Friday, April 9, 2010

Meanness, Character Assassination, and Isolation

I was listening to the news this morning while they discussed the meanness that comes with blogging.  In this particular instance it was about moms blogging but it sure is in evidence in religious blogging as well.  It is not something I have found here but it is certainly an issue in the Missouri Synod.  The stereotype is that the more conservative the person, the meaner that person is.  I have heard this from many folks.  It is not a truth I like to admit but there does seem to be an eat your young mentality among some on the far right of church and life.  It is not that they are personally mean (I do not think Herman Otten is personally mean but there is a narrowness not only of idea but also of spirit that flows from his weekly).  Yet I have found the same sort of mean spiritedness among those on the left of Missouri, as well.  Read some of the articles from their websites and you find not only ideas and positions spoken of but the people who hold them characterized unkindly.

One of the things I have found is that the weaker our ideas, the greater the tendency to meanness or character assassination.  I have also noticed that when we do not want to take the time to actually talk, we dismiss our opponents with harsh words or name calling instead of dealing with the issue directly.  I have also noticed that there is a great deal of pent up anger among people across the spectrum.  This anger certainly leads to a lower level of discourse instead of an honest conversation about the ideas.  I am not sure what to do with all of this pent up anger but it is not hard to find among the clergy and the lay members of our church body (as well as in society).

In the midst of all of this there is another issue and that is a certain rigidity that has come to characterize people's positions.  We do not enter the discussions to listen but to speak.  As long as we are not listening, the only thing that matters is how to get our point across.  Our church could benefit from some honest listening because we are speaking past one another and not directly addressing what is being said.

The saddest part of all of this is that the tone or the conversations in our church body have made it attractive to move off the radar.  I admit to some of this.  We do our own things in isolation and enjoy being off the grid of the conversation and the debate.  This happens on both sides.  I know more moderate folks who practice very modern worship but who have distanced themselves from their brother clergy and from the church body because all they want to do is reach out to people.  This has become the justification for their self-imposed isolation.  I also know many who are very conservative and highly liturgical and have done the same thing in order to avoid conflict and because they feel so out of step with the folks around them.

I have not great wisdom or solution here except to say that the church is too important to let a spirit of meanness dominate the discussion, to stop listening to those who disagree with us, or to hide in the background doing out own thing while we ignore (and often dismiss) the rest of the church.  Although the model theological conferences begun by our current Synodical President attempted to do this, it seemed too little, too late.  Although the challenger Matt Harrison has spoken of a decade of honest theological conversation, I do not know how this would take place and if everyone would be willing to be engaged in this conversation.  But I know that our church body will not survive if the debate is allowed to be dominated by speakers who refuse to listen, by the rigid who allow no real discussion, by the mean who prefer to characterize the person rather than the idea, and by the many who refuse to be a part of the discussion at all.  Theology is not a hobby or an academic pursuit -- it is the practical domain of those who are called to bring the Good News of the cross to a world captive to sin's darkness and death and bring them into fellowship with the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit in the weekly gathering of the baptized around the Word and Table of the Lord.  God bless this goal among us.....


Janis Williams said...

As the old saying goes, "You have two ears, but only one mouth; listen twice as much as you speak."

I don't know if listening is truly a gift, or something that comes with work and practice. I do know if we spend time listening sincerely and attentively, anger is diffused or defused.

If both sides of any issue listened better and spoke less, things might happen. As it is, we sound more like the Muslims, who generally do not discuss, but simply assert (that they're right).

Pr. D. Bestul said...

Some of us have been talking and listening for three decades and more. Differences --rather than being diminished---have deepened and the church has been weakened through it all. Dr. Luther said, "How soon 'not now' becomes 'never.'

Our 'not now' to doing something about doctrinal ambiguity and its practices among us has only brought us closer to the 'never' which confuses institutional and confessional loyalty.

There's another 'old saying' which supersedes the 'two ears/one mouth' one: "Speak the truth in love," for in so doing, love serves truth, as it must.

ErnestO said...

The Church as the people of God can truly embody of the living Christ among us only when the poor remain its most treasured part. Care for the poor, therefore, is much more than Christian charity. It is the essence of being the body of Christ.

How do we prevent an implosion of the LCMS? My answer: by focusing our convention in July (Houston) on the poor. The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation. When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity. It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness.