Friday, April 24, 2015

Babies, you've got to be kind

Or: on the need for humble love in discourse.

I have, of course, been guilty of this as well. I have noticed lately a certain rigidity in online discourse that is most troubling. Most recently, Frederica Mathewes-Green, who isn't really one of my favorites, mentioned that she did not think legalizing gay marriage was a big deal (“I was asked why I don’t oppose gay marriage, and I’ll try to make this brief. It’s because I don’t agree that gay marriage harms society, or harms marriage."). She got completely raked over the coals for it until she wrote a longer article explaining her position. I imagine some people are still raking her over the coals, but some people realized, oh, wait, there is some nuance here and a charitable way her position could be conceived as something other than abandonment of the Church's teaching. But, wait: shouldn't we be starting from that place of charity? Especially with a well-known somebody who is probably, like, not a panheretical liberalist ecumenist bent on redefining the entirety of church teaching?

I also have been in a number of conversations about things that completely turn people off when they visit parishes (esp Orthodox, since that's the circle I run in). One of the big ones is the polemic urge. eg badmouthing Protestantism, the West, the liberals, the gays, the Obama, the Catholics, the Ukraine (using the article because they believe it's just one of their regions), etc. Apart from the immediate effect of perhaps alienating the visitor who is coming in that is perhaps the very thing you are vilifying, I think this style displays a definite lack of necessary charity in discourse: they are not hearing the people they are excoriating.

Now, I admit, there are at times people attracted by polemics, sarcasm, joking, etc, but it's a very dangerous thing to pull out for the general public and must be used very carefully: you have to show that you're listening to the people you are talking to and have some basic respect for them. And it should be very different from, "I heard you say this, you have departed from the teaching of the Church, repent and sin no more." It also has to be done in a way that you're not plowing over the weak, vulnerable, downtrodden, etc - such as any of the usual "whipping boys" for the possessors of white male privilege.

People who are committed to a place already can be willing to endure it to make it better, because if all the good people flee, you're leaving behind a hellhole. But if there are people that aren't committed, it's a lot to ask of them to tell them they should join and fight against the flow to make this corner of the Church a better place. America is a big place - lots of wide open space - and we're used to self-segregating with the like-minded rather than confronting this kind of impolite and uncharitable behavior. So if pretty much everybody around you will nod in agreement that, sure, environmentalism is an anti-Christian religion, then you might say it as part of your performative Orthodox conservative shtick. You will get some brownie points and nobody will contradict you because it's not done. The people who would rightly call you out on that nonsense have little to gain by doing so because you wouldn't say it if you weren't supported. So, then what?