First, a creepy bit of personal testimony from Joy Bennett in a post called “Shame Is a Prison, and I’m Breaking Out.” She tells of being summoned with her husband to a meeting in the pastor’s office at her local church:
He opened a manilla file folder and slid out a few sheets of paper. I spotted my name on the folder, Facebook-blue across the top of one page, and my blog header on another. My mind raced as I tried to process. The pastor has a file on me. My gut was right. They don’t like who I am.
… “Someone has brought your blogs and Facebook posts to my attention.” He pointed to the print-out of my Facebook wall and a couple of blog posts, peppered with underlines and notes.
“You shared a post on Facebook that supports egalitarian views of men and women, in direct opposition to our church’s teachings. You know that we believe men are to lead and women are to submit. We are asking you to stop sharing things that disagree with the teachings of our church.”
The whole story is disturbing, and I can’t begin to catalog all the ways in which this skeevy pastor’s behavior here is just wrong.
He’s upset about something on the Internet, so he had the church secretary print it out. The print out was then placed in a file folder, which was carefully labeled and tucked away in the proper drawer.
This is how he handles information, how he keeps control of it. And this has been how he handles people and keeps control of them.
That used to work pretty well for him.
But this little pastor has probably dimly begun to notice that it doesn’t seem to be working quite as well anymore. The information seems to be getting out of his control.
And thus so are the people. They seem to be escaping from his folders.
Rachel Held Evans notes this same story from Joy Bennett as an example of how “the world is hearing the voices of women in a way it hasn’t before”:
Women are able to connect with one another, share their stories, build platforms, and garner followings — with or without the permission of the power structures that would otherwise regulate their voices. No longer must a woman sit frightened and silent through a sermon that demeans her; now she can connect with women from around the world who understand and who are beginning to speak up.Dan often encourages me with this reminder: I may be forbidden from speaking at the church down the street because of my gender, but through the blog, I often speak to more people in a day than pass through that church in a year.
The problem with that church down the street is not, as Joy Bennett’s former pastor put it, that there are some people who “disagree with the teachings of our church.” The problem is that such churches have no answer — no convincing argument with which to respond to those disagreements. In the past, controlling information worked so well that these churches have gotten out of the habit of even trying to respond. They were so good at avoiding and suppressing questions that they’ve forgotten how to answer them.
Pastors like that little man with his little folders seem to still think that the Internet is nothing more than a few sheets of paper that can be filed away and controlled. They think drawers can be shut and information can be locked away.
That’s not how the Internet works.
Those churches whose teachings depend on keeping their followers from ever hearing any alternative views — keeping everyone safely inside the evangelical bubble — won’t be able to survive unless they adapt and change. Either their views must change, or they must find a way to defend those views in a world in which alternative perspectives are never more than a click away.
- The evangelical bubble cannot be sustained (part 1)
- The evangelical bubble cannot be sustained (part 2)
- Who’s afraid of Rachel Held Evans?