Monday, April 15, 2013

Church Assassins

Roy Williams is an advertising genius. I first met Roy by reading his book, Wizard of Ads. There’s no way for me to describe it, so just go buy it. When you read it, don’t hurry through. Savor his words, think, and gain some wisdom. I’ve been reading Roy’s weekly article called, “MondayMorning Memo,”  for longer than I can remember. He usually addresses business, advertising, or some combination of the two, but quite often, his words have application beyond his intended subject. I don’t know if he’s aware of it or not, but his articles often have direct and significant application to church and spiritual matters. I suspect Roy knows this, because it’s not completely uncommon for him to quote scripture, or at least make reference to some Bible verse. I don’t have a clue what his religious or faith background is, but Roy Williams is one of those people worth reading because he will make you think, and then he will take what you’ve been comfortable in and mess it all up for you. Usually, it’s for the better.

This week’s article, read just this morning, is a winner among winners. I say that because it’s one of those articles with amazing application to Christians.  I’ll try to explain in this post.

A little background first. Many years ago, way back in the 90s, I used to be quite active in what was known as “email lists.” You joined a list, got a list email address to which you sent email messages, and your message was then sent out to everybody else on the list. They could ignore you or respond with comments, questions, arguments, etc. In the beginning, it was quite good. Thoughtful, intelligent people with great ability to write quickly and informatively shared information and dug into topics that challenged and expanded everybody’s knowledge base. I seriously loved the early days of email lists.

Then something happened. The Internet began to catch on. When that happened, email lists got some publicity and lots of new people began to join. That was OK for a while, but slowly, things began to change. Another cyber phenomenon occurred, a little thing called a “flame war!” Basically, that was when somebody took it upon themselves to trash a fellow list member. Condescending, accusatory, inflammable language replaced reasonable discourse, and discussions were often impossible. Mailing lists began to be no fun.

Somewhere in the 90s, I even moderated of one of the most popular mailing lists among “Restoration Movement” people. I came to hate it. Instead of spending my time encouraging people to join and participate, I spent my time refereeing the list, trying to maintain civility, and threatening to put people in “time out!” It’s possible there were even a few people who were banned from the list because they were completely unreasonable.

So, enter Roy Williams and today’s “Monday Morning Memo.” Understand, Roy is writing about social trends and his target is business and how those trends affect the business world. But his words hit home because he describes something that has been going on among Christians, at least as far back as email lists, and now afflicts social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and other modern Internet inventions.

I belong to a “group” on Facebook that is made up of a lot of preachers. It’s not all preachers, you understand, but a sizeable number of the group members are in church ministry of one kind or another. On occasions, I’ve found myself in trouble with the moderator. I’m sure he’s got his explanation of why I was in trouble, and I’ve definitely got mine. You see, in my view, there are some people who get to say unnecessary things, using inflammable language, to demean and cut down others, accuse them of vile intentions and actions, and to stifle any dissenting opinion or comment. I’d bet that’s not what the moderator would say, but I’m willing to let him have his opinion. The trouble happens when I bring up the problem. If I point out what’s happening, and plead for peace and reasonable discussion, I’m the one that gets in trouble, not the people attacking with their words. Understand, this post is not a complaint about getting into trouble on a Facebook group. I’m a big boy and I can deal with these things just fine, thanks.

But I bring that up as a real-life, current illustration of the problem Roy Williams is addressing. One of the reasons it’s such a problem is that I don’t think people realize what they’re doing. I think it’s become fashionable to bash and trash people with whom one disagrees. Civility and respect are infrequent qualities to modern day discussions. We see this daily in politicians and public figures. To make matters worse, whenever anyone points out the problem, that person often gets the “penalty flag” thrown at them.

Here’s a graphic that Roy Williams used in today’s article that illustrates what he says is the “pendulum of society,” and it’s swinging toward the bad side.
In fact, if he’s right, we’re in for another ten years of this hostile atmosphere before it begins to swing the other way. I guess we might as well settle in and get ready. It’s likely not to be pretty. He says we're headed toward the "Witch Hunt!"

The question is: “Does it have to be this way?” The answer is both “yes,” and “no.” It’s “yes” in the sense that we can’t do much about societal shifts and swings. The world has a way of moving on its own and there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop it.

But if you ask if this is how Christians should behave, then the answer is, “No!” Christians are supposed to operate on the “love” principle. 1 Corinthians 13 is a great chapter to read if a person would like to discover principles for relating to others. Matthew 7:12 is still called the “golden rule” because it’s the operating principle that would immediately bring civility and reasonable treatment into any conversation, because it calls on us to treat other people in the way we, ourselves, would like to be treated. You might find a masochist that enjoys being bashed and trashed, but most normal people don’t really enjoy it.

14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
 Catch Paul’s language, please. “. . . if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” I once saw a cartoon of a dog that chased his tail, caught it and ate himself up! The cartoon was funny, but it’s not so funny when it’s people eating others alive.

Christians must set the bar higher. And if you think I’m complaining and leaving myself out, as if I’m some kind of innocent bystander, you’d be wrong. I am a Christian, and I’m also just as prone to get caught up in this hostility as anybody else. So when I say, “Christians,” I’m talking about all of us, including myself. We must not only set the bar higher, we must be the ones who actually reach for it. If there is one group of people in the world who demonstrates love, respect, and honor for others, it must be us. It must be us because Jesus expects it from his disciples, and we are his disciples.

Kindness, gentleness, grace, and mercy are all words that must describe us. Even when taking on issues and even people with whom we vociferously disagree, we must resist the temptation to follow the pendulum of society. If it ever moves back the other way, may it find us waiting right where we ought to be.