Today's post is necessary if we are to move on here at the CBC. It's an unclogging of the pipes; it's pointing a flashlight at the enormous elephant trumpeting quietly in the corner. I've done my best to protect the anonymity of all those involved, both those people who posted things pertaining to this topic on Facebook and those who shared personal accounts with me. I've kept the first part as objective as possible while still being useful in favor of both my original point and toward the rhetorical point of this response.
Housekeeping: We've begun accepting more writers here at the CBC, so there will be a more steady stream of pieces coming your way. We've had a rise in readership here, and will better serve them by providing a wider range of opinions. This just needed to get out first.
Yesterday a Georgia pastor (who was uninvolved in all of the events of the past few months) received this message, which he screenshotted and sent to me:
I had not, of course, called the person who received this message a cult leader. I did not call anyone a cult leader. I messaged the guy who sent it, asking for his sources, and have not yet heard a reply. I do not know how many people he has sent the message to. What I do know is that this sort of thing has become too typical over the last few months. I take it that I have to just address this whole thing one more time so that everyone can just move on.
See, I recently got into some hot water.
Admittedly, I kindled the fire, situated the cauldron on top of it, and filled it before willingly stepping in, but the point remains that the water was hot. And it taught me a few things.
I had written around six drafts of a rather scathing article concerning some dangerous things coming out of the pulpit of a rapidly growing Chattanooga church, eventually settling on publishing the least acerbic one I could muster. After I started receiving a frankly overwhelming amount of positive but heartbreaking response to it from people who had been members, were friends of members, or were even ex-staff members working for the church, I got a call from my boss (whom I have known for years and whom I consider a friend).
"How's it going?" he asked.
"I'm here having coffee with a friend," I said. "How about you?"
"Oh, I'm just putting out blog fires," he said.
I choked and asked for clarification.
"Yeah," he continued, "We've had people from that church calling and harassing our receptionists all day threatening a lawsuit if we don't fire you."
I was taken aback mainly because I had been dealing all day with responses to the article, all of which were expressions of gratitude for my having written it. People who have been in counseling since leaving the congregation. People who have gotten away and been burdened for their friends still attending, but without the words to say to them. People calling me and saying, "I was talking to this guy on the basketball courts today and church came up. I asked him where he went and he said he was currently in between churches. He had been going to this place called Venue but he read some article that was pretty harsh towards it and he said that he thought, 'Oh man. This writer is TOTALLY right.' So he left."
The extent of my personal contact with the church had been a few of their more devoted members friend requesting me on Facebook and then removing me once I accepted it. And then I found out they were doing this stuff.
For about a week things were pretty hot on both sides. People on one side threatening me (and those I work with) with lawsuits. People on the other side tossing around ideas of mass-scale intervention. Here's the interesting part, though: I was never criticized with any kind of legitimacy on the content of the exposé, but rather on just the fact that I had written it.
I did get called some interesting names (on Facebook, behind my back), like "Uncircumcised Philistine," who "dares to defy the armies of the living God" and a servant of the devil ("The devil is trying really hard to send people away from this church", "Don't let the devil get you down!"), but again, no direct interaction with the things that I had said and the concerns I had raised.
I watched as the church members rallied around their pastor, saying things like this and this and this, to the point that those who hadn't read the article were genuinely confused about why everyone was posting all of the sudden about their pastor. I saw the pastor say things like "I've learned not to care about people's opinions" in a recent sermon (in which he said that "Jesus was all about the numbers," so much so that "He named a book of the Bible after it") and tweet things like "The tax for influence is criticism. Pay it proudly!"
The outcry against the article was solely in response to the fact that I had written it, not whether what I wrote had any merit. All of this, by the way, I called when I wrote it.
I have been relatively silent on social media and on this site following these events, though not because I was worried about what was said to/about me. I honestly couldn't care any less about that. I had to let things simmer down a bit because the targets of the backlash were those around me, particularly my employers and my church. I would've been fine if I or my words had been the subject of scrutiny, but I couldn't justify saying something if it was only going to come back on them.
A Piece of the Whole
This response has come at a fascinating time because I feel as though it is just a microcosm of the particular climate we live in. We have a political race on our hands that has repeatedly devolved into name-calling both by the candidates and those candidates' supporters--on every side of the political spectrum. It is the era of the soundbite, of praising someone for speaking their mind rather than for speaking truth.
For whatever reason, our culture has shifted from one where we were proud to craft and interact with ideas to one that entirely discards them, replacing them instead with party, ideological, theological, or dispensational alignment. It's like we are all that grandmother everyone has who's always going to vote Democrat no matter who is running.
What does it say about us as a society that we become catatonic at the sight of #Trump2016 written in sidewalk chalk on a university campus, that we retreat to "safe spaces" when our ideology is opposed, that we refuse to help someone because they support a politician we don't agree with? We've traded thinking for feeling, replaced ideas with political alignment, and prized stance over reasoned position.
The takeaway here is practical. Disagreeing with somebody is absolutely inevitable. It happens when one person has a position on a particular issue that you, yourself, do not hold. By disagreeing, you are saying, "I see that you believe _______. I do not believe ______, for these reasons." At that point, the one with whom you disagree offers his or her counterpoint. If a common ground cannot be reached, you decide that you're simply not going to see eye-to-eye on this issue, shake hands, and continue on with your days.
What is not helpful is to say, "I'm right; therefore I cannot be wrong." Followers of Christ are instructed by Paul to "let our reasonableness be known to everyone," not to become incensed if someone says something we don't like.
Here's what this is getting at: If I am wrong, then show me where I'm wrong; don't resort to Coercion to try to get me to shut up.
Is someone doing something you don't agree with? Then explain yourself. Target doesn't care if you boycott them or not. Someone struggling with issues about their identity isn't going to snap back to their senses just because you slapped them with a Bible. Non-believers are not going to begin acting like believers just because believers quit drinking Starbucks or got into a Facebook argument about the existence of God.
I'm saying this to myself as much as to anyone: let your reasonableness be known to everybody. Any battle you have is not one between you and another person; we fight ideas, principalities, the prince of the power of the air. Don't you see what the enemy has done? He's brought us to this place where we entirely disregard the very realm he fights in. Instead, we've made people our ultimate enemy: people who believe differently, who do things we think are sinful, who want to build walls or expand taxes or whatever.
Do not be afraid to interact with someone who doesn't believe the way that you do. You won't have all of the answers, but that's fine, because they won't either. If you discover that something you've thought is wrong, don't be afraid to amend it. Spend time grappling with what you believe: hash it out, analyze the sources of your information, scrutinize the words of your pastor, be a lover of Truth wherever you can find it.