It is with great interest I have followed Rachel Held Evans‘ blog posts about Mark Driscoll being a bully and her call for people to stand up to him. In my opinion Rachel is spot on. She has challenged Mark Driscoll about his online behaviour and remarks he has made in sermons which are later posted online. As one might suspect there has been a steady flow of people lining up to rebuke Rachel for what I would call “the classic theological scandal” she told the truth!
This particular issue aside (truth is we probably just need to agree to disagree) all of has caused me to rethink the way I behave online and the way I share opinions and interact with people through the blogs I write for and Facebook. I have come to the conclusion; I have at times been a bully. Not always, and not intentionally (and this may also be the case for Driscoll) but at times I have crossed the line in a way that does not reflect the Jesus way. I asked my wife this morning before I left for church. She agreed. Ouch! (Man I love my wife!)
A little background before I apologise. I am a passionate person. I hate injustice. If I believe something I defend it and proclaim it vigorously. I am rarely persuaded on the spot to change my mind. On top of this, I grew up in a blue collar union based (not my political leaning now) family who were not afraid to voice their opinions. They would constantly argue and banter about politics (Of course it was always the other sides fault). I hated it as a kid but have inadvertently taken on the same passion and penchant for arguing as my family.
Things have changed. Now, I am a pastor. A shepherd of God’s flock called upon to proclaim Christ and lead people to Jesus in the Jesus way. As a pastor, I would be horrified, disgusted even, if someone in the congregation were to view me as or experience me as a theological bully. I work extremely hard to shepherd the people in my care; to love them and treat them with dignity. However, truth is, I have not always been as diligent with these same values as a blogger. No one ever gets it right all the time and we all have moments. However, Rachel’s’ piece and the discussion about bullying has awoken me to how my own behaviour may be perceived, Maybe I have seen blogging as an escape, maybe as a place to rant. But rants can be a form of bullying.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place to share passionately, to stand up for injustice and to discuss one’s opinion but I wonder where the line is. Where does one cross the line from sharing an opinion to bullying? For instance I have an opinion on the recent decision of the SBC to discourage the use of the NIV 2011. I shared my opinion. Did I bully? I hope not. What about other things I have said? It has never been my intention to bully. More than anything else I want to be a good and faithful shepherd. Not only of those in our church but those without. Perhaps the best thing to do is shut my mouth and listen. Jesus certainly did that.
I am a pastor. Every person who visits my own blog will read my opinions. Nevertheless they will, from now on, also be treated as someone with whom I am meeting face to face, the same as someone who is visiting the church for the first or the tenth time. The same goes for Facebook. Although I tend to keep FB as a personal place of interaction I must also pay close attention to how I speak with people online because the printed word can be interpreted so very many different ways (one of the reason I think we should all write in the third person giving explanation to the way something is said and the context – but I digress).
Therefore, I would like to apologise to you if you have ever felt bullied by my opinions and views. I would hate to be thought of as a pastor who bullies people. I will still share my opinions and from time to time I will get frustrated theologically, politically and even personally. But my opinions are my own and I own them. I hope they can build up and edify rather than tear down and divide.
Peace be with you,
Rev Mark Stevens
Good thoughts here, much to think about. While we need to be careful to not bully people. we need to also be careful we fail to not speak up about injustice and say something is wrong when something is wrong. Bullying has a lot to do with power and influence over a weaker person or a weaker group. To be honest, what really got so many people was the invitation to join in. It was not merely critical of an action or belief.
Thanks again, I thoroughly enjoy the blog.
Hear Hear Mark! A good word.
I believe that on a cultural level, we’re slowly losing our ability to be civil toward those with whom we disagree. When we discuss something on the internet, we can’t see each other’s faces; we cannot look into each other’s eyes. Therefore, we attack the issue rather than thinking about the fact that there is another person attached to that issue who is going to be on the receiving end of our words. I’m convinced we write things on the internet that we would never write in person.
And beyond that, if you tune into any of the major cable news networks during prime time, you find a bunch of heads screaming at each other. None of these people know how to respectfully disagree with an opposing viewpoint. We lose truly engaging discourse as people attempt to shout each other down and interrupt each other to forcefully project their own point of view.
Pastors have often been guilty of this kind of incivility, too, because the sermon is often written in advance, or even if not, if you’ve ever preached or taught in front of a large group, you know how easy it is to block out the faces of your audience, even when looking directly at them.
Christians are told to be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us, but too many seem to forget the part about doing so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
Or, to correct my sentence above, I’m convinced that we write things on the internet that we would never -say- in person.
I appreciate your wise words. It made me realize that I am often a theological-bully as well. When I feel something is threatened I sometimes push harder and get meaner. In many ways I can be no different than Driscoll (thankfully I am not in the same spotlight so that my errors aren’t as magnified). Recognizing this doesn’t mean we don’t correct one another in love, but I think it does help us realize we are all very, very human.
From Rick – “I believe that on a cultural level, we’re slowly losing our ability to be civil toward those with whom we disagree.”
This is so incredibly true that it’s heartbreaking, but I believe that it has transferred to that F2F contact . We have become immune as a society to saying things politely or even without raising our voices. We have the right to say whatever we want but to say it in whatever manner we want to say it in using whatever words come to our collective tongues. And we as Christians have justified those very behaviors because we are speaking in love or being biblically honest. Maybe I see it more in my profession because adults think they can say anything to a student and parents think they can say anything to a teacher. There just seem to be a lot of bullies out there coming from every direction! The fact of the matter is that as a society we are rude and we do not seem to know how to keep our mouths shut when it would be best to do so. I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t correct or disagree, I just don’t think it has to be an in-your-face or ridiculing event as so many seem to be.
And here I thought I was going to be making a comment like, “Why complain about people picking on Rob Bell but then complain about Mark Driscoll?” And I found a completely, pleasantly surprising post. I’ll gladly give you the first paragraph. It seems that many are confessing and repenting lately, although yours is rather minor in my estimation (the transgression, not the confession). I would even say that bullying is somewhat of a strong word, but that’s from my perspective.
The post is worth it.
So many of us need to learn how to discuss. I pride myself on not saying things I wouldn’t say in person but often use sarcasm or very subtle jibes to make a point (in person too) instead of soberly and lovingly saying what I want to say, unless a person is puffy but doesn’t care to write well (inside joke).
Again, I so appreciate this kind and good post. Thanks, folks. I’ll add just this: you apologize for anytime you might have bullied. It is good to have a conversation where those of us who have strong opinions and views and convictions come on too strongly, imply we are surely right, without humility. Using our power or position or voice to shut out others. That is a problem. But that is not mostly what some of us protest in Mr. Driscoll. It was the rude suggestion that we should mock others, it was the invitation to scorn, it was the sexism and mocking and macho weirdness about fighting and sex and gender. Derision against others, talk about beating people up, cage fights, suggesting blame to a wives for their husband’s sexual infidelity. Your kind reflections about theological overconfidence is something other than what Evan’s called out, which verged on toxic hostility, especially concerning gender and maleness.
Thanks Mark, a moving and honest reflection that invites us all to consider our conduct and whether our tongues (or fingers) have started any raging fires. Let s/he who is without sin cast the first e-stone.
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