The unraveling of public discourse in evangelical Christianity

Stung by social media!

As a Christian leader based in the southern part of the globe, I sometimes wonder if evangelicals in North America are aware of how their statements and activities are perceived here. The unraveling of Christian discourse on a host of burning issues in the United States before a watching world is disconcerting.

A Hindu religious leader recently asked me the following question: Why are Christians in the United States destroying themselves and their institutions? I asked the reason for his question. He said he was following the social media reaction to the Southern Baptist Convention and how a serious issue was ending with the rant and resignations of various leaders.

The way some evangelical leaders deal with these important issues is becoming a stumbling block for religious minorities outside the Western world. We are exposed to vitriolic language, crude judgment and self-righteous statements that are thrown at each other.

What is Christian witness to a watching world?

Consider the following:

1) Social media is not the place to address important issues

America’s obsession with using social media to solve complex problems requires serious soul-searching. Do public messages and abrupt 140-character statements reflect the spirit of Jesus and point to the type of Christian culture we are aiming for? Are we slow to speak and quick to listen? And do we speak the truth in love?

A subset of Christian media approaches “truth” much like tabloid reporters. Many stories appear more like a marketing effort resulting in clicks, sales, downloads, and personal awareness, even if they are done under a Christian veneer.

Because of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, there appears to be no liability for half-truths and outright lies. People can get away with saying almost anything online. But Christians should set the standard, not exploit it.

2) Extrajudicial procedures cannot be a default solution in democracies with the rule of law

Any process that uses “independent” groups or independent international investigations to solve criminal activities is seriously flawed. Criminal acts should not be dealt with by Christian mediators and even “independent investigations” are not the solution. On the contrary, criminal acts must be reported to the police so that law enforcement can investigate and conduct a proper legal process, which preserves the rights of all those involved.

As a human rights activist, I view extrajudicial proceedings as human rights violations and, unfortunately, those who have been sinned against and the sinner suffer where extrajudicial proceedings are rampant. Mob justice is not the answer. Americans need to cherish their justice system and stop taking the law into their own hands.

When Christians resort to mob justice when it comes to criminal activity, whether it be sexual abuse, financial fraud, or anything else, we end up descending into tribalism in a failed attempt to make justice.

The statute of limitations is being extended around the world for sexual abuse, and that’s encouraging.

But when tribalism takes over, you end up with the spectacle of Kavanaugh hearings.

3) Politics is present in the church and is as bad as politics between political parties

The political dimension impacts all areas of our social behavior. Politics affects the family, the church and society as a whole. Politics is power and everything that comes with it.

A major blind spot in many Christian circles is the failure to craft good political theology. By emphasizing the spiritual dimension, Christians avoid uncomfortable questions about the ideology behind church governance, mission structures, mission activity, and racial issues.

The church seems increasingly blind to their appropriation of the very policies they condemn within their own regime.

4) Stop tearing down your institutions

One of the most confusing issues of our time is the attack on all forms of authority and the lack of respect for societal institutions. Authority and institutions are discarded, but without offering an alternative model.

Societal “freedom” does not mean being free from responsibilities and institutions. Freedom is not absolute. Nature itself imposes restrictions on human freedom. American and Western cultures, inclined to tear down structures of authority, wreak havoc on family, church and civil society.

Christians tend to view institutions as inherently evil. But God is the Creator of institutions and their authority. God’s natural laws bring order to the world and he created the first institution of human society: the family. He then created other institutions in the church and government. Thus, the dismantling of these biblical institutions creates a credibility crisis that cannot be ignored. It is also terrible theology.

We live in a time when the world needs the church to represent Jesus and his kingdom in all areas of life, not to restrict the gospel to the soul. The world needs to see the good, truthful and loving way in which we deal with human evil. The world needs to see how, even in the midst of sin inside and outside the church, Jesus is able to produce a living new humanity that brings redemption to the whole world.

We must, as Christians, adopt this objective in all our speeches and actions. We can start by keeping important issues out of social media, avoiding the division caused by politics, rejecting extrajudicial processes, and refraining from tearing down the institutions that have brought its enormous blessings over the past century.

Joseph D’Souza is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, which provides humanitarian aid to the marginalized and excluded in South Asia. He is Archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and President of the All India Christian Council.

Barry F. Howard