I feel a bit compelled this week to write about a problem that has been building for years, and which last week it reached perhaps its high point so far: the ludicrous online outrage over the featured couple from the HGTV show Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines.
This compulsion, however, isn’t because some random person happened to publish a guilt-by-association hit-piece on a couple for probably believing what their pastor believes about same-sex marriage. Nor is it because it’s one of the only current shows I actually know anything about.
Rather, I’m concerned with the response to such things I see from the evangelical community, and I want to make a plea to those who might listen.
There is an ever-more-regular cycle that takes place online whenever such a situation as this arises:
- A possible attack is made against something possibly Christian-related
- The Christian online community fires back about being persecuted.
- Everyone gets angry at each other and hardens against the “other side.”
- The world goes on as normal until the next skirmish escalates the bitterness.
Anytime such an apparent attack occurs, there is a predictable volley of responses from certain groups who are going to take the “Christian side” of the issue and fight back. And sadly, what I see online and the continual publication of such pieces is a good indicator that there is quite a lot of certain gain to be had by getting in on this group of first responders for offended people.
This is one of several types of frequently-appearing pieces that many news and opinion outlets, large and small, can rely upon for click-driven ad revenue. Fox News does it. Conservative opinion sites weigh in to get theirs Matt Walsh has practically made a career solely off of this exact kind of thing.
I understand some of the relatively legitimate reasons why these articles are of interest: the attacking party is often wrong and unjust; there is fear about how this could affect the life of the reader; there is righteous anger that innocent people are suffering for having done nothing wrong.
But the Christian Outrage Industry is not a good example of a biblical response to such attacks.
So here’s why I want to plead with you not to read, share, post, write, or otherwise get involved with these outrage-filled articles:
They are usually short on facts and high on emotion.
How many times do the initial reports of something contradict later ones when more of the truth comes out (Proverbs 18:13)? How many times does one early witness turn out – surprise, surprise! – not to have given the entire picture (Proverbs 18:17)?
We are foolish if we believe the first things we hear in the immediate aftermath of any event like this.
Usually, by the time we gather the necessary information to make an informed judgment about what actually happened, the world has already moved on from the subject. Let’s not fear missing out on the fight so badly that this makes us willing to say something rash rather than do what’s wise.
Remember: there is a very good possibility that your preferred news outlet is only giving you the side of the story that you want to hear and therefore that will keep you coming back to their site for news in the future. As always, follow the money, and don’t get duped by people who pretend to be on your side but only want your clicks.
(Also remember: even the blogosphere in large part depends on your outrage interest to keep the traffic flow up and running. My recommendation is to refuse to encourage response articles of almost any kind – even about the subjects as a whole – to be prominently displayed.)
It doesn’t “let your Gentle spirit be known to all men”
Whatever else Philippians 4:5 means, a vicious and vengeful attack on a third party is not the way to go about it.
Being right doesn’t mean you’re acting rightly
You can speak facts accurately in a way that is categorically wrong. It doesn’t mean you are incorrect, it just means you’re sinning. And simply trying to debunk a series of untruths by any means possible is not the same thing as being ready to give a defense for your hope in Christ – especially if you refuse to do it, as commanded, “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
Lots of the attacks aren’t really attacks on Christianity at all.
Remember this story about a “Man Facing Jail for Hosting Home Bible Study” (by another outrage salesman) that turned out to have been literally advertised publicly as a church, and therefore in violation of building law?
There is no value in suffering while a Christian if you are suffering for something you should not be doing as a Christian (1 Peter 4:14-16).
It acts surprised at what we shouldn’t be surprised about
It is sad that people would be surprised and offended about a non-Christian opposing Christianity. Isn’t this literally exactly what the Bible says to expect (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12)? So when a non-Christian writes against the Bible, and a Christian is surprised by such an action, who is more of a failure in his duty?
It speaks evil of those we are commanded not to malign
Titus 3:2 sets a challenging yet righteous standard: “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
There is no exception clause for “no one” or “all men.” Being attacked first doesn’t make it acceptable. We are to show “every consideration for all men” – giving them the benefit of the doubt, bearing with their weaknesses, not snapping back at them even when they really do wrong. Why?
“For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” (Titus 3:3)
The former life of the Christian is a reminder that we once were no different than the very people we now malign. It should be expected that they will not be fundamentally different than we once were. The ungodliness and personal conflict that arose from fundamentally selfish desires apart from Christ are simply being manifest in the actions of people who make such attacks. The only reason we are different is the regenerating grace of God in Christ (Titus 3:4-7).
Instead of cursing those who persecute us, we are to bless (Romans 12:14); instead of repaying evil for evil we are to be at peace and to do good to those who choose to be our enemies (Romans 12:17-21).
It seeks personal vindication and safety rather than gospel fruit
Why do these pieces get posted in response? Is it a “no, you’re wrong”, or a genuinely hopeful attempt to persuade someone to believe in Christ.
God’s servants must not be angry when wronged, but rather patient (2 Timothy 2:24) – and respond under self-control with gentleness for the best chance at persuading someone to repent (2 Timothy 2:25).
So please, for the sake of Christ and your sanctification, stop the mad responses. Stop playing the victim card. Stop getting on the wave of every displeasing thing that comes across your screen. And seek in all your conduct, even in “being right”, not just to belong to Jesus Christ, but to truly honor him.