By Bob Hiller –
OK, I know me talking about Bronco quarterbacks is getting exhausting for you, BUT PLEASE KEEP READING! I actually think the point I want to get at this week is important. Let’s make a deal: you keep reading, and I will shut up about Bronco quarterbacks for three months. Deal? Deal.
Last week, I heard the great ESPN Insider (think TMZ reporter) Adam Schefter reporting on how Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans and not the Denver Broncos. Schefter was asked, “Did the benching of Osweiler during the season have anything to do with his exit from Denver?” To which Schefter responded (I’m paraphrasing here), “There have been no reports that this is the case. But, you have to think it played a factor.” At which point, Schefter went on to show how his speculation was a significant reason Osweiler left. Now, this is just speculation and assumption reported as fact. A good reporter, in this case, is to simply report the facts and answer the question by saying: “Not to my knowledge.” But, ignorance doesn’t get ratings. Provocative speculation does. So, instead of reporting the facts, Schefter drew conclusions based on assumptions which make for better stories and ratings. He neither had the ability to speak to the question nor the responsibility as a reporter to say more than he knew. So, he should have just shut-up because it wasn’t his place to speak.
I wonder if Lutherans on social media could learn a lesson here. Now, I have been off of social media for Lent, both to keep my sanity and to tempt myself with pietism. But, last week, I failed on both counts as the world of Lutheran social media blew up with controversy. A friend contacted me to get my thoughts on what was happening. I didn’t know any of it, so I checked it out and went into a Lutheran social-media tailspin. I will not dive into the dirty on all the players here, but suffice it to say, a lot of people had an opinion. OK, here are a few details: a pastor whose popularity is rising was called to task by a blogger for former sins he had committed. Such sins typically would disqualify him from the ministry. The blogger claimed to be very close to the situation. He began to call out supporters of said pastor. Further, many prominent and popular Lutheran personalities got dragged into the discussion. Well, “dragged in” is not entirely accurate. Many just dove in with their unsolicited opinions. Sides were taken, orthodoxy questioned, and the church just got stronger…sigh…
I thought about lending my voice. After all, I have nine readers. They have no idea about any of this and couldn’t care less about my thoughts even if they did. But, I had an opinion and a blog! I had analyzed numerous sides of the argument, thought through the issues, and began to write my Biblically and confessionally informed opinions. Then I stepped back and thought, “Why? What the hell is going on here? Why do I need to think anything about this? Why does anyone else need to know what I think about this?” I realized I just needed to shut up.
Now, to be a bit self-righteous here, I am pretty sure almost everyone else should follow suit, at least on social media. We all need to just shut up about this and all similar issues for a few reasons:
1. Social media won’t solve the problem; it will make it worse—I don’t care if you blog for a living, host a radio show, or speak to a large segment of people who are directly involved with this. You don’t need to make one man’s sins the congregation’s pain, or make all parties involved into something that trends in judgmental Lutheran chat rooms. Social media is a venue that has mastered the art of public “shaming.” Airing sins and grievances that require pastoral concern, rebuke, repentance, and healing needs to take place in a different venue. It doesn’t necessarily even have to be a private venue (particularly with public sin). Taking to Facebook and blogs only serves to produce self-righteous judgment and gossip on the part of the readers. This is bad pastoral practice. There are better ways of handling public sin.
2. It is bad pastoral practice—Even if you are close to the situation and have all of the details and facts square, and even if this person is unfit for ministry, then there are avenues within congregations and church bodies to deal with the matter. Getting backers on Facebook may build one’s confidence, but it doesn’t help solve the problem. Rather, it creates ignorant sides. Love demands significant struggle through confrontation, prayer, and working with all sides involved, as does all pastoral counseling and practice. Going to social media is not the same as Jesus’ command to bring unrepentant sin before the church. Pastors ought not to be in the business of internet shaming, even the most deserving of public sinners.
3. It trivializes the issue—The issue at hand in this particular instance is far from trivial. Yet, when snide comments and vague (or not so vague) theological assertions are tweeted about the situation, the only result is overheated, immediate reaction, not prayer and reflection. Twitter rebukes trivialize the law. Twitter absolutions trivialize the gospel. Sure, they get likes, ratings, and hits. We all love the attention. But, nothing of value comes from reactive theologizing, especially about other people’s sins.
4. Everyone looks foolish—I don’t usually like to play the “what does this look like to outsiders?” card, but I will here. This is not love. Not even the pagans act this way, as Paul might say. Though, the political pundits do. And the church must be above that. I hardly think level-heads, reason, and love define how we Lutherans talk on social media. We look ridiculous.
5. Discernment is thwarted—Both sides in an issue ought to be given a chance to tell their story. Blogs and social media can produce fruitful dialogue, but in situations such as the one we’ve been dealing with, simply lobbing facts at us with no opportunity to analyze doesn’t aid discernment. We’re just helping Solomon slice a baby, not that we should be judging it anyhow. And that’s the whole point! Why is this the business of social media apart from us wanting something to stop the boredom and make us feel more righteous about our positions? Is the church truly benefited by this mode of handling controversy?
I want to be clear: I have no first-hand knowledge of any detail in the controversy I’ve been alluding to. Many who are speaking to it don’t either. So, any assertion or accusation from the fringes comes from people without the ability or responsibility to speak. That’s why I think the great lot of us should shut up about it. Brothers and sisters on social media, out of love for one another and Christ’s church, let’s just shut up. Its time for repentance and prayer.
Who knows? Maybe if we are quiet long enough, we’ll actually hear a real, absolving word.