Validating haters is neither moderate nor civil. It’s just hateful.

Validating haters is neither moderate nor civil. It’s just hateful. August 19, 2013

Ed Stetzer seems like a very nice guy.

I would bet, in fact, that Stetzer — the head number-cruncher for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Research — actually is a very nice guy. He’s exactly the sort of mainstream white evangelical who makes you appreciate the fond accuracy of Ned Flanders on The Simpsons. (And I’m not referring there to any similarities in appearance that may or may not strike you.)

Ed. Ned.

I would bet that if you met Stetzer in person he would be unfailingly kind and polite — even if you told him that you were a pro-choice, gay, atheist, jihadist Communist. He’d be no less nice to you for all of that. Unlike some of the fire-breathing culture warriors of the religious right, Stetzer is also smart enough to realize that no one could really be all of those things at the same time. And he’s honest enough not to go around accusing everyone he disagrees with of being all of those things.

I admire that Stetzer is committed to his discipline and won’t betray what it tells him just to score political points. He’s a data-driven pollster and survey researcher, and when his fellow conservatives are misreading or misusing polling data, he doesn’t hesitate to call them on it. (Including, especially, Fox News — whose routine abuse of polling data has been so egregious that they seem to have earned Stetzer’s distrust across the board.)

What I’m saying is that Ed Stetzer is the very picture of the moderate, mainstream white evangelical. When he recently moved his blog over to Christianity Today, I thought, yes, right, ding — that is where he belongs.

Folks like Stetzer and the editors of CT tend to agree with most of the radical policies endorsed by the religious right. They share the same “stance” on abortion, marriage equality and whatever the next litmus test turns out to be. As with the culture warriors, they hold those stances unquestioned and hold them as unquestionable. Those positions are unexamined, and any attempt to examine them is generally regarded as forbidden.

But for the moderate mainstream folks, political battles are never the priority. Their real passion lies elsewhere — with evangelism and church growth. And so while they may share the “stances” of the religious right, they don’t share its emphasis, its priorities, or its immoderate tone. They prefer, instead, to emphasize civility.

I like civility. Civility is good. Yay civility!

It would be a positive thing if these moderate mainstream white evangelicals, these Very Nice People with their emphasis on civility, were able to provide a challenge to the vitriol, dishonesty and power games of the culture warriors.

But unfortunately, that’s not the role they play most of the time. Most of the time their smiling civility doesn’t provide a challenge to the culture warriors, it provides a cover for them.

Consider, for example, the nasty dishonesty of hate-rag Charisma magazine, which serves as an enthusiastic propaganda sheet for publisher Steven Strang’s far-right politics (see for example) and for some decidedly out there theological theories.

One of Strang’s most vicious hatchet-wielders these days is columnist Jennifer LeClaire, who can’t seem to go two weeks without mentioning her belief that LGBT people are tools of Satan who are destroying America and persecuting Real, True Christians like herself. It’s one of the two big themes in LeClaire’s columns — the other one being her own stalwart heroism as an anti-gay spiritual warrior.

No one would ever mistake Jennifer LeClaire for Ned Flanders — or for a member of the moderate mainstream of Very Nice People. Accusing other people of serving Satan’s Agenda to Destroy America and the Church is not nice. Nor is it true. It’s an ugly, nasty, hateful lie.

J.Lec’s nasty lie  is useful for firing up the base, feeding its fears of the Satanic baby-killers and Satanic Gay Menace, and fueling its fires of self-righteousness and resentment. But there are also many people who find her dishonest claims and aggressive incivility a bit off-putting. They might be open to supporting the policies she advocates, but they’re uncomfortable with her intemperate tone.

And that’s where the Very Nice People play their designated role. Now is the time for all Nice Men to come to the aid of their party:

“I saw this in Charisma,” Ed Stetzer wrote last week, “and thought it worth passing on.”

It’s the latest column from Jennifer LeClaire (a Reefer Madness-style denunciation of Sanjay Gupta). The mainstream endorses LeClaire, with a kindly smile.

This is how the smiling, “civil” face of the moderate mainstream validates the snarling, ranting face of the religious right. This, all too often, is the role and the function of this moderate mainstream — and there’s nothing moderate or mainstream about it.

Validating the haters is not civil. Or kind. Validating haters is the very definition of incivility and unkindness.

"Have you ever seen the South Carolina state flag"

The weirdly innocent part of the ..."
"I don't know what she's said to him in private, but if she EVER said ..."

The weirdly innocent part of the ..."
"I understand McTurtle's home state support is low enough that he's afraid he'll lose. Thus ..."

The weirdly innocent part of the ..."
"Only for their part. They can't tell the House how to do it."

The weirdly innocent part of the ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Monala

    Slightly off topic here: re: the third mini-article in the Ed Selzer link, which is a critique of Time magazine’s recent article about women who choose to remain childless. It carries this gem of a comment [note: “gem” is sarcastic!]: There is no trace of the view that marriage and childbearing together
    involve a worthwhile giving, even a sacrificing for the good of another
    or for anything beyond ourselves.

    I am strongly offended by this statement. I am a married mother, and my brother is an unmarried father. My sister, however, in single and childless. It wasn’t necessarily a choice; marriage didn’t work out for her, she wasn’t going to have a child without a husband, and now she’s past childbearing age. But she is very happy with her life.

    Yes, being childless means she has much more money and free time than my brother or me to travel, take classes, hang out with friends, and just plain do fun adult stuff. But it also means she has more money and free time to respond to the needs of our elderly mother. I have read statistics that it is childless adults (unfortunately, women more often than men) who are the most likely to care for elderly or disabled relatives, and to volunteer in our society. That’s hardly selfish or unsacrificial. Having children is not the only way to be giving.

  • Albanaeon

    I told off someone like that after he started saying how gays shouldn’t have any rights. He of course played the whole “obscenities offend me” card.

    I responded, “You’re mistaking crudity for obscenity. ‘Fuck, shit, piss’ are crudities. You’re trying to deny human rights for people because you think they are icky. That’s obscene.”

  • Let’s compromise and burn half of the kittens

  • I think there are two kinds of people in this civility camp. There are the people like you describe, who use civility as a cover for what they really want — the folks who rules-lawyer and start tone arguments and are scandalized, scandalized by the profanity. But there are also the people who sort are sort of neutral on you being an atheist and (mostly) neutral on your right to control your own body and almost but not quite neutral on same-sex marriage, but who are entrenched in an authoritarian mindset and therefore feel compelled to show fealty to the tribal leaders by default. They latch onto civility not as a cover, but because what the really ultimately want is for the argument to just go away. They don’t like the culture warriors getting all up in arms, and wish that everyone would just calm down, and that the atheists and the feminists and the QUILTBAG folks would just pipe down and stop making a fuss — not that they per se want them to be oppressed, they just don’t like the commotion, and wish everyone would approach it calmly and quietly and maybe we could do things like slowly phase in equality over a couple of decades. No more than a century, promise.

    That group covers a lot of the people who switched from anti- to pro- on same-sex-marriage over the past decade.

    It also covers the sort of ‘people’ who say things like “Now, Mrs. Jones, are you *sure* you didn’t do anything to provoke your husband?”

  • Carstonio

    I’ve heard Selzer’s attitude voiced by others even more explicitly, accusing women who remain single and childless of being motivated by selfishness. I thought that this was simply a belief that people who own wombs have a duty to use them for the public good. But in most cases, some questioning reveals that these folks are worried primarily about white-skinned people being outpopulated by dark-skinned ones.

  • Susan_G1

    I posted this 3 hoyrs abo, but it’s not here, so I will repost:

    I don’t like being identified as a hypocrite, but you are correct that I was hypocritical and lacked self-awareness of my “tone-bias”. And I was particularly hypocritical with you. I was unkind and sarcastic and judgmental. I apologize for all these things, and whatever other offenses I’m guilty of. Lori, will you please forgive me?

  • Susan_G1

    yeah, it really is, isn’t it? really. I’m embarrassed today.

  • Susan_G1

    yep, I know. I am pretty bad. sorry.

  • dpolicar

    Is that “every other kitten”, or “half of each kitten”?

  • Lori

    The thing that bothers me is that complete refusal of people like Selzer to recognize that having children is not using one’s womb for the public good. Not, even if the womb-haver and the sperm provider are both white [eyeroll]. People have kids for lots of reasons, some good, some bad, but spawning is not a public service. The entire notion is idiotic. The only thing more idiotic is when they justify their crap by saying that if everyone decided not to have kids the human race would die out. There are several layers of stupid there and yet if a discussion about choosing not to have kids goes on for any length of time some genius will inevitably trot it out.

  • gocart mozart

    You’re reading it too narrowly. It’s about the temperature of all food stuffs be they liquid or solid.

  • dpolicar

    Sure, I agree. Healing is important.

    To frame that sentiment in the context of Fred’s post, would you say that Jennifer LeClaire’s column which he references is healing speech, or wounding speech? (I assume it’s this one). How about this one?

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Half of every other kitten.

  • Liralen

    Your comments do suggest that you don’t realize that the difference between “nice” and “good” is a common topic here. See for example:

    Not that being new here is a bad thing. Elevating form over substance is a bit iffy though.

    Also, I thought it was interesting that the wiki for “sarcasm” pointed out that the use of sarcasm differs between cultures. It’s one thing I noticed when I crossed cultural boundaries when I converted to Christianity. A Bible study group discussion about Proverbs focusing on mockery/scorn helped explain that difference (and it was interesting that the terms seem to be used interchangeably in the Bible, especially between translations, when I view the two as being somewhat different, and different still from sarcasm.)

    However, straddling both cultures, I still prefer being told to “eat shit” instead of “I will pray for you” which sometimes have the same meaning. Fred does a great job at being a cultural interpreter – that’s what he does.

  • I still prefer being told to “eat shit” instead of “I will pray for you” which sometimes have the same meaning.

    And “bless your heart,” which gets dropped in the exact same context as one would spew vulgarities.

  • Maniraptor

    Eh, if you can admit when you’ve been silly, even if it takes a bit of time away first, you’re all right by me.

  • I obviously can’t forgive you for Lori’s sake – that’s not how things work in any sense of the word – but I would like to say that I’m glad you came back to say this, and I am sorry the thread got so hostile so fast.

  • Alix

    The insincere, snide “I will pray for you”/”Bless your heart” are basically what I was thinking of when I mentioned … somewhere in this monster thread … how people who prioritize being Nice and Sweet and Polite often are the most uncivil. They just practice doing it in such a way that they can never be called out on it.

  • Alix

    Disqus likes to eat comments. It’s one of its most annoying features.

    FWIW, I’m impressed you posted this.

  • The_L1985

    No. Purpose is important and should be considered. Having “good intentions” doesn’t change the fact that sometimes we do harm people despite our good intentions. Good intentions are an explanation, NOT an excuse.

  • Susan_G1

    thanks. I’m sorry as well. It was a learning experience.

  • Susan_G1

    thanks. I’m sorry about the whole thing. You helped me learn
    about my tone-bias. You were correct, and looking back now, I realize my reactions from the first comment I made were wrong. Thanks for sticking it out with me.

  • Susan_G1

    I’m sorry, I was not even thinking of my perception of Fred or of my behavior when I answered this. I do not think good intentions are an excuse.

  • Susan_G1

    I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking of my behavior of what I thought of Fred when I answered this. I wasn’t trying to excuse my behavior. My behavior was wrong. I’ve admitted it in another response and I apologized to Lori, with whom my responses were most egregious. I’d like to, here, apologize to others whom I’ve offended as well. I’m sorry for my hypocricy, my rudeness, my sarcasm, my defensiveness, and my tone-bias. Though I can’t say it was a pleasure, I learned (I hope) a lot from the many exchanges, especially that I had a tone bias I was unaware of. Thanks to those who stuck it out trying to get me to see this.

  • The_L1985

    It’s ok. I know from experience how embarrassing it is to suddenly notice something unpleasant about yourself. At least you’re semi-anonymous here! :)

  • Liralen

    Count me along with the others impressed by your apology. I hope you’ll stick around. It’s really a good, very diverse community, if not “nice” sometimes, especially in defense of “good”.

  • Carstonio

    While that’s a excellent dissection of the idiocy of the argument, I’m suggesting that the folks using it define “public good” narrowly or employ it as a euphemism. They’re not stupid, they’re just unskilled at hiding their agenda.

  • The problem is the religion that all of the hate and bigotry is based upon. People that perpetuate religious belief support the system that demonizes the “other”.

    If there was a god, there would be no religion.

  • Guesty McGuest

    Was their context around that quote that said that having children was the only way to be giving? Because the sentence you cited doesn’t say that.

  • Guesty McGuest

    Damn it, there, there!

  • Independent101

    Can you prepare them like fried chicken? Taste like chicken!

  • MarkInOhio

    But there’s not, yet there is.

  • MarkInOhio

    I appreciate what you are trying to do, but I’m sure you realize that people like that are well beyond the reach of reason and have been for some time.

  • There is not a god so there is still religion.

    If there was a god, religion would not be necessary, as an all powerful being would not require herds of salesmen to convince people he/she/it exists.

  • MarkInOhio

    I do sometimes wonder about “God’s” state of mind. Here he is, an all-powerful, all-knowing deity who single-handedly created the universe and everything in it, yet he spends most of his time cajoling his human creations into not just believing he exists (with no proof, of course) but constantly praising him and worshiping him and falling down in front of him on their knees. What kind of all-powerful deity is so insecure as to need this? And why is he HIDING?

    While we’re at it, why does an ineffable deity have a GENDER? Gender is a concept relating to human sexual reproduction, and seems rather earthbound for a God to have. Does he have male reproductive organs?

    Then this strangely male “God” has a human child (without having sex with some dirty woman, of course) and his child is…… wait for it….. a MALE! Why?

    Then he arranges for his son to be killed so that human sin is forgiven, and….. well, you know the claptrap that follows.

    Do the people who believe all this hooey also believe that the Santa Claus story is true? If not, why not? It’s far less unbelievable than THEIR wacky story.

  • Lori

    I’d agree. I’m just inclined to call them on it.

  • Because people have never disagreed about factual accounts, right? Certainly never to the point of Othering people.

    By the way, did you hear that the founder of the KKK is getting a new statue in his honor soon?

  • Provided an all-powerful being wanted to be known of. Wouldn’t it be our lucky to get a shy deity?

  • Not really. Santa Claus disproves himself every year when parents are forced to do his job instead. Religion works through arenas where a lot of subjectivity and ignorance takes place — did you feel the presence of God, or was that stimulation of the temporal lobes? Was that a miracle, or did you just get lucky with something statistically improbable?

    There are a thousand reasons why prayer doesn’t heal amputees and a thousand cases where people insist they survived only because of a miracle, but not one documented case of Santa Claus. One is open to at least a certain degree of doubt, the other not so much (if there is a Santa Claus, he only visits people who never report his existence and he can’t be visiting very many people either, magic or not).

  • Peanutcat

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! I know it’s the internets, sweetie, but anyone with a lick of sense could tell he was making a joke . . . . .

  • Poe’s Law at work.

  • codestar7

    I still believe in Santa Claus, and you can’t make me stop. I say its far better than believing in say George Bush, or Dick Cheney, or Ted Cruise. I’ll take Claus over any of those guys any day.

  • codestar7

    Ahh, the Holy…sperm. The actual babies or people produced can fall off a cliff screaming to their death on the craggy rocks in a 1,000 foot fall, but the Holy sperm must be allowed to do it’s Holy work. The entire religiosity and it’s system of worshipers has become so twisted and amoral thy don’t even see it. Trees, meet forest.

  • Fusina

    Hmm. I don’t know. I have heard that humans taste like pork, but have not actually taste tested this. I believe the cannibal name for us is “Long pig”, but have never looked it up to check on whether this is an urban (or whatever) legend.

    Barbecue, anyone?

  • Peanutcat


  • Mary

    I got pretty screwed up by that kind of parenting. I wasn’t beaten, but verbally I was constantly told what a horrilbe person I was. And then once my self-esteem was in shreds I got a hug and and “I love you.” as if nothing had happened I figured that what was meant was that my mom had to love me when in reality she hated me. Children can’t take in those kinds of contradictions.

    Maybe she just got some really bad advice from someone like James Dobson.