Vintage Saints and Sinners by Karen Wright Marsh, Free for CAPC Members
In Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh manages to emphasize the vast goodness of spiritual giants while also humanizing them.
In the past, I’ve done something called hate-watching, which involved watching the musical TV drama Smash on Hulu every week and tweeting hilariously bad dialogue and plot twists as they happened. The show was such a perfect combination of technically well-crafted accomplishment and bumbling misguided creative direction that it was a genuine joy to watch it slowly fall into itself like a carefully constructed bonfire.
Although it was just a TV show, sometimes I found myself feeling sorry for the writers and actors who bore the brunt of my jokes. It was all in good fun, but it was fun for me. I still struggle with an empathetic impulse toward those who work to make good television and end up creating an object of ridicule.
It’s difficult for me, then, to understand the impulse behind a recent trend that takes a more self-serious and high-stakes approach to hate-watching. Communities like the Facebook page titled “Stuff Christian Culture Likes” (SCCL) have devoted themselves entirely to delivering the latest missteps of evangelicalism straight to our newsfeeds. SCCL represents a growing trend of websites and internet communities that thrive on feeding their readers’ disgust and frustration with the Church.
Take, for example, what happened at SCCL after reporting that Mark Driscoll posted a request for donations to Mars Hill Church and acknowledged they were behind in giving this year. SCCL shared the post with the simple introduction: “Mark Driscoll wants you to give.”
Then the comments began:
“This is what all churches are really about—raking in money,” clarified one comment, providing context. The next comment provided editorial critique: “It’s a poorly written epistle style letter, which deviates quickly.” Two comments later, some helpful marketing advice: “I guess misogyny doesn’t sell?”
I’m all for a little good-natured ribbing. John Piper makes funny hand motions, that sort of thing. And I’m all for calling out Christian leaders for saying dumb things, as Christ and Pop Culture has done in the past with Driscoll himself. But the kind of regular mockery that SCCL manages to pull off, day in and day out, is in a different category.
“Before you were born or had done anything good or bad, God chose whether to save you or not,” John Piper sputtered through a mouthful of yogurt.
That is an actual SCCL post, their best shot at a joke about Piper’s well-established views on election. Just to be clear, the joke is that Piper is very old. Implying, I guess, that he is slowly losing sanity, causing him to adhere to the same views he had as a young preacher? I guess that’s it? I don’t even know anymore.
The fact is, communities like these seem to have stopped trying. They no longer appear interested in living up to the challenge of Ephesians 4:29, to speak words that are “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
These groups see themselves as safe havens for those who have been deeply wounded by the Church. I don’t, for one second, want to cast any doubts or aspersions on the claims that the Church has wounded many who visit or frequent these groups.
I have experienced my own betrayal at the hands of the Church, having been fired from a ministry position in a way that was underhanded and undeserved. I have felt the lasting repercussions of that experience. I struggled for years with bitterness toward those involved and still find it easy to go down that rabbit hole if I let myself. Of course, I can’t begin to fathom what it must be like to deal with the much worse sexual and emotional abuse that many have suffered at the hands of church leaders and institutions. I have done my best to empathize with and internalize those struggles. My heart aches for those who have faced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at the hands of the Church.
I also know how incredibly hard it is to speak edifying language into those situations when you’re the one affected by them. The struggle to maintain a godly hope for the Church and its leaders in the face of intense corruption and harmful teaching is a very real one. I don’t intend to shame and blame victims of these things for finding it difficult to cope when confronted with very real triggers. The Internet is full of these triggers, and it’s no surprise that our always-online lives are full of frustration and bitterness toward those who are going about teaching the Gospel of Grace oh-so-wrongly.
But these Internet communities too often aren’t about healing. Not really. They funnel all of these triggers into one place, providing an opportunity for us to direct all of our rage, anger, and malice at what we have deemed to be rightful and deserving targets. These places of supposed healing become places of malice and mockery.
Online communities like these are more and more common, not just among those frustrated with the church, but also among frustrated ultra-reformed and conservative folk, such as Apprising Ministries. Both sides have their own watch blogs and safe spaces where they are free to rail insults and presumptuous remarks at their opponents without being challenged by outsiders or worrying about having to change the minds of those who disagree. These tactics thrive on outrage, resulting in a divisive and predictable pattern of anger and perceived persecution.
Here’s why I find this trend so frustrating and distasteful: biblical healing doesn’t happen this way. Hate doesn’t solve spiritual problems, and God’s Church isn’t sanctified by mercilessly mocking those who have done us wrong. These groups are hate-watching real-life drama, laughing at all the horribly written lines, mocking each villain’s downfalls, and gawking at bizarre plot twists. But these characters are human beings, whom the Bible refers to as neighbors. These plot twists have real consequences.
At the very least, SCCL seems aware of these concerns. The “About” section on its Facebook page reads:
This forum is for people who have been harmed by Christian culture. This page is a safe space for people who have never had a place where they can speak their true feelings that don’t look pretty. After we get this out (and it often takes awhile to recover from because it was drilled into us for so long) we can emerge with true positivity and hope. It is such a beautiful thing when abuse survivors can offer the world something more than their sneer. Until then, they can vent here. I completely understand if it’s not your scene.
I just want to be completely clear about this: If you are harmed by Christian culture to the point that you have given up on Christianity altogether, I get that. If you find Christian truth claims to be negative and harmful, that’s fair enough. I wouldn’t want to make any claims about how you deal with your struggles. You may do whatever you want.
But groups like these have engendered a culture that identifies as Christian, yet despises the Church. They have led fellow Christians to hate and despise their brothers and sisters for the sake of “venting.” But Christians are held to a different standard, one that results in edification and unity for the sake of the Church. To struggle with that standard is understandable, but to reject it altogether is giving up, on the Church, on the teachings of Christ, and on your own spiritual sanctification.
Scripture doesn’t reject the concept of venting. It has a realistic and tender approach to emotional suffering, and in fact commands Christians to weep when others weep. God knows the Church could use some help with this principle: just as many struggle with bitterness after being victimized, others struggle with the blindness that comes with privilege. None of us should be willing to stay there. That famous commandment to weep with those who weep is meant to be carried out within God’s covenant community, among flesh and blood church members who take it upon themselves to empathize and care for one another.
God does mock and is harsh towards his followers at times, but those are rare exceptions, and redemptive in nature. But we, with all our flaws and frailty, were never meant to be God’s instruments of justice. We are to be instruments of God’s incredible redemptive grace. Turn over all the tables you want, but in the end, all you’ll have to show for it is a God-forsaken mess.
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