Many years ago, at the height of the Iraq War, I got an email newsletter from a well-known evangelical Protestant pro-life and pro-family group. In it was a deeply unworthy column mocking concerns over the torture of prisoners that had come to public prominence at that time.
|Deacon Kyle Eller
This was a betrayal of the principles, such as the dignity of the human person and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that the organization was supposedly based on, principles I shared. It strongly suggested partisan politics as the real motivating principle. (I have since come to learn that that is all too common.)
I was quick on the “unsubscribe” button.
Another scene: Last year, as Ireland prepared to vote on whether to legalize abortion, one of my favorite bands, U2, a band with music so full of Christian references that in its early days it had to resist being classified as Christian rock, came out in favor of legalizing abortion.
Now, when U2 comes on the radio, I change the station.
Those examples come to mind from an extremely long list — human rights organizations like Amnesty International that abandon the human rights of unborn children, pro-life media outlets that consistently sensationalize and take quotes from their opponents out of context, Catholic musicians posting rainbow flags and ignoring questions about whether they hold the fullness Catholic belief regarding human sexuality.
Often (not always) my response is to simply walk away and no longer associate with such things. Or, one might say, I let them walk away.
Sometimes I express my sadness as this happens, but for me, the point is not really boycotting or protesting, not anymore. I do believe in miracles and grace, but short of such divine intervention I have no illusions posting some message on social media in the midst of a public controversy is going to make a difference to the people involved here.
Even imagining I’m wrong about that — suppose, for instance, U2 faced so much backlash that they felt compelled to walk it back in some way — what would it really accomplish? Not, I think, a real change of heart for people who, presumably after due consideration and reflection and consultation, decided a “right” to dismember helpless unborn children was a cause they wanted to get behind publicly.
Absent some kind of personal relationship, of course they are not going to care. Offending people like me is often part of the point.
Many people responding to these things seem driven by outrage. I feel like I’m less and less so. Mostly I feel sadness. And the more I admired the person or group, the worse that is. Countless famous musicians publicly support abortion, but it’s not like the visceral gut-punch I felt seeing U2 do it, because U2 was supposed to be (and in many ways was) the good guys. There’s an old Latin maxim, “corruptio optimi pessima,” which means “the corruption of the best is the worst.” I think that’s true. The more admirable people are, the worse it is to see them embrace something awful.
This has all really come to a head for me over the past month, with half of my social media draped in rainbow flags and much of corporate America demanding abortion. I’m experiencing a deep weariness of it all.
Once upon a time, not so long ago in years, although it feels like another lifetime, every square inch of public and private life were not a culture war battlefield.
Once upon a time, I didn’t know every ugly thought that went through the mind of everyone I know. Boy, do I miss those days.
Ideology and politics have long infused news and entertainment media, and to a lesser degree sports. But it wasn’t this way, this endless, dreary, daily drone.
I remember when major companies such as Netflix kept to themselves their contempt for huge numbers of customers and whole states regarding controversial topics like abortion. (Did I miss a memo here? Aren’t the sexual revolutionaries at this very moment hauling business owners to court arguing they should not be allowed to conduct business according to their moral and religious convictions?)
I remember when the Minnesota State Parks and Trails did not celebrate “Pride” on its Facebook page and neglect to delete comments by the “inclusive” suggesting that those who have objections should get off the trails. (Did I miss another memo? It seems like only yesterday the sexual revolutionaries demanded government remain as neutral as possible on moral and religious issues.)
And I think I remember a time when outrage over the outrage du jour was not the measure of one’s commitment to a good cause, and a time when being kind and reasonable in hopes of persuading rather than being pugnacious and bitter in hopes of destroying was a virtue.
So what do we do? Compromising the faith is not a solution — the faith is the most critical good of all to defend, the true hope of the world. But what, then? Walk away? Speak up? Stand silent? Start building small, intentional communities where our faith is lived and loved? Rely on the “apostolate of friendship” and walk with one soul at a time?
Depending on the circumstances, any of those (or several of them) might be a right answer. It’s that old question of what it means for us to be in the world and not of the world, and it seems, in our time, to be getting harder.
Whatever we do, we should recognize that this kind of discernment is difficult and think gently of those struggling to manage it. And most of all we should sincerely forgive and pray for those who have betrayed the things we hold dear.
Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]