Resolved: Quitting the Progressive Christian Internet in 2014

I have a New Year’s Resolution to share.

It isn’t quit smoking (never started). And it isn’t lose weight (well, it probably should be). It isn’t even one of those vague ones like be happier or be healthier or take more time for me (the latter, of course, being impossible when one works for a living and has two tiny humans to keep alive and happy). No, this Resolution is somewhat non-traditional. But it is, by my reasoning, vitally necessary:

I’m quitting the Progressive Christian Internet in 2014.

No, I’m not quitting blogging or Twitter or de-friending a couple hundred people on Facebook (though I’ll likely do a bit of trimming for the new year). Nor am I giving up on certain topics that might be deemed by some to be “progressive” and “Christian.” Rather, I’m quitting a conversation that has come to define the “Progressive Christian” label online,  a conversation that I have been a part of here and there and on and off over the last year or so. I’m putting the kibosh on what seems to me to be a rapidly devolving, fragmenting, and, yes, schisming ideological experiment manifesting uniquely on blogs and social media. And I’m saying sayonara to the talking (tweeting) heads and childish cliques that often dominate this discussion, a discussion which has at times become a parody of itself playing out in plain view of the watching world.

This is not a call-out post, so I won’t be naming names or linking links. That’s not the point. The point is that the Progressive Christian conversation has lost its way, primarily because of the third word in the label: the Internet. The Internet has fostered a disconnect between the Progressive Christian Internetter and rooted, relational church realities, such that the ideology expressed online has become an end in itself rather than a means tethered to the end of ecclesia. The conversation is increasingly non-incarnational. Whereas evangelical church-planting culture is often plagued by shallow pragmatism, the Progressive Christian Internet goes to the other extreme, philosophizing its way out of any substantial, practical ecclesial application.

And in the attempt to be ideologically Progressive, it often fails to be substantially Christian.

3792208976386_Nha8cFfU_lTake, for instance, the popular blogger who recently called for wholesale schism between egalitarian Christians and complementarian Christians. Without any disclaimers for serious relational realities that should be taken into account, or any expression of hope that unity might manifest across ideological lines in the church, this person demanded that other egalitarians join in a widespread campaign of disfellowshipping. Healthy, and strong, critique is one thing. But this is the kind of ideological show that could potentially damage real people and communities for the sake of Internet influence.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Progressive Christian Internet is seems to constantly create its own mini-schisms, where the other is not subversive/anarchist/feminist/womanist/intersectional/ *breath* affirming/allied/inclusive/academic/philosophical/whatever enough. And these judgments of inadequacy are typically made solely on the basis of 140 character “conversations” which often begin with the other’s accidental or mistaken use of certain words or phrases, and then spiral into raging fits and subtweet rants and block wars from there.

And it is all so pathologically self-justifying. In the name of “feeling all the feels” and “being angry at my oppressors”, the Progressive Christian Internet justifies unhealthy affect, arrogance, and aggression as normative, totally fine, and DON’T SILENCE ME. Being an online asshole is now not an accidental slip – it’s a virtue. And ever tighter ideological circles are drawn until rigid cliques are formed, and everyone outside (like, the rest of the Internet) are The Patriarchy or The Racists or The Oppressors. Often, strange Survivor-esque alliances are made to fight common online enemies, with bedfellows collaborating on badgering and intimidating their foes despite glaring contradictions in their own respective positions. Love for God and neighbor are nowhere to be found, overwhelmed by pharisaical posturing.

Now, let me be clear: I have seen and participated in legitimate examples of good people standing up for what’s right online. I’ve seen feminists stand up to real misogyny. I’ve seen satire done well to expose arrogance, hypocrisy, and abuse of power. I’ve seen strong prophetic statements made against actual injustice, using the Internet as a means to a restorative end. But in these cases the common thread is a rootedness in real life and real church. A sense that wars of words are not the be all/end all, and a deeper conversation can always potentially lead to peaceful resolution, if not reconciliation.

But when normal people with very little power are vilified for offering an opinion that is out of step with a particular Progressive ideological stance, or someone apologizing  for speaking wrongfully is ostracized for committing the unpardonable sin, or those who have offered honest critique are intimidated and threatened through private messages or hostile phone calls, or Internet platforms and followings become political playgrounds for creating in and out groups according to ideological agendas – THEN, my friends, this thing has gone off the Christian rails and has become the very thing it claims to oppose.

I confess that I have gotten caught up in a couple of these ideological spats over the last year. And I, for one, am resolving to quit. Make no mistake, if the occasion calls for it, I will do my best to prophetically engage and stand up for what’s right. But I refuse to participate in this non-incarnational Internet politicking.

In 2014, it’s time for the Christian Internet to recover a love for the church – to produce rooted, relational content that actually fosters restoration in God’s world. It’s time to put the embarrassing parody to rest. It’s time to live whole lives in the kingdom and see the Internet as a means to expressing and experiencing good news.

Even if that good news manifests in a subversive, satirical Facebook status.

How about you – will you join me in quitting the Progressive Christian Internet in 2014?

[Image + Image]

About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • http://www.churchthought.com/ Matt Steen

    You have just put words to something that has been gnawing at me for quite some time. Thank you for having the guts to put this out there.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ tristaanogre

    I’m in, Zach. Personally, I get so tired of the hyper emotionalism of what passes for Christian dialog on the ‘net. We can critique and give prophetic words to the injustices, but if it comes across as just another angry internet rant, it’s not progressive nor prophetic nor Christian…it’s just another sensationalist blogger looking to get hits. I find it disturbing that, on my own blog, articles about how to live out a real, relational, incarnational gospel get a pathetic stat but if I say something that gets people riled up, wow, the traffic I get….and i find myself pandering to that, to get the traffic and followers.
    No more.

  • ryanlrobinson

    Amen! I don’t know whether it was just that I have gotten more involved this year or whether it has really escalated, but it really has gotten out of hand. We were recently talking to my wife’s cousin who is pretty much as extreme of a “progressive” as you can get: housed soldiers who deserted the American army and came to Canada, takes part in all the protests, lesbian or maybe bi in a confusing group of 4 people who I can never remember who sleeps with who, etc. Anyway, she summed it up well when we were talking about the craziness of the Rob Ford situation in Toronto (crack-smoking, lying, drunk, aggressive mayor) when she pretty much yelled “what gives us the right to judge him?” In that political sphere, much like in online Christian discussions, we “progressives” have become exactly what we claim to be critiquing.

  • MartyrsProject

    Yes, love for the Church, first and foremost.  We know the faults, the problems, the oft-stunted vision, but a continual fragmentation according to our own social/political agenda only brings greater disunity.

  • KurtWillems

    This post has named why I rarely get involved in web controversy as I late… well, besides simply not having the time that I used to for writing blogs and engaging. Good resolution Zach.

  • arthurandevasido

    Very well said. As someone on the opposite end of the spectrum, one of those awful complementarians, I can confirm that many of the same problems are at least as bad on “our side” of the room. We ought to have conversations, even uncomfortable ones, about the issues that matter but we also must do so in recognition that Left or Right or whatever these discussions are intramural, taking place by members of the same team and more importantly the same family.

  • StephenBoutry

    Phenomenal post. Put words to feelings I’ve been harboring for a while. Thank you!

  • BrianMacArevey

    Yup.

  • Melanie Mock

    Amen to all of this. Thank you for articulating so well my own discontent with Christian progressive “conversation” on the internet. I’ve often second-guessed my discontent, probably because the clique-ness  of Christian progressive on the net makes me feel like I’m in junior high again, and on the outside (because I’m over 40? Not on Twitter enough? Not pretty or smart enough?), and therefore disgruntled because I’m not part of the in crowd. Your post affirms that my own observations are more than (but possible include) popularity angst.

    I especially love this: “The Internet has fostered a disconnect between the Progressive Christian Internetter and rooted, relational church realities, such that the ideology expressed online has become an end in itself rather than ameans tethered to the end of ecclesia.” Wondering what a healthier, more inclusive, more thoughtful conversation would look like? Is it possible to create holistic community online–or should we be looking elsewhere? What should those quitting the Progressive Christian internet turn to instead?

  • jonhuckins

    Well said. A few years back I felt this disconnect as well (and as a whole, it has worsened!) and committed at that point to produce only “lived content” in my speaking/writing. “Theoretical content” is easy. Lived content is discipleship. Blessings on the year ahead.

  • Erik Parker

    Thanks for this post. As an outsider/newcomer/lurker/random Canadian/ mainliner to the whole progressive community, I find your thoughts very insightful. I think it is important, in general, to keep the flesh and blood people behind the avatars in mind when using social media. I know it is important to me to imagine those whom I interact with as my parishioners, and that what I say to those that I am tasked with shepherding and caring for, is not different than what I say to a twitter user name. Thanks again.

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | smitten word

    zach, you are consistently one of my favorite voices, but this post rubs me wrong. yes, there is ugliness, online and off. yes, there is much room for repentance and resurrection among us. but what is prophetic and incarnational and what is self-justifying and pathological? i can reflect on and speak to my own engagement and motivation, but with how much certainty can i diagnose someone else’s work and witness? 

    so much seems to boil down to personal preference and relationship. my friends and i are on the right track, but *they’re* doing it all wrong. what if there were more than one way to be faithful?

  • StuffCCLikes

    I’m in.

  • http://www.churchthought.com/ Matt Steen

    suzannah | smitten word  I think you answered your own question… If it becomes us vs them, you are doing it wrong. The church is we, it is always we. When we start seeing our brothers and sisters as “the other”, we begin down a dangerous path.

  • dckludt

    Hey man, I understand and appreciate the sentiment. And I think it’s wise not to name names and call people out specifically (but then you kind of did :) – I think the post would have been stronger without the veiled callout).

    I wonder, though, if some more specifics might be helpful in communicating your heart and intent here. I’m guessing that your “quit list” and my “quit list” would look pretty different in terms of specific names/communities/blogs – but wondering if we might agree on some specific practices of blogging/online interaction that are unhelpful. 
    A few types of practices I’d like to quit along this vein:
    (1) Posts/blogs that are in response to other posts/blogs. I find myself to be a healthier internet user (and, following, a healthier person) when I’m excited by creative content rather than enmeshed in critique and infighting. I brought home too much baggage and emotion from the internet in 2013, and it’s mostly happens when I spend too much time reading responses to responses to responses to responses.
    (2) Reading strings of comments, and then refreshing to read more. I am drawn toward the comment section of blogs. But I’m sick of getting a buzz from reaction and controversy. I’d much rather get a buzz from original creation, new ideas and experiments, real inspiration.
    (3) Any topic or person that’s blogged about using the Watergate modifier (i.e. “Driscoll-gate,” “Nines-gate,” “ZHoag-gate” ;) etc). Most internet controversies don’t actually matter in any direct way to the real people in my life; I don’t think engaging them or dwelling on them they make me a better pastor, thinker, leader, or person. So I don’t want to spend my time reading about them anymore.
    (4) I really like what jonhuckins added below. I wanted lived content. Real stories. Real practices. Real people.

    /d

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | smitten word

    Matt Steen but isn’t that partly what this post is doing? vaguely indicting certain players for doing it wrong? i suspect a lot of these dust-ups are the result of us perceiving situations in myriad ways, and it’s rarely as simple as determining one prophetic way (mine!) versus all the other wrong ways of engaging or envisioning.

  • karina k

    Thanks for this Zach. As a blogger from down under I have often wondered about this myself and if we were all going down this track. Here’s to a more grounded 2014 and for God’s church to be love in action in a shattered world. That’s what really matters through our writing.

  • http://www.churchthought.com/ Matt Steen

    suzannah | smitten word I honestly didn’t read it that way, but that could be because he is saying things that I have been feeling for a few months now. Only Zach can speak to his intentions, but I don’t see this as writing off a major stream of Christendom because they are “wrong,” it feels more like a lament for where things have gone in hopes that it will self correct.

    But as I said, I could be reading my own feelings into this.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    StephenBoutry you’re welcome, glad to hear it.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    KurtWillems thanks kurt.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    tristaanogre good word.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Matt Steen your welcome matt, appreciate it. :)

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Melanie Mock thanks melanie. i am increasingly convinced that a healthy community online grows out of one’s work in actual IRL ministry contexts. or just real life in general. that way it doesn’t become a sort of bizarro world with ideology and no incarnation.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    jonhuckins thanks john.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Erik Parker you’re welcome erik. appreciate it.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    karina k thanks karina, agreed.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    dckludt jonhuckins hey dave, really appreciate your insights. honestly, you’re right, i did everything but name that person’s name. however, to those who aren’t aware of that controversy, at least they won’t be linking and digging up the story and rehashing it here. avoiding rehashing was my main goal.

    i like your points and pretty much cosign (except perhaps for number 1) –  though my resolution is probably more general by nature, best put as a desire to discern where this unhealthy conversation is happening and move on. The progressive genre itself is simply frustrating, imo, and I see much better things happening among those who are more ecclesially rooted in their writing and dialogue online. Thanks again!

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    suzannah | smitten word Hey my friend, thanks for engaging on this, and you KNOW how much I appreciate you and your voice (and your friendship). To be clear (in case it isn’t), none of this is directed at you, though I know you have engaged in a few of the controversies that have influenced my perspective here. You have also been very supportive toward me in others that have influenced my perspective.

    A couple things: 
    1) This post is not about schism. The people of the Progressive Christian Internet are my brothers and sisters, no question. I would fellowship with them in a heartbeat. I will have healthy conversations with any of them about these opinions and work for peaceful resolution. By quitting the online conversation I am NOT disfellowshipping any people, nor am I expressing any aggression, intimidation, or harm toward them. It is precisely the schismatic nature of the PCI that I resolve to remove myself from BECAUSE it is an empty ideological game that damages civility and unity. Further, I have actually been disfellowshipped in private by a couple of the writers in question, which, again, is exactly the dysfunctional game that I am seeking to oppose here.

    2) Obviously this is my own opinion and experience, and obviously I am not claiming access to absolute truth on the matter. But who is, right? Thus, I am well within my rights to say that what I observe appears very pathological and self-justifying, just as you are within your rights to say that you observe misogyny and unchecked privilege in some other context, etc. The logic of “how can you claim do diagnose someone else’s work and witness” doesn’t square well with any attempt at discerning unhealthy behavior and removing oneself from it. I know that you would not take that right to discern away from anyone. Likewise, I wouldn’t take away your right to disagree with me here!

    Again, I appreciate you. That’s pretty much all :).

  • Ryan Hill

    I’m really uncomfortable with the way you turn around the concept of ‘otherness’ and use it to describe the individuals doing the Othering, rather than the victims of that othering and marginalization.
    Conservative, homophobic, complementarian/anti-feminist Christians are not marginalized. To imply that they are is, frankly, insane.

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | smitten word

    zachhoag i’m all for discerning healthy behavior, absolutely. i just think we have a tendency to universalize our personal boundaries or preferences. what’s healthy for me is not necessarily the one right way for everyone else, you know?

    bring on discernment! i’m just wary of ascribing pathology to hypothetical or caricatured arguments. sometimes we disagree and personalities clash without anyone necessarily operating out of malice or sin. i believe wholeheartedly in being accountable for our words and actions–and for christians to operate from a place of being rooted in Christ and community–but i wonder if part of the challenge is to recognize that pathology and sinfulness in my own heart and camp as well as a prophetic voice in those with whom i disagree. we need each other, and we all have much to learn.

    (grateful for you, too. always.)

  • http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/ kristen howerton

    I’ve been feeling this tension for awhile and appreciate how you’ve articulated it. One thing I’ve noticed is that much of this “us vs. them” polarity occurs within the PCI group. With all this infighting it seems easy to lose focus of actual injustices (and actual oppression and abuse, which extends far beyond twitter wars.)  I hate that I’m about to use an analogy from young adult literature, but I saw Catching Fire last night and there is a scene where Katniss raises her arrow to another tribute and he says, “Don’t forget who the real enemy is.” It feels like too many in the PCI have made each other the enemy. It’s exhausting and it also undermines the real issues at hand, when we’ve grown fatigued of talking about race/gender/what-have-you because of mile-long word police spats that have little relevance to actual oppressed people.

  • brambonius

    I was planning on limiting my American input, it seems that ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ can be as toxic and unchristlike as the conservative side which I have been limiting for years now.  Sometimes and I’m quite tired of all those semantic witch-hunting sessions and Shibbolet-fights, and I feel like the things I read are floating farther and farther astray, and I don’t find Christ in it any more.
    I want to learn to love God and all of my felllow humans, and see an end to injustices in this world, but all I see is a lot of othering, vilifying, and a very rigid new orthodoxy that’s forming with not much actual love in it. But maybe that’s just an outside view and interpretation that doesn’t do right to the good things in actual lives of those people who are just a bit too extreme in their internet rhetoric. (At least I hope something like that is going on)

  • NishWeiseth

    I quit a long time ago. Welcome! Pull up a chair, I’m so glad you’re joining us. It’s rather peaceful here, I think you’ll like it. :)

  • KristenHowerton

    No where in this post was it suggested that these people are being marginalized. He’s talking about his frustration with the way people engage and word-police and parse what others have said. Which you might be exemplifying here.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    KristenHowerton yes.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    kristen howerton EXACTLY.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    NishWeiseth it already feels GREAT.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    brambonius yeah, thanks man.

  • rcmichels1

    Seeing how I’ve never even heard of this before, I won’t have a problem quitting it. :)  A great post of which most I didn’t understand.  But what I did was spot on!

  • nathanrhale

    This was an important reminder for me as writer and participant in many of these discussion. Thanks for the kick in the pants and the encouragement to keep Christian love our identifying mark.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    nathanrhale for sure, thanks nathan.

  • TheJimmyForde

    I think I want to fight about this in a really condescending and arrogant way… then write my own post about how you have totally missed the point, and demand an apology without linking you or contacting you directly (or saying what you need to apologize for). Then I will get as many people as I can to twitter/blog shame you into putting out said apology, to which I will write a scathing critique of your apology. 
    I will then strut around feeling this awesome http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3RqV2I71V8

    (screw that, instead i will spend the rest of the day watching Hercules cartoons on the internet! peace!)

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    TheJimmyForde you are such an Oppressor.

  • TheJimmyForde

    You are just judging me because my beard is lacking… It’s reverse beard discrimination… “quick to the twitter machine!”

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | smitten word

    kristen howerton i wonder how much of that is a matter of perception. i don’t believe in one-dimensional heroes or monsters and think the enemy–oppression, injustice, selfishness, sin–is in all of us. i recognize that people feel these sorts of battle lines, sometimes quite viscerally, but i’m not convinced that feeling makes it true across the board. i imagine most of our work–critics included– is motivated by a desire to make things better, and we all have unique understandings of which “real issues” are at stake. inevitable disagreement on goals and best practices is not inherently a marker of us-vs-them polarity, but i think assuming that others operate from that black and white place adds fuel to these fires.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Ryan Hill  also, Ryan, if you look at the paragraph where I used “the other” you’ll see that it’s in the context of progressives turning on themselves. Thus, “the other is not subversive/anarchist/feminist/womanist/affirming/allied/inclusive/academic/philosophical/whatever enough.”

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    suzannah | smitten word kristen howerton Suzannah, is everything a matter of perception though? Ultimately, I mean? One of the biggest discoveries I’ve made in my own journey is that the flattening doctrine of total depravity (we’re all depraved, even our good works are tainted, we’re all getting better than we deserve) is based on a false dichotomy between total good and total evil. Obviously, we are all working through our own lenses, but we still have to make decisions (individually and collectively) about what is healthy and unhealthy, helpful and harmful, good…and bad. Epistemic humility is fine – epistemic paralysis and agnosticism is not.

  • JeremyBrookins

    Ryan Hill  I was unaware that “otherness” always implied a position of marginalization by someone in power. “Other” is anyone different from you and “othering” can be done by anyone whether they are above or below by simply rejecting them based upon some perceived difference.  

    You better bet “Conservative, homophobic, complementarian/anti-feminist Christians” can be marginalized and “othered.”  You’re doing it right now.

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | smitten word

    zachhoag no, i don’t believe that perception is everything in the least, but the trouble with talking in such generalities is that it flattens the nuance right out of actual interactions. right or wrong. prophetic or pathological. i don’t think any of these online disagreements is nearly as black and white as vague indictments paint them to be.

    which is where your emphasis on discernment and being rooted in community comes in. this stuff matters, and i care a great deal, too. i just believe that all our interactions and disagreements are considerably more complicated, and i don’t necessarily recognize the way you’ve characterized them here.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    suzannah | smitten word zachhoag  “i don’t think any of these online disagreements is nearly as black and white as vague indictments paint them to be.” 

    again, it’s not about them being black and white or something else. it is about me coming to a reasonable conclusions based on my experience. you might disagree (about the nature of the disagreements) and that’s fine.

  • Pingback: what I’m into, December. | stuff antonia says.

  • GLH0420

    As I read what you wrote, Zach, and read some of the responses, it seems to me that the definitive word in the description “Progressive Christian Internet” is “Internet.” Most of the responses seem to place the emphasis on the “Progressive Christian” part of the description.  You call out that “it’s time for the Christian Internet to recover a love for the church – to produce rooted, relational content that actually fosters restoration in God’s world. It’s time to put the embarrassing parody to rest. It’s time to live whole lives in the kingdom and see the Internet as a means to expressing and experiencing good news.”
    The very nature of the Internet is its disconnectedness, its absence of real community. It is based on a lack of rootedness and relatedness. No, I’m not advocating that we do away with internet interaction. I’m not saying that people who read and respond to blogs are not having a meaningful conversation. But I do not see it as community. “Internet community” to me is an oxymoron. My definition of community is a spiritual or theological one, and a significant part of community is face-to-face living and deep knowing of the other and deep sharing of myself. That doesn’t happen on the internet. That is not the expectation of sharing on the internet.
    So for me, name any group or theological stance you want, put the word internet after it, and there’s the problem for me.
    One more comment: “Christian” Internet. I have led discussions on several occasions on the topic, “Christian Is Not An Adjective.” It’s a noun. It describes a person. When it becomes an adjective we end up with Christian music on Christian radio stations that we listen to in our cars that are worked on by Christian mechanics, who then go home and get on the Christian internet. I’m being a bit facetious, even sarcastic, to make my point.
    First time I’ve been here. Thanks for letting me respond.
    Gary

  • JLLouthan

    Tow the line.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    JLLouthan eh?

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    GLH0420 hey gary, thanks for engaging. i think i generally agree, especially if we are talking about ecclesial community needing to be flesh and blood. and, the general disconnect online is a problem – but i believe we can humanize it and introduce empathy if we are intentional.

  • KristenHowerton

    suzannah | smitten word  Twice you’ve mentioned the harm in talking in generalities, as if one cannot recognize these patterns unless Zach is more specific. I think he’s trying to be diplomatic by not calling out specific people or circumstances, but I also think that he has described patterns accurately, in terms that many of us understand and recognize. Simply put, “unhealthy affect, arrogance, and aggression” . . .  “people are vilified for offering an opinion that is out of step with a particular Progressive ideological stance, or someone apologizing  for speaking wrongfully is ostracized for committing the unpardonable sin, or those who have offered honest critique are intimidated and threatened through private messages or hostile phone calls, or Internet platforms and followings become political playgrounds for creating in and out groups according to ideological agendas” <—- I think that is specific enough. I understand exactly what he’s talking about and observe it as well. And honestly, I feel like you are being dismissive by implying that this is simply a subjective perception problem. 

    I’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior quite a bit this year, and in several of those circumstances you’ve chimed in to slap my wrists in the midst of it. I’ve messaged this to you privately but I’ll post more specific behavior here to help illustrate what I believe Zach is probably referring to:
    “I wonder if you’ve ever thought about what it’s like to be on the other end . . . to have your words parsed, to be likened to an abuser for disagreeing, to be called a bully for responding, to stumble onto an entire page of tweets about you for several days in a row, to have people talk about you on a blog that you’ve been banned from responding to, to be blocked on twitter and be told by friends that the insults about your are continuing, to have someone delete their own tweets to you in order to change the narrative . . . Are you able to imagine how that would feel? I am a real person with real feelings, regardless of whatever internet following I have. In all my years of blogging, I have never felt like someone bullied me as much as [this person] did.”
    Is that specific enough? I think the perception problem might be that people you are close to engage in this behavior, and there is some cognitive dissonance there, and I get it. But I also feel like you are closing your ears to real concerns about real behavior, and it surprises me because I know being a peacemaker is a value for you, and this stuff seems at odds with that value.

  • GLH0420

    zachhoagGLH0420 Glad to join in!!
    I like the way you describe the “general disconnect online” as a problem. But for me the problem is more subtle. While there is a general disconnect online, there are many who see it, define it as a significant connection, and they act out of that definition. I am just calling for a recognition of what kind of connection really exists on the internet and not think it to be something else. With that in mind, yes, I think we can humanize it and introduce empathy.
    And to give a bit of humanizing context, I’m coming to you from Norman OK!!
    Gary

  • JLLouthan

    zachhoag Sorry for the vague response. It was my attempt to keep it simple.
    I wanted to deeply encourage you on this decision. There have been numerous attempts to drag me into these discussions. There was once I formally engaged and I have regretted it ever since.
    You are not alone, brother.
    Tow the line.

  • Sharideth

    NishWeisethI went out for an e-snack yesterday. But I’m back now. Move over.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    JLLouthan zachhoag cool man. thx.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Sharideth NishWeiseth that e-snack was really well done though. none of the hallmarks of the PCI.

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  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com charityjill

    KristenHowertonsuzannah | smitten wordzachhoag I’m fascinated by this turn in the conversation. A big part of me is quite happy to write off the Christian blogging world as one big mean-girls battle to the death. I, too, would love to opt-out of the absurd bullying and backstabbing; I don’t wan to have to jockey for a position in the social hierarchy. But I also have to be honest with myself — for me, the opting-out is a luxury, and also, it’s the particular bent of my personality. I definitely tend to assign aggressive/controlling motives to ppl in situations where I would simply prefer everyone to just be more chill (also a luxury.) I have to admit, what Suzannah is saying here makes a lot of sense (and I’m stealing this from Christena Cleveland’s book) — when we start sorting ppl into groups, assigning labels (a la Mean Girls,) it affects how we assign motives to **individual** actions & interactions. We view their behaviors through a lens that skews our honest judgment. I’ve done it, and I’ve been on the receiving end. It’s horrible; it’s threatening. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s a good example: labeling a blogger who we all know is thorough and thoughtful in her critique as a “wrist-slapper” — despite being dismissive and trivializing, it puts forth a narrative about the other writer’s work: that it only exists to police others, instead of building something of great worth. Clearly this individual writer is not about that at all. So while it is often a necessity to critique groups/trends and to use stereotyping to do so (that’s just how our brains work,) we also have to be very careful. It is so easy to slip into dishonest manipulation of individuals’ words in order to make a critique — or to vindicate ourselves. Much care must be taken, and I get that.

  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com charityjill

    & paying attention to HOW we make generalizations and use specific examples is super important. They must go hand in hand. :)

  • KristenHowerton

    charityjill I have never said, thought, or suggested that Suzannah’s work only exists to police others. But she has publicly and privately taken me to task for speaking up about some of the behaviors articulated in this post, when they were levied directly at me. Also, I don’t think anyone is sorting people into groups of good and bad. Again, we are talking about behaviors. Good people are capable of behaving poorly online. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at our online behavior, try to do better, encourage others to do the same, and draw boundaries when we need to. Also, I would still argue about this “it’s all your personal lens” theory. Of course that colors our experience, but there are some online behaviors that are just objectively bad, and I think Zach spelled some of them out.

  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com charityjill

    KristenHowertoncharityjill “I have never said, thought, or suggested that Suzannah’s work only exists to police others.” But that’s how the comment reads. It goes to show that we need to be cautious about how we speak about others’ work…and to not reach for low-blows when revealing private correspondence might be available to us. Maybe this is just a sensitive topic b/c it’s the same way someone threw me under the bus, but to me, it comes off as vindictive. This is the kind of behavior that is indicted in Zach’s post as well (and I agree with the general tenor of the post.)

  • KristenHowerton

    I never referred to Suzannah’s work, and again I think it’s a stretch to read my mention of her reprimands to me as a global indictment of her writing. This is the kind of parsing and attribution that I personally find very tiresome.

  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | smitten word

    KristenHowerton i was trying to be diplomatic, too. of course, i’ve also observed plenty of ugliness online, and i’ve seen you ringlead a bit of it yourself.

    i sent you exactly one private fb message which was not “threatening” in the least. the topic was whether or not it is acceptable to respond to public work and ideas on twitter without tagging the author. you chastised a friend publicly for doing that, and i shared another perspective. there was no wrist-slapping, but i did say that i personally view all my tweets and blog comments as public, and that tagged or not, i would prefer people to discuss my work in a place where i could search, read, or respond, as opposed to it/me being picked apart on a private facebook page.

    the only other time i recall the two of us engaging was when you fired off nine tweets in a row accusing me of “talking about you” in the comment thread of a post you were participating in, too, and where you left many comments before being banned for your own behavior. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/2013/05/on-glittery-boobs-and-translating-clothing-into-meaning/#disqus_thread  i declined engaging you in a twitter fight and invited you to email me if you were interested in dialogue, but you never did.

    i would agree that there is a good bit of cognitive dissonance happening.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    charityjill Charity it seems like (esp based on your comments below) that you are applying this to some really specific events that I might not be totally aware of. From my perspective, creating in-groups and out-groups (and assigning labels) is part of the toxic behavior that this post is addressing. It is, for instance, what we see happen when the Really True Feminists attack other women who identify as feminists for getting some words “wrong” or taking the “wrong” position on a detail issue. Then they attack and it spirals from there. Etc. Just for writing this post I’ve been blocked by a couple people whom I’ve always been respectful toward online. But now I’m one of THEM.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    I want to take a quick moment to highlight that much of what KristenHowerton is saying comes from a professional therapeutic perspective, and that is desperately needed to temper the ideological “justice” conversations that are happening all over the Internet (not just the PCI). Behavior matters. Not being an asshole matters. And the pathological justification of that bad behavior continues in the PCI.

  • KristenHowerton

    I never said you were threatening to me. I said you reprimanded me for pushing back against the behaviors outlined in this post. The first, as you mentioned, in regards to people subtweeting me with my full name but not tagging me or inviting me to respond or dialogue. And the other time, which is a little different than what you are describing here, was when someone banned me in the comment section of a post about my blog and then continued to subtweet about me for several days. I would invite anyone to look at that exchange in which I was asking you to consider how that felt:
    http://campl.us/iK5CzEBCZGK
    http://campl.us/bvnKRLufukS

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  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    suzannah | smitten word KristenHowerton but suzannah, kristen being banned in the comments on sarah’s blog (which, honestly, didn’t seem warranted to me) is no less “a matter of perception” than this post. according to your logic, it demonstrates nothing. 

    what i’m arguing for here is a common sense (not absolute) standard for unfair, aggressive, unhealthy behavior in this genre that uniquely results in schisming and implosions based on ideology alone. i know we’d agree on certain behaviors we’ve both witnessed.

  • http://mikesnow.org/ Michael Snow

    ” And in the attempt to be ideologically Progressive, it often fails to be substantially Christian.”
    Amen.

  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com charityjill

    zachhoag “creating in-groups and out-groups (and assigning labels) is part of the toxic behavior that this post is addressing.” absolutely. I think this post is resonating with many people who have had bad experiences with these in/out-groups…it is cathartic to see that bad online behavior indicted. It’s good & necessary to critique the prog internet culture & I’m glad you did it! I just wonder if your critique is being used here not as a convicting call for civility but rather as a means for self-justification for those who, themselves, have behaved poorly in interactions w/ the subculture. It’s unfortunate.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    charityjill zachhoag Ok. so if i’m understanding you, you are simply saying that you think KristenHowerton behaved poorly in the situation with Sarah Moon? (Since that person is present in this thread, the “some people” generality isn’t necessary.)

  • DennisSanders

    Thanks for this post.  I’ve been thinking some of the same things over the last few months and I thought I was the only one thinking this way.  Good to know I’m not alone.

  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com charityjill

    zachhoagcharityjillKristenHowertonOhh Zach. I said “many people,” not “some people”! I’m being genuine; I don’t want to be passive-aggressive like that. I was trying to put it out there, delicately, that though I agree with your post, I can also see it being a reinforcement of the ever-shifting us-versus-them dynamics of the PCI; those who have been hurt (which is a lot of people, I’m sure) would be able to grab onto a post like this and get a huge self-righteousness boost. “See? It’s all a load of crap, because of those clique-y, argument-y people!” I include myself in that group–and I do think it is a group, a large group, not just one person. I’m only saying, I think Suzannah’s words of caution are warranted. Not that I don’t think this post is valuable; just that caution is warranted.

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  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    DennisSanders thx Dennis – likewise! Here’s to quitting :).

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    charityjill charity – by putting “some people” in quotes I didn’t mean to quote you. i was just using the quotes as a highlighting device.sorry for the confusion there. here’s the actual quote i was referring to though:

    “I just wonder if your critique is being used here not as a convicting call for civility but rather as a means for self-justification for those who, themselves, have behaved poorly in interactions w/ the subculture.”

    seemed like you were referring to people in this thread (“here”) using my post to justify bad behavior online, which i simply wanted to understand in more specificity.

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  • Jim Wright

    Yup.
    You just might be a Pharisee…
    If you call everyone who disagrees with you a Pharisee.

  • DeanDaniels

    I had a similar ‘conversion’ in 2004 after battling online debates into vacuous futility. Love, grace and mercy are the better way. Jesus showed us that way – when He arrived EVERYBODY was wrong – and He corrected it by giving Himself to the err’ed masses.

  • Seitzbrown

    Option a, flight
    Option b, fight
    Option c, speak your truth from a vulnerable love

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  • HappyHeretic

    I just ‘discovered’ the Progressive Christian movement last year, and spent a lot of time reading through many blogs, seeking if there is anything worth revisiting in the faith I left 20+ years ago.  Unfortunately I found much of what you referred to in this article leading me to conclude that the Progressive movement is driven primarily by a bunch of white, over-educated, egghead theology types who love to throw around words like ‘hermeneutics’ and ‘ontology’ to make themselves sound smart, rather than have an honest discussion.  This is the movement that is going to revolutionize the church and provide an alternative to the conservative fundamentalist movement?  I seriously doubt it.  Frankly, it read more like a transcript of one of my undergrad Philosophy class discussions.  What will happen to the movement when these people grow up?

    On the plus side, I also found Nadia Bolz-Weber, Kevin Miller, and David Hayward, all three of whom I feel are doing some amazing things by fostering real thoughtful conversation, and give me hope that there is a way forward. [I'm new here, Zach, so can't add you to the 'list' yet (: ]

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    HappyHeretic Love Nadia, and agree that this is probably an issue of maturity. We become more rooted and real as we experience more of life and grow up out of our ego a bit. No worries on adding me to the list just yet – I’ll see if I can earn it!

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  • lukeharms

    I get where you’re coming from and I understand your frustration. That said, I just hope you’re not trading one reactionary echo chamber for another.

  • lukeharms

    KristenHowerton Like when people quesion whether or not someone’s coming out of the closet is genuine, or just an attempt to get some kind of progressive-credibility? Is that the sort of parsing that we’re talking about here?

  • lukeharms

    zachhoag KristenHowerton I agree not being an asshole matters, but the pathological justification of bad behavior continues in this part of the internet as well, whatever we want to label it. The past few days have given us plenty of examples of folks who don’t claim membership in the PCI rationalizing (and in some cases even participating in) the same sorts of behaviors this post decries, because they were aimed the other way.
    Yes, behavior matters. Across the board. But we don’t get a free pass for our bad behavior by pointing to the bad behavior of others.

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  • KristenHowerton

    lukeharms KristenHowerton I didn’t do that. Not sure what that has to do with me.

  • alyssabaconliu

    lukeharms Ah. Thank you for articulating exactly what I was thinking.

  • aliciaheater

    Thank you for this–this very thing you’re talking about is the reason I held off writing online for so long. I had always wanted to jump in and write (and tweet), but I have been wary of becoming someone who has read all the articles and sharp tweets, but who does very little to do anything in real life, in my “relational church reality.” As you stated so well, I want any online writing or other activity to be a means instead of an end. I want those things to simply enhance my involvement in church and in my neighborhood/community and not replace it. Your words are encouraging for me as I’ve been on the sidelines and am just now foraying into all of this.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    aliciaheater thanks alicia. you might have just summed it up better than i could!

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