When We Trade Unity for Clicks
I'm writing this post even as I'm supposed to be writing my sermon for Sunday. But there is just something God has put on my heart and so deeply convicted me about that I have to share it.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a wonderful, well-known pastor in my area. He's a pastor in every sense of the calling. Kind, loving, shepherding, caring, gracious, studious, biblical, evangelical, evangelistic. All those things.
We had a wide-ranging conversation out of which I gleaned so many good things for my life and ministry. But one that I cannot let go of was this. We were discussing a controversial issue in the Church worldwide. I won't mention the issue, but it's a big one that is less important than orthodoxy and yet still very important to many good people. Personally I think it's a huge issue. He and I agreed on the issue, but perhaps to varying degrees.
But there was a point he made that stuck with me. He said, "There is so much heat around this issue and it is hurting the Church." I hung on this for a while and chewed on when I got home and am still chewing on it. He was right. On both sides of this issue there is a lot of heat.
I read a ton of blogs from a wide variety of perspectives in evangelicalism. I learn and grow from some of the many practitioners who write well and share important theological and practical information. I'm thankful for this new area of new media, for the openness of blogging, and for social media. And yet I sense, at least in my generation, among evangelicals who care deeply about issues, a dangerous gotcha mentality that is not healthy for Church unity. I'm not talking about all voices. I'm talking about a few voices on both sides of some major issues. But these are loud voices.
What bothers me is that it seems that we are tempted to trade unity for blog traffic. Let's face it, controversy sells. It builds platforms. It garners book contracts. Write up a piece calling out a famous pastor for something and suddenly you have people on all sides batting it around. I'm not above this. Nobody is above doing this. That's why I didn't mention names.
But I really feel like there is, among some of us, a spirit of nitpicking, McCarthyism and arrogance. We like it when a famous pastor goes over the line in criticizing the President, because it gives us a chance to beat our chest on social media and distance ourselves from that pastor and "not be one of those kinds of Christians." We like that. We like when a famous religious figure continues to say weird things on his TV show. We like it because he makes us look normal by comparison and "not one of those kinds of Christians." Some like it when they troll through a famous pastor's thousands of online sermons (that he may have put there at his own church's expense) and find a clip that has something articulated in a not-so-good way. We like to spread that on social media and blog about it so everyone comes to the blog and thereby we have increased the platform.
I don't think this helps the cause of Christ. I don't think this promotes unity in the body. Please hear me. I'm not saying that we shouldn't correct public declarations of bad doctrine. I'm not saying robust dialogue and critique are not good for the Church. I'm not saying we should turn a blind eye to abuses of spiritual authority. We shouldn't. We should vigorously defend orthodoxy in every generation. We should oppose unhealthy ideas contrary to Scripture.
But I think it would help if every Christian writer, blogger, pastor--anyone with a modicum of a platform--would periodically engage in self-examination. We should ask ourselves, "Are we building our audience, platform based on critiques that hurt Christ's body?" A few months ago I was offered a chance to review a book I vehemently disagreed with. I really wanted to write that review. I'm sure it would have brought blog traffic. And yet I really was convicted by the Spirit to not do it, because my motivations were not right. And so I didn't.
I think we all need to face up to the idea that Christians are sinners. The Church, made up of Christians who are sinners, will have a lot of imperfections, blind spots, bad things. They are not really all that hard to find. Some are glaring. And you can make a living, a career out of being the person who finds them, blogs about them, writes books about them, etc. But is that really a life worth living?