Back in G.W. Bush presidency, someone coined the term “BDS” or “Bush Derangement Syndrome”, in order to refer to that unhinged segment of the punditry who couldn’t mention his name without the words “Nazi” or “anti-Christ.” (Now, for Obama it’s “Muslim/Socialist” and “anti-Christ.”) I’d like to submit three new terms: PDS, RHEDS, and DDS. John Piper, Rachel Held Evans, and Mark Driscoll Derangement Syndrome. Those three number among a set of high-profile names you can attach to any story and immediately pique the interest of the bizarre, tribalistic, and over-active Evangelical segment of the social media universe. They’re also among the select group of people that we’re beginning to lose our ability to speak to, read, or read about, sanely.

Enraged Illiteracy
I’m not talking about the regular, normal, justified criticism any one of these high-profile teachers and authors deserve. But if you pay much attention to evangelical culture, you know what I’m talking about. So and so tweets out a tweet, and it’s extrapolated into an entire political philosophy, or psychology of parenting, or what-have-you. We have heard so much of their teaching (actual or reported), made our judgments, and now we read every sentence waiting to pounce, publicize, and mobilize the troops in shock and outrage.

Rachel Held Evans could tweet about how great oranges are, and a bunch of angry Reformed guys will starting make an exegetical case that this was the fruit offered up by Satan in the Garden.

John Piper could confess his love of puppies and you’d get some bitter progressive snarling back quickly “Oh, right, but only the elect ones, right? All the other puppies are burning?”

Driscoll could innocently tweet out a picture implying another ministry aggressively confiscated material and everybody would think it’s a silly PR stunt. (Oh wait… nevermind.) You catch my drift, though.

I’m not denying that there are proper times to criticize and engage in polemics. I’ve criticized some of Evans‘ writings myself, and, as you can guess, though I’m Reformed, I’ve got some issues with Driscoll’s recent publicity stunts (among other possible qualms.) Still, in our polarized, politicized American online culture, the habits of the world are those of the church to the point where we have those moments where we don’t actually read what a person says before jumping all over it.

We think to ourselves: “So and so said it, so it must imply some assault on orthodoxy or human decency,” without slowing down to think it through. We rush out to post, comment, tweet, and make our horror known to the world, kicking off an avalanche of spleen and fury. Of course, it doesn’t help that we have a ridiculous celebrity culture that magnifies the writings and personalities of a select few, over the particular voices of the faithful pastors and mentors who actually know you. But, that’s another subject for another day.

Tips For Reading Christian Celebrities
I’ve already written about the proper way to read things on the internetengage in polemics, as well as the importance of criticizing your own tradition, and making proper distinctions in this sort of thing. Still, I want to offer a word or two on the proper practice of reading famous Evangelical types on the internet, especially the ones you’re already predisposed not to like:

  1. Before you read the article, breathe.
  2. Count to 10.
  3. Read the article slowly noting key nouns, verbs, modifiers, and transition clauses.
  4. Count to 10 again.
  5. Read it slower.
  6. Pray.
  7. Now go ahead and tweet it out with the appropriate commentary.

OR

  1. Don’t read the article.

I’m half-joking here, but seriously, nothing is gained when we launch off on someone for something they didn’t actually intend to say. It may feel good to impute the dumbest reading possible to that person, but it does not further understanding, or draw you and your sister/brother who happens to be that person’s devoted fan, together in Christ.

Of course, this is one of those times I wish I could write under a pseudonym as Kierkegaard did, in order to avoid the appearance that I actually think I’m good at what I’m commending to others. I failed at this yesterday.

A Plea to Christian Celebrities
In the unlikely event that anybody in this mega-category reads this: please remember that you, for better or for worse, have significant clout and influence. If you’ve got some monster Twitter following, a well-trafficked blog, or a bazillion Facebook friends, don’t feed this.

In the immortal words of Uncle Ben Parker: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Use your platform wisely. In other words, read and comment as you’d like to be read and commented on. Hopefully the people you influence will imitate you at your best.


photo credit: mdanys via photopin cc


20 Comments

  1. A bit of straw-man here? RHE tweets stuff that enrages people but shouldn’t, Piper tweets about Job after a hurricane, and Mark tweets/writes anything without careful language or charity in his usual bombast. This post might actually have a point if it linked to some tweets for each of them but if not we should be honest that in each case different catergories are at work.

    1. The article is trying to have a broad appeal across the spectrum of people who provoke extreme responses, not saying all of them are exactly the same. Clearly you have a team you’re defending here, but I’d point out that on the recent Job tweets, that was a clear case of what I am talking about. It was not wise to do, but when you looked at both tweets, not just the one, even Evans said that people had misread him. But whatever, we don’t care. Just batten down and defend the tribe.

    2. Thanks assigning a team to me. I put them in ascending order. Of course, RHE makes statements that people disagree with, Piper is normally so clear and tame but there he made high profile mistake (read wrong by his opponents as well), Mark is just bombastic and wants that response. Clearly it’s not the same thing across the spectrum, which you admit, but let’s have a little nuance. Or is assign teams for lack of clear writing what C&PC does?

    3. Alright, maybe I shouldn’t assign teams but clearly the sympathies are there. Rachel can throw out a couple of hum-dingers, (not in the Driscoll range), but they’re not ones that people sympathetic to her theologically will catch or see the way others might. Still, my point is not so much about the celebrities themselves, but about the reactions that we as readers have. This is why I tried to stay as neutral on them as I could, because to do otherwise, invites people to miss the point and jump all over the rankings assigned to their particular favorite. Also, you’ll note that Driscoll’s the one that came in for the most actual criticism.

      Beyond that, don’t blame CaPC for any lack of “clarity” on my part. They’re a great team.

    4. I guess agree to disagree. If you are going to name names, RHE. JP. MD, nuance is our friend. Think if this post would have been weaker if it didn’t have names? No, it wouldn’t. But then you couldn’t make it seen like all three people are on the same level.

      BTW It’s not impossible to link or embed tweets in a blog post. If you are going to say something like this: Rachel can thrown out a couple of hum-dingers, (not in the Driscoll range), but they’re not ones that people sympathetic to her theologically will catch or see the way others might. It might be good to have some actual evidence. It’s sounds like you’re saying RHE does coded tweets that if we only understood would enrage us all.

    5. Cade, I guess we will.
      Here’s the thing: no names is probably weaker. Concrete examples help for this sort of thing. But when you write your article on the subject, feel free to leave them out.

      On the RHE tweets, I am by no means suggesting they are coded. She’s straightforward, which is something I appreciate. I’m saying they probably won’t annoy you because you agree, or are sympathetic to them.

      Finally, no, I won’t go dig them up because that would be entirely counterproductive to the point of the post which is that we should all calm down a bit, argue less, and think more when we comment on this stuff.

    6. So weird to watch people talk about you like this.

      I can be a real ass on Twitter when I feel defensive. Fortunately for me, my meaner tweets tend to appear in back-and-forth dialog between one or two people rather than broadcasted to everybody. But I’ve had to apologize several times for hasty, uncharitable words. I’m learning to cool down before responding to people. …something about being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry….which sucks when God has clearly blessed me with an abundance of snark. ;-)

      Also, I think the fact that I’m responding here disqualifies me from being a “Christian celebrity.” They tend not to engage with readers and they tend also to be dudes. I’m pretty happy to stay a D-lister for the rest of my career. Frankly, the whole Christian “industry” troubles me…a lot…and I find myself struggling with how to navigate its emphasis on “personality” without getting a big head on the one hand or thinking myself “above it all” on the other.

    7. Thanks for chiming in Rachel. I hope I didn’t come across as writing about you but writing about this post.

    8. “Driscoll could innocently tweet out a picture implying another ministry aggressively confiscated material and everybody would think it’s a silly PR stunt. (Oh wait… nevermind.) You catch my drift, though.”

      Pot calling kettle black.

  2. I don’t even read RHE’s stuff, because I know I won’t profit from it, and it’s so not worth my time to get myself negatively worked up over what she writes. So, I don’t bother.

  3. Isn’t this is kind of what you’d expect to happen with individuals who have more charisma than wisdom or even thoughtfulness?

  4. “Of course, it doesn’t help that we have a ridiculous celebrity culture
    that magnifies the writings and personalities of a select few, over the
    particular voices of the faithful pastors and mentors who actually know
    you. But, that’s another subject for another day.”

    ^^This. +1 dude. Such a great point.

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