Differences, defamation & grace

November 21, 2007

Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, has a good column entitled "Differences, defamation & grace." Here are some highlights:

A thoughtful reader recently sent me a letter lamenting the landslide of personal attacks and the torrent of abusive language that characterize Baptist life these days. He specifically cited the tone of several blogs. But he also could have pointed to many church business meetings, e-mail and telephone gossip about individuals and events in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, occasional pronouncements by outsiders about our convention, and far too many Baptist dinnertables where "roast preacher" is served up as if it were a local delicacy.

The problem, friends, is a growing inability to disagree agreeably. People no longer seem to understand they can disagree with each other without being angry at each other. They stumble over the concept of honest disagreement expressed in a spirit of goodwill.

I understand this phenomenon all too well. Almost every week, I hear from people who have severe problems with disagreement. They generally fall into two categories. One group seems to love disagreeing, and hostility gets their juices flowing. They relish a good fight. The other group absolutely detests fighting and just wants everybody to get along. Problem is, they're so conditioned by the other crowd that they now think disagreement equals fighting. So, they dysfunctionally avoid expressing honest differences for fear of fighting. Both groups can't seem to comprehend that people, especially Christians, can disagree passionately and yet continue to love one another, care for each other, pray for the other.

Multiple factors account for this, but I blame talk radio. Call it the "Limbaughization" of America. Talk radio hosts practice "ritual defamation," explains former Texas pastor Bruce Prescott. It's a calculated political strategy--"defamation in retaliation for the real or imagined attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the victim, with the intention of silencing or neutralizing his or her influence, and/or making an example of them so as to discourage similar independence." They also like it because it's good for ratings. Americans have become so coarse and desensitized they're titillated by the pain and humiliation of others. Call it talk radio for a generation who grew up on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. Many bloggers unwittingly (or maybe not) have picked up on this. After all, outlandish rhetoric drives up the hits. Never mind if the tone is so extreme it casts doubt upon the truthfulness of the content.

Putting up with all of this is bad enough in the secular media in an election year. ... But it is tragic within the church of Jesus Christ. We wound the body of Christ when we tear at one another in anger and vengeance. We also harm the name of Christ before a watching world when we denigrate one another.
Amen! Knox is correct that the tone of our discourse is often very un-Christlike. This is what I lamented--along with the problem of talk shows and the inability to give or receive constructive criticism--in my book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!). The blogger who is most guilty of the un-Christlike rhetoric that Knox critiques has already complained about the column. Unfortunately, it seems that he will not get the lesson and instead continuing his outlandish and unethical innuendos and attacks. It is time to start honoring God with all that we say and write.

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