It’s no secret that we live in a culture fueled by outrage and controversy. With deep political division over issues such as the pandemic response, policing policies, racial equity, LGBTQ+ inclusion, abortion regulation, and a whole host of other issues, it feels like there are few times in recent memory when the country has been more divided.
Unfortunately, the American church has not appeared any more united than the culture around it. That’s something that should trouble us.
But what should trouble us even more is the fact that public figures, including Christian pastors and public theologians, have made a name for themselves by capitalizing on this culture of fear and anger. They have built considerably sized platforms on outrage, skyrocketing themselves into places of national recognition, both inside and outside the Church.
In a time when the algorithm is king—and a capricious king who loves verbal violence and hatred at that—a fair number of Christians have been all too willing to kiss the ring of this king if it means personal gain.
We should beware of these people. Here are at least three reasons we should be seriously wary of anyone who has built their online platform on outrage.
There’s a World of Difference Between Speaking Prophetically and Grifting.
Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets fearlessly, relentlessly, and unapologetically rebuked the sins of their own people in order to call them to renewed repentance and faithfulness. Though they were directly commissioned by God, they prophesied at great personal expense, as those to whom they spoke persecuted them harshly.
As we look to the New Testament, a similar fate befell the apostles and early Christian leaders. They preached the resurrection and lordship of Jesus against the backdrop of persecution from both their Jewish counterparts and the Roman Empire. They suffered terrible violence at the hands of evil men who sought to keep the message of the gospel from going out to all the nations.
Nevertheless, they remained faithful to their mission, even in the face of certain death, because, in the words of Peter and John, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
Christians today are called to both preach and live out the message of the gospel, even if it costs them everything. But there are some in our day who are taking up the banner of political stances with flimsy biblical ties, speaking harshly against those who disagree with them, and then claiming Christian persecution when their stances, words, and actions result in an eminently predictable public outcry.
However, there’s a world of difference between speaking prophetically and building a platform on outrage that results in financial gain. Hot takes drive retweets, website clicks, and social media follows. If you know which buttons to press, you can build an audience large enough to get a publishing company to notice your work. You’ll certainly get some hate mail, but you’ll also gain considerable influence.
And you can hardly cry persecution as you sign book deals with six figure advances, accompanied by speaking tours that are worth even more.
The dictionary defines a grift as “a group of methods for obtaining money falsely through the use of swindles, frauds, dishonest gambling, etc.” Unfortunately, there are some who—in the name of Jesus—are positioning themselves to financially gain from controversy, not from calling their own people to repentance but by rallying their base against a perceived external enemy.
They scour the internet for slights, real or imagined, in order to capitalize on rage through hyperbole and innuendo. They deepen chasms by speaking in inflammatory ways and intentionally misrepresenting opposing views. And they’re laughing all the way to the bank. They need not even deeply believe anything that they’re saying, so long as we all keep clicking on it.You can hardly cry persecution as you sign book deals with six figure advances. Click To Tweet
We Agree on a Lot More Than Some Would Lead Us to Believe.
What’s lost in the culture that has been built up around this cottage industry devoted to political embattlement is that we actually have a lot more we agree on than not. This is true of Americans generally, but it’s even more true for those who call themselves followers of Jesus.
There are people whom I go to church with who, based on their social media activity, would be appalled to discover my beliefs on a number of political or theological issues. According to public narratives, I am their sworn enemy.
And yet the relationships I have with them are entirely lovely. I worship and serve alongside them weekly. I joke and laugh with them. I ask about and pray for their families, and they do the same for mine. We are united in our love for Jesus, our belief in the bible, and our conviction for the mission of the gospel. We are brothers and sisters.
There are also times when I have had spirited conversations with some of these brothers and sisters to debate important issues of theology and politics. At the end of the conversation, we might not have changed each other’s minds, but we were still friends. And even in the midst of those conversations where we had sharp disagreements, there was still more that we could agree on than not.
Christians who build their public platforms on outrage would have you think differently.What's lost in the culture that has been built up around this cottage industry devoted to political embattlement is that we actually have a lot more we agree on than not. Click To Tweet
Divisiveness for Its Own Sake Is Sin, Pure and Simple.
The bible is replete with warnings against divisiveness, which is at the heart of building a platform on outrage.
The Proverbs refer to these kinds of people as dishonest and problematic.
A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.
A man of wrath stirs up strife,
and one given to anger causes much transgression.
And Paul tells us to avoid them.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (Romans 16:17)
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. (Titus 3:10)
These are just a few of many instances where we are warned about this very kind of thing. The bible talks about people who intentionally stir up outrage and division often, because they are both common and destructive. What they do is sinful, pure and simple.
This isn’t to say that there are never times when Christians should break ranks with other followers of Jesus. In the New Testament, Paul clashed with Peter over how to include non-Jewish Christians in the Church. Martin Luther clashed with the power structures of 16th century Roman Catholicism to launch the Reformation. And Christians today should stand against injustices that plague our society and our churches.
Public critique is also important. But we have to ask ourselves two questions: (1) Is what I’m saying necessary? and (2) Is it kind?
Are you really speaking prophetically for the benefit of others, or are you doing it for the clout? And are you being kind—as in, actually kind? Too often, Christians have spewed tone deaf and even downright vile epitaphs in the name of Christian love. After all, “I can’t say I love you if I’m not willing to tell you the truth.” But love, if it truly is love, shouldn’t feel like hate.
At the end of the day, there are truths that we should be willing to disrupt unity to preserve. There are hills that are worth dying on. But biblically disputable political stances couched in inflammatory and uncharitable language that also just so happen to be the key to increasing someone’s follower count simply aren’t it.Public critique is important. But we have to ask ourselves two questions: Is what I'm saying necessary? And is it kind? Click To Tweet