I have a lot of experience with being told to shut up. I’m used to being ignored, dismissed, thrown out. Being an outspoken, opinionated girl and then young woman in Christian fundamentalism leaves one feeling stifled, and it’s a sensation I hate. The one thing that will guarantee that I get so pissed at you that I never speak to you again is to dismiss me when I’m talking about something that I believe matters.
That reaction comes from a lifetime of experience in a cult, watching the people I cared about being told to shut up and color any time they had a problem with something. One of the lessons that I’ve learned extremely well is that if your leaders seem to be immune to criticism, then you probably need to run away screaming.
All of the above is the primary reason Handsome and I left the church we’d been attending for a few years– anytime we had a concern we felt was significant enough to raise, the response was consistently either a) dismissal or b) redirection. Either they would “listen” and then tell us all the reasons why they weren’t worried about it, or they would ignore the criticism and then tell us that we were the ones with the problem. Because, y’know, jokes about spanking infants and conflating abusers and their victims is definitely just our problem. If I reacted poorly to that joke, it’s because I need counseling. Obviously.
So you can imagine my reaction when I read “What Not to Do When a Fellow Christian Embarrasses the Rest of Us” by Samuel James. The tl;dr of that is “shut up shut up SHUT UP SHUT UP!” I don’t exactly run one of the “watchdog blogs” he references, but if this blog is anything, it’s 400+ posts of criticizing Christian culture and damaging theology. I have many problems with his points, not the least of which is that Jesus spent the bulk of his time on earth criticizing the culturally dominant form of Judaism at the time. Criticizing religion is one of the most Christ-like things one can do.
One the reactions to his post was from Julie Anne, a blogger I respect immensely for the “watchdogging” she does. However, something she said struck me:
And then I discovered that Samuel James had preemptively blocked me on Twitter … Mr. James then went on to block several others who were either bloggers or others who questioned him about his article.
So, what we have here is, “I get to say what I want to say and you don’t get to respond back.”
That’s just rude. It’s also the pattern we see in abusive authority figures: the no-talk rule. The no-talk rule prevents others from raising the alarm of abuse because any kind of negative talk is shoved under the carpet.
That has me thinking, because my mantra for twitter and other social media platforms is block early, block often. I even installed The Block Bot and I use it at the most restrictive setting. When I first started blogging I was a lot more patient, but as my platform grows so does the harassment. I’m not saying that blocking a misogynistic asshole that reverts to threats and slurs is the same thing as Samuel blocking people who criticized his argument– it’s definitely not, and my door is always open to honest criticism that is given in good faith.
However, I can imagine reaching the point in my blogging when even constructive criticism becomes overwhelming. If I ever get to the point when (heaven help me) big-name bloggers like John Piper or Douglass Wilson or a dozen others spend a serious amount of their time taking me to task and loudly disagreeing with me, I know I’m going to be sorely tempted to shut them out of my social media just so I don’t have to see it.
Is that too terribly different from Samuel deciding to block the people criticizing him on Twitter?
I know there are some differences. He’s a cishet white man who works for the ERLC. People like him have a long and glorious history of stuffing their fingers in their ears when the Stephens of our world speak the truth. The fact that he’s advocating for Christians everywhere to be silent when faced with something “embarrassing” (read: scandalous, corrupt, and abusive) is a huge problem. Him blatantly shutting down any means people have of communicating to him their disagreement is indicative of a disturbing attitude shockingly common in evangelicalism.
So where exactly do I draw the line? I don’t know. I believe that criticism can lead to productive, healthy growth– and that no one should be shielded from it. But I think that possibly we should be able to choose when and where we want to listen to it.
What do you think?