I love social media in part because I follow and learn from pastors, professors, and experts. I love asking questions. I love finding answers. What I do not love is entering into conflicts online (well, my flesh might sometimes).
And while that used to be simple to do through self-control, it has become increasingly hard to do over the past few years due to so many theological and cultural wars occurring across the globe. When these regional conflicts hit social media, they become international. And when they become international, they affect all of us. They make it near impossible to avoid conflicts.
I enjoy books and reflecting on books. A while ago, I wrote a reflection on Maximos and desire. Yet during this time, a particular conflict had been raging regionally in the USA (but internationally now on social media). The topic of conflict was desire. Well, many people thought I had been talking about or entering into this conflict. I was not. I knew that it existed to some degree. But I had no intention of battling. Yet, I was accused of moving the ball forward for some agenda that I was not a part of.
I learned. And I quickly had to clarify and think through how desire intersects with sexuality and concupiscence. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn. But I began to notice something had changed online—but not yet consciously.
Another example includes an article I wrote on using words and ideas from culture to explain theological ideas. I tried to show how this worked out in biblical passages. Well, one group of people saw my article as a full-blown affirmation of social justice while another group thought I was rebutting social justice! Granted, I was thinking through the issue that the social justice debate spawned, but I found it odd that two sides of a regional battle in the USA found me (a Canadian) to be a co-belligerent for both sides!
A last example, which really forms the basic idea for this article, happened recently. I tweeted a number of questions about complementarianism. One question was, Does anyone call themselves a soft-complementarian? I had not heard someone do that. And it sounds like an insulting term to me. Again, I may be woefully out of date in the battles.
However, I was too aggressive and my question communicated a rhetorical dismissal of another Twitter user—that is, I asked genuine questions, but they communicated to others as faux-questions, intended to slam dunk another Twitter user. As far as my memory works, I intended to ask genuine questions. Yet someone reached out to me to ask me about it. Through that helpful interchange, I learned a valuable lesson about communication. But I also learned that when regions are at war, it becomes international—any and every word will be taken to puff up or break down one or the other side.
War, and rumours of war
I do not want to be at war with anyone (well, almost anyone). I love learning and growing and sharing. I want to write articles on desire, complementarianism, and so on to learn and to share what I have learned with others.
Yet I am discovering (and my heart here too is guilty) that many of us have bought wholesale into the binary political and culture war. But to make matters worse, we have inserted this binary notion into our theological discourse.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about the fact that we can either be for or against Christ; or that the Gospel saves or does not save. I am talking about an intellectual culture that sees everything as a battle or fight.
We stand firm on the Gospel, but we do not have to battle everyone online who dares to speak on vaccines! Someone promoting justice in the Yukon may have no idea about the social justice debate in Texas. We must refrain from imputing the total meaning of a debate into a single person’s tweet. At a linguistic level, that is called an illegitimate totality transfer—where one uses all the meanings of a word in one instance of it. We do the same at a twitter level, which only shows weakness in our thinking, not strength.
There will always be a war happening somewhere, but we do not need to read everything as if it is a rumour of a war happening or about to happen. We can learn. Cannot we?
My employment gives me the opportunity to hear more about theological debates than most—I imagine. And even then, I am woefully unaware of so much. If I cannot keep up (and I mostly do not want to do so), then how should we expect others who likely have less opportunity to know about every battle happening across the globe?
I am calling for a peace treaty. I am calling for the daring move to believe the best in each other. It takes two to tango. So I need to be more careful about what I say. I get it. But I also do not want to live in a world where I am afraid to ask questions and to think because of wars in Britain that have no direct impact on me. Let Brexit remain in the UK—and do not assume that I am talking about it if I do not directly say so.
I (and all of us) should treat others the same way that we want to be treated. So I will try to do the same. Besides, if we move past the-everything-is-a-battle mindset, then we might just learn something new. Maybe we will learn that we were wrong. And maybe we were fighting on the wrong side. Better: maybe there was no war to begin with.
Pursue peace and peacemaking. Are you with me?