How to disagree

December 14th, 2017

Earlier this year, I published a book with Westminster John Knox Press entitled Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice. Far from being pro-abortion, my book lifted up several denominational statements that consider abortion a tragedy but call for legal access to abortion services. Continuing from there, I argue that our Christian faith asks us to be broadly pro-life and advocate for policies and services within our communities that support women, children, and families with the end-goal of preventing abortions. Obviously, I knew that there would be backlash, particularly from those who would not bother to read the book but react solely to the title, but I was not prepared for the vile and hateful remarks directed towards me from other Christians.

Abortion is an incredibly divisive issue, and the rhetoric on both sides can easily devolve into name-calling and stereotyping of sides. Part of the goal of writing my book was finding common ground with those who claim the pro-life label in lessening the number of abortions and supporting women and children. Nonetheless, after being featured in an article on the infamous LifeSite News, which calls itself the number one pro-life news website, I received a torrent of e-mails, Facebook messages, and Twitter mentions calling me names and accusing me of advocating for the murder of children. Some went so far as to “report” me to The Episcopal Church Facebook page, apparently clueless as to the official position of The Episcopal Church on abortion.

Even knowing that this would happen, I was not prepared for the hatred unleashed upon me by a website that considers itself Christian. Nor had I expected to be going through a difficult time in my personal life as well. One person told me via e-mail that he did not believe in abortion, except for the case in which he wished that my mother had aborted me. Reading these and similar comments out loud to my friends and family who know and love me, I watched their mouths gape open. It felt a little like the Jimmy Kimmel segment where he has celebrities read mean tweets about themselves, except that I am far from being a celebrity.

On one level, I knew most of these attacks were just words flung at me through the distance of social media and a computer screen, but I also found myself getting jumpy and nervous about normal things like an unknown number calling my phone or mail received at the church from an unknown return address. I wondered if that article would push some unhinged person over the edge to seek me out at my home or church.

The part that I could not wrap my head around was that these people were my brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that Christian history is full of intra-religious arguments, some of which led to death or charges of heresy, but in a culture where Christianity has lost its status and familiarity in many places, shouldn’t Christians provide a way beyond the divisive and frequently mean-spirited rhetoric of our political and cultural arguments?

This is not to gloss over the very serious disagreements that Christians have with one another — from the meaning of Holy Communion to the role of women in worship to affirmation of LGBTQ individuals. For many people, there are profound differences about theology and justice and how that gets lived out in communities of faith. But if we cannot even talk to one another without name-calling, if we cannot even try to see one another as a sibling in Christ, we have already lost.

I do ministry in a diocese, like many in the Episcopal Church, with a recent history of serious conflict. One way that my bishop has addressed this history is by making worshipping together a primary objective. We may disagree about any number of things, but we are unified in worship, in breaking bread and drinking wine together. This helps to ground whatever we do in common worship in Christ, and it is something that we do face-to-face and embodied, not behind a keyboard.

Our Christian witness to the world regarding how we handle disagreement is not a positive one, but I have hope that we can do better. We can ground ourselves in worship, prayer, and scripture. When engaging online, we can remember that the person who wrote that article or tweeted that tweet or made that Facebook comment is a flesh-and-blood person with their own gifts and struggles. It might not solve all of our issues, but it would witness to the world that we believe in God who binds us together through our shared faith.

comments powered by Disqus