Back when I was a Christian fundamentalist know-it-all teenager, I spent a lot of time laughing at liberals– religious liberals, political liberals, it didn’t matter. One of the more common jokes I heard– and made– was about how those “liberals talk a big talk about tolerance, as long as you agree with them.”
I still see this pop up in my life occasionally– and it showed up in my facebook feed a few times yesterday, in relation to this article. The author, Brandon Ambrosino, hasn’t flinched away from controversy, and has faced some intense pushback as a result. In conversations about his New Republic piece, a few people cracked the “wow, liberals are so tolerant, aren’t they?” joke, and it bothered me.
A little while ago, Stephanie Drury of Stuff Christian Culture Likes, made an argument that people (including victims, she never specified), should extend grace and forgiveness to oppressors and take the opportunity to educate them, and that this was important and anyone who didn’t was doing life wrong. When a non-binary person critiqued this argument, Stephanie’s response was to post a single tweet on facebook, out of context, and claim that she was being bullied. It was the same thing– those liberals are just so tolerant, ain’t they?
There’s been a common thread going through my facebook, twitter, feedly, and wordpress feeds– it frequently comes up in flesh-and-blood conversations, and it’s an idea worth spending some time on. It’s this thought that we’re Christians, and that means we’re supposed to love people, and turn the other cheek, and forgive, and be gracious. Why, then, are you speaking or writing this way? Why all this rage and frustration?
And, to an extent, I very much appreciate the thoughts behind this question. I am a Christian, however confused I may be about what that means right now. Regardless of what I’m sorting out in my soteriology and theodicy, I do believe in following the teachings of Jesus, and that includes “they’ll know you by how you love one another.”
What this looks like for me, personally, is that I do my best to recognize the imago dei of someone I’m responding to. If possible, I try to familiarize myself with their body of work if I’m going to critique a single article. If I’m talking to someone in my comment section here, I do everything I can to be patient and gracious (mostly. I have, occasionally, uhm… not been). In conversations I have on twitter, even with people I disagree with, I do what I can do be calm, gentle, and kind. I think those things go a long way.
However, there have obviously been times when that hasn’t held true. I’ve occasionally “rage stomped” on articles, as I call it. I’ve blocked people on here, on facebook, on twitter. I’ve outright refused to engage with some. Some posts have been full of fire and rage. I made a Grumpy Cat meme that was slightly less than “turn the other cheek” material. I’ve sometimes taken some people to task, and then there’s the fact that I spend most Mondays ripping Fascinating Womanhood to pieces (I’m a “Katniss Everdeen of post-evangelical anti-fundamentalism,” not gonna lie, that was awesome).
So . . . why?
It’s all tied into another question that’s related: don’t you think being calm and gracious will get you a lot further? Don’t you think that being angry will just make people defensive? If you want people to listen, you shouldn’t talk like that. It doesn’t get anything done. You’re just talking into the air if you do it that way.
And, again, to an extent . . . they have a point. Anger and rage, no matter how legitimate, no matter how justified, no matter how necessary, will make a lot of people defensive. It can shut certain doors, end conversations before they even begin. That’s just . . . true. However, there’s another, equally important question.
How far do we go to protect the feelings of oppressors?
How little do we say in order to engage with abusers?
What are we willing to suffer in order to be nice?
How much do we allow in our relationships that hurts us?
How many boundaries must we pull down, and make ourselves unsafe?
There’s a place for rage. For anger. For hurt. For the expression of suffering. And yes, sometimes this means that people who hurt us– inadvertently or not– are going to be uncomfortable. Reading some of the twitter feeds that I follow– @sophiaphotos, @thetrudz, @jaythenerdkid– don’t make me feel very comfortable sometimes, that’s for sure. But comfort is rather beside the point when people are suffering and dying every day because of oppression. That’s why we’re angry, and no, we’re not going to “tolerate” it.
And, I’ve made this argument before, but there’s also the fact that, honestly, no matter how hard I try to be gracious, and loving, and compassionate, and kind, and long-suffering . . . the abuser, the oppressor, the privileged are always going to be able to silence me if they don’t like what it is I’m saying. There will always be a way to dismiss me, no matter what I say or how I say it. Oppressors will find a way to oppress. And yes, sometimes it is worth it to take the time to educate someone (what am I even blogging for if not to try to offer an explanation?) . . . but not always. And it’s the not always part that deserves to be recognized.