It is almost a daily guarantee. At some point in my day, controversy will find me. I don’t mean something crazy will happen in my world. No, my life is fairly routine. Rather, through Facebook, text, the nightly news, or some other source, a controversy that demands my attention will pop up.
Someone from a particular group will have treated someone from another group poorly. An entertainer will have done something odd at an awards show. A church person will have put down someone’s lifestyle choices. And then, here it comes. The blog posts, twitter bashings, the “how could they’s” and “what does this reveal about our culture/churches.” Eventually there are the “what we need to learn from this” and “how we are wrong for responding like we did” posts.
And then the next controversy pops up. And we do it again.
More and more it seems our culture is driven by controversy. We simply move from event to event reacting and overreacting. It drives conversations. It creates the need to take a stance. It acts as entertainment.
Yet, how beneficial is all our jumping in? Are we changing minds? Reshaping the world? Doing more harm than good?
I am not sure, but my gut instinct is that far too often we jump on the latest controversy and take a side with little or no thought as to why we are doing it.
So here are a few questions we might want to ask before illuminating the world with our take.
1. Is this actually real? Last November my Facebook feed blew up with articles, then blog posts about the abhorrent treatment of a waitress. Apparently, from what I read from others posts and comments, she was not tipped by a christian couple because she was gay. The couple she served even wrote her a disparaging note on their receipt. This was a big deal. And proof that people, especially christians, are jerks. Immediately though, I thought of something strange: How do we know they are christians? The note did not mention God, Jesus, Church, etc… So it seemed strange to simply blame church people for this. However, it makes for better blogging if we can get on a high horse and use this as proof of the changes that we are calling for. Then a week or two later, a conflicting report poured in. This might not have happened at all. When we jump on these controversies to promote whatever we believe in, no matter how good and right that belief is, we run the risk of having our legs cut out from under us when the truth comes out.
2. Is this actually a big deal? Now hear me out. Obviously, even one person saying something racist, or treating another human poorly matters. But, often I get the feeling we react to “controversies” as if the vast majority of people are involved. One person saying something stupid does not mean their entire group (whatever group we think they belong to) feels the same way. A celebrity acting foolish does not represent even all celebrities, much less our entire society. A few people responding online to some random blog post may be representative of a lot of people, or they may be just a few deranged wackos. One person doing something stupid is not proof that we all have a problem, any more than a lone serial killer is proof we all need to stop murdering others. It may be that our churches or society need to change on a particular issue, but let’s not use one person’s stupidity as the reason.
3. Is it worth it? The apostle Paul warns in Titus to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” Now, he was not referring to weighing in on a Miley Cyrus performance. However, I think the general principle still applies. How many times have you actually “won” an argument? You know, where the other person totally gave in and lovingly came to your side because you showed them the truth! My wife and I have a saying, “If one of us wins, then we lose.” Most of these disputes do us little good. Trust me in that. A few months ago I got in a Facebook war with someone. I still have no doubt I was right. But the argument was wrong. And while many agreed with my “side”, I came off looking like a jerk. Seems I still have a lot to learn about when and how to stand up for what I believe.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is move from being reactive to proactive. Rather than letting what we think is important or deserves our attention be driven by our twitter feed, we should look to love and serve and share the gospel. The moments will come when taking a stand will matter. And then, people might actually listen.