believe me when I say I’ve seen and heard it myself over the course of 20 years) 6. A hatred of all civil rights 7. An inclination to regard women as nothing more than property to be used for breeding 8. A hatred of gays for simply doing something that those on the Christian Right personally dislike for no evident reason.

      Now, with respect to number 4, I’ll tell you why the Christian Right loves the Second Amendment: in many ways, the Christian Right is absolutely comfortable with the idea of using the Second Amendment to utilize guns against those who they hate, and more so using it in order to prop up a dictatorship…because to be honest, while they hunger for a Biblical theocracy like that seen in the Handmaid’s Tale, at the end of the day a small cadre of individuals will hold power and wield it ruthlessly, yet again using the Bible to justify this…the truth again is that it will be those individuals who make the same decisions as many Third World despots do.

      Again, seeing all of the words spoken by various figures by the Christian Right as well as it’s followers, as well as seeing the laws that the Christian Right’s puppets in various state governments and even within the federal government pass that outright violate the Constitution gives me reason to speak up. It gives me reason to throw back vile wording back at the Christian Right. I hit my point three years ago where I could no longer fathom trying to take the high road while the Christian Right threw out every bit of vile wording they could against not only people like me, but too many others. Ask yourselves this: are you really willing to stand by while the Christian Right ignites another civil war out of the hopes that they will end up forcing all of us to live according to their views?

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        Thank you for this fantastic example of the kind of attitude I’m talking about.

  • Suzi Brookz

    You say, ” We on the Right should defend progressive Christians when they are being misunderstood or unfairly maligned. ” but what are we do to when they are not misunderstood? Many of them are just as hateful or even more so then then the secular world that the “conservative Christians” do not agree with them, believe they are saved, or are speaking words of love in the name of God, but speaking from pride for worldly acceptance.
    You cite Rachel as saying, “My purpose with that post was simply to make the point that legislative action against gays and lesbians is counter-productive, that young Christians are growing increasingly uncomfortable with that sort of thing.” I am a young Christian and I am not with her. She speaks of love but not the righteous love God calls as to; she speaks of acceptance of sin as what God calls us to do. I have never seen her call homosexual actions sin, not once. I would love sometime to provide me with a link proving me wrong … Too many are still on the wide road but mistakenly believe they are on the narrow path …….

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    (Part 1 of 2)

    I should probably just turn this into a blog post…but it seems more appropriate to share with this audience:

    1. Controversy “sells.” Timothy has made the point that “scornful” blog posts tend to generate more traffic and shares. I think a more accurate assessment is that controversial blog posts tend to generate more traffic and shares. Sure, many of these posts can veer into “scornful” territory, and there is indeed a market for that. But I think most conservatives would agree that writing about controversial subjects is not an inherently evil thing to do—that at times, it might be important and necessary. We have to be careful of reading scorn into posts that simply don’t sit well with us because they critique a position we hold dear. For example, Timothy’s first post on this topic was controversial, relatively popular, and focused its attention on critiquing others. But does that make it “scornful?” I don’t think so. “Scorn” is in the tone, not the subject matter.

    2. We’re all biased. One commenter made the point that my disdain for conservatives was evident in the simple fact that I referred to Amendment 1 as “legislation against gays and lesbians,” which he believed to be “a tendentious and uncharitable characterization of the actions of people motivated by the love of God and the well-being of the community to secure a legal basis to the public order which reflects both the will of God and the proper end of mankind in human flourishing and sanctity.”

    Let’s turn the tables.

    Let’s say you wrote a passionate and persuasive blog posts about the need for Christians to continue to speak openly and defiantly about abortion, to work towards legislation that supports a “culture of life” and speak out against legislation that promotes a “culture of death.”

    (I’m pro-life myself, so I can relate to this.)

    Now, let’s say a pro-choice person comes along and says, “I don’t appreciate you how refer to abortion as ‘death’ because I don’t consider a fetus to be a human life. Your language is biased and scornful, so stop using it.

    What we have here is not more or less scorn on either side but rather a significant difference in viewpoint and conviction. Our terminology reflects these convictions. Your reference to death does not reflect scorn, but a deeply held conviction that life begins at conception and is worth protecting.

    I see Amendment 1 as legislative action design to prevent gays and lesbians from getting married.. You may see it as legislative action designed to “protect the institution of marriage.” But my using that terminology does not make my attitude inherently more “scornful” or “hateful” than yours, just more reflective of my conviction.

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    3. Criticizing the Church/other Christians is not inherently wrong. I write often about problems I see in the Church’s treatment of gays and lesbians, women, and doubters. For this, I am often accused of “sowing disunity.”

    An example: A few years ago, Pastor Mark Driscoll called on his followers to join him in publicly ridiculing “effeminate” worship leaders. I called this for what it is: bullying. While many agreed that this sort of thing needs to stop, (and I heard from a lot of “effeminate” guys as well as gays and lesbians who said it was the first time they’d heard a Christian speak out against this type of bullying), there were many (theological) conservatives who turned their criticism not on Mark, but on me. The accused me of “sowing disunity,” and…(seriously)… “unladylike behavior.” It blew my mind that they didn’t consider Mark’s call to make fun of worship leaders to be sowing disunity!

    Similarly, when I write about women in the Church, I am often accused of “focusing too much about peripheral theological issues” when Christians should be focused instead on what we have in common. Well, I don’t see this as a mere theological issue, but an incredibly practical one that affections millions of women around the world! It’s important to me to make a thoughtful, reasoned, and biblical case for women’s functional equality in the home, church, and society. Doing so does not equate scorn or divisiveness. And yet even when I write lengthy, reasoned, respectful, meticulously cited, and dry-as-bone posts on the subject, someone will inevitably accuse me of being “emotional” and “sowing disunity.”

    I think both of these examples reflect a trend in which those who diverge from the well-worn evangelical path and call for reform in these areas are labeled “divisive” so they can be more easily dismissed. I think it also reflects the sad fact that Christians are often more eager to defend their favorite leaders than those whom those leaders might be hurting.

    4. There is a cost. My husband and I always like to share a laugh when folks accuse me of writing about women/ gays and lesbians so I can “get rich” off of books sales. These folks have clearly never worked in the publishing industry!

    Furthermore, within evangelicalism, there is indeed a cost to holding positions that are less mainstream, particularly when it comes to homosexuality. Authors lose book deals. Bloggers lose advertisers. Pastors lose their jobs. I’ve been advised on more than one occasion to keep my mouth shut about certain things for the sake of my career.

    All of this comes back to the fact that we all like to think of ourselves as the oppressed minority, and so we all have the tendency to read “scorn” into posts or articles that critique our position. (I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.) But the reality is, when we speak with passion and conviction about controversial subjects, we risk two things 1) succumbing to a culture that rewards scorn by employing it ourselves, and 2) being accused of scorn simply because we have taken a controversial position.

    I contend that my Timothy’s response to my post reflects the latter.

    • http://conservingtheculture.com Linda Whitlock

      The point Rachel makes here applies equally to those who oppose same-sex marriage. They consider it to be not only a “theological [or political]” issue but an “incredibly practical [and moral] one” that will affect millions of people (not just gays & lesbians) in the United States. For example, it has already begun to affect religious freedom rights. Many Christians believe it’s important to “make a thoughtful, reasoned, and [in some cases] biblical case” for why same-sex marriage should not be legalized (and many have — see the work of Robert George, Matt Franck and others at The Public Discourse). Rachel should not be accused of being “emotional” and “sowing disunity” for passionately making a case for her point of view. Nor should conservative Christians be accused of trying to score political victories at the cost of turning people away from the faith or of being “narrow-minded” and “judgmental” (as the NC billboard suggests) for acting on their passionately-held beliefs.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      A couple quick notes. First, thanks for the continued conversation.

      Second, I agree that controversy sells. I wrote about this too, if you recall, about the temptations for the blogger to jump into a controversy in order to drive up traffic. So I’m on the same page with you here (although I would not depict it as an either/or). There are many things that “sell” in this sense. Controversy, scorn, and…compassion. I actually found that one of the blog posts I wrote that attracted the most traffic was popular because it was compassionate to the people who had followed Harold Camping. That was a nice thing to see…people online are starving for compassion, but they’re also attracted to anger and vilification. One reason controversy is popular, I would surmise, is because it tends to involve a fair amount of anger and vilification.

      Third, there’s certainly a place for critical engagement with the church and with Christians. I’m sure you know I’ll agree with you on that. But to take your example, if I were writing a piece critical of Christians who support abortion, or Christians who merely support Obama, it would be important not to impugn their character, and important for me not to join in the caricature that such people are heartless (in re: abortion) or foolish and unChristian (in re: Obama). I assume you agree? So there is a question of tone, to be sure, but there’s also a question of the way in which we depict our fellow believers. What’s interesting is, if you had merely included some lines saying, “Of course, it’s *not true* that all Christians who support Amendment 1 are antihomosexual, bigoted and narrow-minded, but that’s the impression it feeds into,” that would have gone a long way. And you gave no justification for why Christians would support Amendment 1 apart from an “ideological statement.” Then, well, I’ve wondered in retrospect how much of “tone” in this case is being read from the use of bolds, larger fonts and single-sentence paragraphs. It sounds silly, but I’ve been wondering whether that was a large part of what conveyed a strident tone to me and others, one that was more eager to criticize than understand.

      Anyway, I don’t want to go on about this too long, because I think the majority of what you write is praiseworthy and this was, in the annals of scorn (in my book), a relatively minor offender. I chose it because it was well known. But if this exchange helps some bloggers pause a little longer and make sure they’re writing in a manner that’s charitable about their fellow believers, then I think it will have been for the better.

      God bless.

  • Basil

    Rachel’s response was pretty thorough. I would note a point that she hinted at in the comment above. At what point does the vitriolic language that many Christians use to attack the gay community get called out? This applies to national figures (like Pat Robertson, or Tony Perkins), as well local pastors — some of whom call for violence against gays (concentration camps, or slapping your gay kids around, imprisoning gays like we used to do). How is that, more Conservative responsible writers like yourself, are silent as deaf-mutes about this? It is the case that such language goes without reproach — because it is a “sincerely held religious belief” — but that those who criticize are “scornful” or “divisive”?

    Rachel is right — everyone wants to be a victim, because a martyr is above reproach. However there are real victims, for which we can discern by empirical means — those who are discriminated against, subject to violence, and who have no legal protection against such discrimination. Last I checked, our civil rights laws covered discrimination on religion (among other things), but still do not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

    • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

      “At what point does the vitriolic language that many Christians use to attack the gay community get called out?”
      errr….it does get called out. All the time.
      When Robertson (or was it Falwell; I forget) said that Katrina destroyed part of new Orleans because of homosexuality, every conservative Christian I knew rolled their eyes, and many who had any kind of public voice, made it clear that Robertson didn’t speak for them. Your assertion that they aren’t being called out is mystifying to me.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I call them out quite regularly. And I don’t see socially conservative evangelicals as minorities or victims. It’s a larger group than socially liberal evangelicals. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all right to caricature and condemn with gaining an adequate understanding.

      • Basil

        I have yet to see you devote the column inches to excoriating anti-gay conservatives like Tony Perkins (a years long track record — the latest one was an assertion that Pride week was equivalent to celebrating drunkenness or adultery), or Pat Robertson (compared being gay to pedophilia and bestiality), or Bryan Fischer, or any of the other myriad national figures. Nor have I seen any reference to anti-gay incitement by local pastors, like Sean Harris (beat they gay out of your kids) or Rev Worley (gays in concentration camps, a la what Hitler did to us), or …. the list is depressingly long. You seem much more exercised over Rachel Held Evans, for breaking Christian solidarity by daring to be critical. When this sort of hateful rhetoric is so pervasive, calling it out cannot be considered be a caricature. It’s called truth telling. Sorry it hurts so much. Deal with it.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          I’ve written critically of Pat Robertson before, and Richard Land, and Jerry Falwell. I tend to engage more with public figures than with random, unknown pastors.

          • Basil

            I think the “random unknown pastors” are pretty representative of the hostility a lot gay people encounter in the pews, which then spills out into society and encourages a lot bigotry, and bullying. I don’t really care much, as an adult, but this is an issue for teens in particular, who get dragged into a hostile environment, often against their will, by their parents. You cannot, with a straight face, say this has nothing to do with the unacceptably high rates of harassment that LGBT teens report, the frequents incidents of parental rejection of LGBT teens (and their disproportionately high rate of homelessness) or the epidemic bullying-induced suicides.

          • Basil

            I did not find your writings on Robertson or Falwell or Land, but did find a very interesting piece you wrote about Mohler. I take you at your word. I would write a more articulate post (and pull back a bit on some of my arguments), but I’ve had my turn, and — the spam filter really seems to hate me. I can’t seem to get anything more than a paragraph on here. Maybe it is a sign from God to be more concise.

    • Larry

      You cite anomalies as representative of the whole. Its difficult to believe that you have your head buried so deeply in the sand to really believe that though. That would not be unlike citing Charles Manson as representative of those who came of age during the 60′s. Pretty dishonest stuff there …

      Furthermore, if you wished to genuinely understand conservative Christians you would have been aware of the denunciations which fall like an avalanche on the heels of those remarks. That does not appear to be your aim though.

      Listing sexual orientation as a civil rights issue though seems a real stretch … if you’re a guy and you prefer other guys as sexual partners, well, that’s your business. I know of no effort underway to criminalize that behavior. If, however, you wish to redefine marriage and the family … well, that becomes an entirely different issue … one which rightly engages all those who have an interest in the outcomes such a choice might have.

      Black Americans were denied the right to vote, endured discrimination in education, employment, access and housing. Equating homosexual marriage with that long struggle is a study in propagandizement.

  • http://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~regan/ Kenneth W. Regan

    For a little research, watch the video clip at http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/15/politics/obama-interrupted/index.html, especially the attitude of the questioner (Munro) including an eye-roll when his question is finally answered respectfully and in detail. This isn’t squarely on your subject, but it’s a high-profile case of incivility and hence supplies a lens through which this gets viewed.

  • http://www.hgscott.com Halee Gray Scott

    Timothy, thank you for your thoughtful and measured discussion of this issue. I think your constructive recommendations are spot-on. The way Christians dialogue with (and about) one another, especially in the public square, is extremely important. Christians have a hard enough time establishing a good reputation and rapport with the broader culture without the arrows coming from within our own ranks. Recently, I wrote a post over on the CT Women’s blog in which I tried to address this very issue.

    The purpose of the post was to encourage meaningful and charitable discourse between Christians on hot button issues, particularly in regards to homosexuality and gay marriage. Lately, the dialogue between conservative Christians and progressive Christians has been growing particularly contentious—maybe because it’s an election year. Whatever the reason, conservative and progressive Christians need to figure out a way to treat one another with kindness despite their disagreements. The post stirred up a maelstrom of vitriolic comments, mainly (I think) from either homosexual Christian progressives or non-Christians in the LGBT community. Either way, the overwhelming response is a very clear indicator that we still have a long way to go in this regard.

    I think the key solution for this is to expect the best of one another. I’ve often said that stereotypes are helpful in that they help us process large amounts of data in a short amount of time. For example, It’s twilight and you’re walking along a sidewalk and you start to see graffiti on the sides of buildings, litter in the streets, bars on the windows, a deflated basketball in the middle of the street, and abandoned playground. All of a sudden, you realize, “I’m not in a great neighborhood.” Quickly, you retrace your steps or find a way out as fast as you can. That’s a stereotype in classical form: it gives you information on a present situation based on previous experience. The trouble with stereotypes is when they become misinformed. All of us are guilty of holding misinformed stereotypes of other people, and we can really go a long way if we each admit that and decide to expect the best of one another.

    Rachel is absolutely right in that we do have to find ways to make the church more hospitable towards those in the LGBT community. What “hospitable” might mean at this point, I don’t yet know. But I do know that Christians will have to find a place for mutual respect between themselves and those in the LGBT community. Christians have to find a way to enter into compassionate dialogue with the LGBT community in a way that honors their identity as bearers of the imago dei but does not compromise our responsibility as Christians to vote in ways we think are consistent with Christian beliefs.

    Ultimately, this issue is about people, not principles. Principles do matter, of course, but it’s far too easy to forget that many in the LGBT community are people in great pain and have suffered from a lifetime of searching for validation and legitimacy. How can we point them (and one another) to a conversational relationship with God?

    Thanks again, Timothy, for your call for charitable discourse among Christians.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Agreed on making the church more hospitable, and I see many folks left-to-right who agree on that point. I don’t really know any serious thinker who disagrees, actually.

      After I wrote the original post on scorn, I read a piece Fred Clark (“slacktivist”) wrote that was critical of your post at Her.meneutics. It was nice to see someone, independently, basically saying the same thing. I actually want to respond to Fred’s criticism. I thought it was absurd.

      Thanks for the contact.

    • http://www.womenfaithculture.org Sarah Flashing

      Halee, what Rachel means by being hospitable to the LGBT community is not what evangelicals like myself believe. I’m not sure of your position, but the door to any church I would be a part of would welcome LGBT’s but would not embrace the lifestyle any more than any other sin category. What Rachel is calling for is a wholesale embrace of homosexuality. It’s really important we get beyond generalities and define matters.

  • David T

    “I consider this eagerness to be prophetic one of the great afflictions of the church today.”

    Great quote. That’s worth a whole post by itself. Thumbs up

  • mcurt2s

    Busy mom-of-4 shares something from last night’s Daily Light:
    Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:5-6)

    Also: Blessed is he who . . . does not sit in the seat of the scoffer, but delights in the law of the Lord, and on it meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water . . . (from Psalm 1)

    And in the New Testament, the prophetic serves to comfort, strengthen, and encourage the community of believers (1 Corinthians 14:3), not to slash each other. I suppose encouragement or exhortation can include a strong word, but always given in love. It definitely does not mean scoffing at others behind their back. We all stumble in many ways! But God gives more grace.

  • Dee Parsons

    Your post gave much food for thought.
    How does one deal charitably with churches who do not report pedophiles who then go on to molest other children?
    As for “Let’s be very, very careful in how we use the internet. We may think we’re addressing only believers, but then our post goes viral and the world reads it.” In my own experience on the internet, I think Christians are a bit deceived when they think that they can hide the conflicts from the world. The world is already observing our hypocrisy and conflicts and is wondering why it is not addressed.
    Today’s churches and its leaders jump up and down to be noticed, using social media . Case in point-Mark Driscoll’s “visions.” When the church asks to be noticed, the church may not be able to control what people are noticing.
    I believe we need to open the windows of the church to fresh air, freely admitting our problems and sins and pointing all the while to why we, as much as everyone else, need Jesus.


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