How Both Sides have a lot to Gain, and we all have a lot to lose…

[Note: Please read comment thread for important clarifications and dialogue.]

Behind every sarcastic meme or inflammatory facebook rant is a real person who perhaps spent a lot of time settling into his or her beliefs.  And in front of every sarcastic meme or inflammatory facebook rant is a real person who is perhaps deeply hurt by what they read.  Remember that.

The recent bout of activism, anti-activism (or shall we combine these into a single term, “slacktivism”) on the facebook and blogosphere regarding the Supreme Court case seeking to overturn DOMA and prop 8 has caused a lot of frustration.

Now, being that I’m a pastor in a traditionally conservative denomination, you might assume my frustration is due to the vocal and visible acts of advocacy for LGBT rights, most recently symbolized by a red equal sign in place of peoples’ profile pictures.  That assumption would be wrong.

And if I’m not angry at the pro-LGBT folks, then my frustration must be at the reaction from the conservative folks who started posting anti-memes or strips of bacon or red crosses instead of equal signs.  They bit the bait; they drew their lines in the sand; they marked their territory.  Or at least they made jokes. If that’s not what facebook is for then I don’t know what is.

In reality, the whole scene was rather disheartening, and has been for quite some time.  The recent “equal sign” campaign was one more experiment showing how good we are at reducing issues to the simplest, and thus least nuanced or sensitive talking points, so that when our opponents disagree, we can – with the wave of a hand or the click of a meme – show them to be ignorant, bigoted, or destined for hell.

And we do this because we have a lot to gain in doing so.  If we can reduce the marriage debates to slogans like, “It’s about love!” or “Equality for all!” then we can prove to ourselves that those who disagree are clearly anti-love and anti-equality.  This is great news, because if they are anti-love and anti-equality, then I don’t have any obligation to listen to them, or consider why they may have come to the conclusions they’ve come to.  In a way, I get to dehumanize them.  Because after all, that’s what they’re doing.

But when we do this, we ignore the very real possibility that our opponents have come to their conclusions through a lot of tears and anguish.  A lot of real conversations with real people full of real pain.  Perhaps a lot of prayer, and maybe even a trepidatious searching of the Scriptures.  Or they might have come to their conclusions because they happen to disagree with you about what makes for good social policy or American jurisprudence.  Oh yah, there’s always that.

But the other side has a lot to gain by reducing the conversation as well.  If we can show that our opponents celebrate complete amorality, or are entirely anti-God, or blindly ignorant of Scripture, then we are able to reassure ourselves that we have no reason to listen to them.  Why would I listen to someone who tossed their moral compass in the creek at the last fundy youth camp they ever attended?  Why would I listen to someone who is so blatantly against family values and so sadistically violent toward Scripture?  They don’t deserve the dignity of a conversation.

And when we do this, we ignore the very real possibility that our opponents have come to their conclusions through a lot of tears and anguish.  A lot of real conversations with real people full of real pain.  Perhaps a lot of prayer, and maybe even a trepidatious searching of the Scriptures.  Or they might have come to their conclusions because they happen to disagree with you about what makes for good social policy or American jurisprudence.  Oh yah, there’s always that.

So yes, each side has a lot to gain by reducing the conversation to red equal signs and crosses.  We get to end the conversation right there, we get to be right.  That just feels good.

But we all have a lot to lose.

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7 comments on “How Both Sides have a lot to Gain, and we all have a lot to lose…

  1. Is the way forward not to talk about it, but to worship together? If I think that the conservative attitude to homosexuality is a blasphemous rejection of God’s good creation as God made it, (what God has called clean—)

    How much more important is it that we follow Christ?

    I was very heartened by my US fbfnds adopting the equals sign. I realise that some people, intending to follow Christ, objected to that. I have had, on blogs, long discussions of Regnerus and the APA, arsenokoitai and malakoi,…

    The promise is that if we two could be together, Christ is with us.

  2. I appreciate your point, Jared. I totally agree that Facebook makes it all too easy to hit “share” on a sarcastic, cartoon-y political one-liner that conveniently and efficiently shuts down your opponent’s desire to share their point of view on the matter. We think we’re being clever but really we’re copping out of having an actual intelligent conversation about the issue.

    However, the Human Rights symbol (the red equal signs) that was all over Facebook on Monday was different, in my opinion, from the political cartoon memes. I saw the symbol as a show of support for our brothers and sisters who are sitting on the edge of their seats right now, hoping and praying that this country will decide to recognize them as equal citizens. Several of my gay friends posted on Facebook the next day saying how much it touched them to see almost all their Facebook friends’ profile pictured changed to that symbol.

    It was something so simple and easy to do– to join in the cyber-chorus of “I support you and I love you”. I was really proud to see how many of my friends and family members (many of whom are conservatives/Christians) changed their profile pictures. No matter our differences, we are all part of the same family and we should be reaching out and lifting each other up. It’s at times like this past Monday, when the internet was a rash of red equal signs, that I think Facebook/social media is at its very best; connecting us as brothers and sisters all over the world.

    • Jared says:

      I recognize the red equal sign was a meaningful act of advocacy for many people, and it was certainly less intentionally divisive than most memes. However, my problem is that it left everyone with only one choice, “either you’re with us or you’re against us.” Which then resulted in the reaction from the right…”we’re against you.” The either/or paradigm is precisely what is so dangerous. I believe there are many people, myself included, who would like to add all sorts of nuances and qualifications to their position, because it deals with a complex interaction of faith, politics, and real people. Without the context of a relationship or a conversation, these complexities are missed. And this is symptomatic of our government as well. We decry our politicians for not working together, but we are guilty of the exact same polarization.

      • I still maintain that it’s refreshing to see Facebook used for something important instead of the usual “I took a poop today! It was softer than yesterday’s!” status updates. And polarizing issues like gay marriage is not something that Facebook invented. Facebook was not around for the incredibly polarizing Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

        But I get your point. Mike didn’t log into his account that day, so he totally missed the whole equal-sign-thing and now he’s wondering if friends made assumptions about his viewpoint on gay marriage based on the fact that he didn’t change his picture. However, by focusing on how this type of thing impacts us, we make it all about us and ignore the bigger picture.

        The fact of the matter is that people will form opinions about you. They will judge you. They will either agree with you or disagree with you. All of these things happen with or without the help of Facebook. Everything we ever do and say fuels someone’s opinion about us…Facebook just expedites that process a bit.

        If we remove the “but what will people think about ME?” aspect of the whole equal-sign-thing, it becomes less about us and more about an important social shift that is taking place right now. History is happening.

        You can still have as many in-depth, soul-searching conversations as you want on these types of issues…nothing is stopping any of us from that. In fact, if anything, Facebook can and does serve as a conversation starter because people see a witty political one-liner on someone’s wall and start to think “Hmmm…what do *I* think/believe/feel about that? What do the people I respect most have to say about that?”

      • Jared says:

        Tonia – I enjoy this conversation because you and I already benefit from the context of a friendship, mutual respect, and the shared belief that we are acting in good faith toward one another. So already, this thread is showing the upside of social media. We agree on that.

        But to your other points: No, facebook was not around in the 60’s, and neither were we, so I can’t really comment on whether things are all that different. But the danger created by facebook is that I don’t see a person across from me, I don’t hear their voice, I don’t notice their inflection, and I don’t have to deal with the effects my comments have on them, save for maybe a few troll responses on a thread. The whole thing is depersonalized, which makes it way easier to be aggressive, dismissive, and totally talk past one another.

        Facebook certainly does expedite the process of judgment, and exacerbates it. That isn’t a good thing.

        And I agree that our motivation for what we advocate for on facebook should not be, “how does this reflect on me, personally?” In fact, if that’s the motivation for any form of advocacy then it isn’t advocacy. But maybe I’m being too skeptical of people’s motivations here when I argue (from my blog post) that when we are supposedly “advocating,” what we are really doing is leveraging our power and making those who disagree with us look like fools. We actually aren’t interested in constructive dialogue or meaningful advocacy; we are interested in winning. Again, I’ll grant that for many, the event in question was a meaningful aspect of their advocacy, but looking broadly at the way these things play out on facebook, it digressed into, “if you disagree you’re a loser,” on either side of the issue.

        But yes, facebook can be a conversation starter – case in point being this thread.
        More often it’s a conversation ender.
        I’d like to see more of the former.

      • I very much agree with your (April 2, 2013 at 12:15 pm) comment. Many people allow others to do all their thinking for them. We get lazy and end up just repeating what we hear our pastor, parents, the news, or politicians saying. Critical thinking, logic, rhetoric and debate are skills that need to be taught to us…and if we’re not taught those skills, we may as well be lemmings jumping off the cliff together. Too many people don’t have what it takes to process complicated information and make decisions for themselves without guidance or affirmation from others.

        Facebook, in the hands of a generation whose critical thinking skills are questionable, unfortunately ends up being part of the problem. It is, however, a tool that relies completely on the people using it. You can shape it by how you use it. And although you can’t control what everyone else does with it, what one person does can sometimes spread to the masses…the red-equal-sign-thing being the perfect example.

        So I guess–try to be a responsible Facebook user, even when it seems like everyone else is isn’t. And keep writing thought-provoking blog posts. :)

  3. sarah says:

    Thanks, Jared. You’re dead on.

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