Jul 12, 2011
I hope not. However, if you did, I’m pretty sure you heard about it because other Christians told you about it.
Ironically, you, your non-Christian friends, or anyone who may feel “bullied” or “attacked” by his insensitive remarks would probably never have heard what he wrote if some other Christians hadn’t made a big public outcry out of it.
And that leads to a dilemma when we deal with offensive Christian celebrities.
We feel like remaining silent just lets them win. If we don’t speak out, we’re letting down everyone who is wounded by this pastor’s coarse jokes.
And so blog posts are written, the word spreads, and the message goes out: “Celebrity pastor is a bully, and we’re not going to stand for it.”
Unfortunately, the part that tends to stand out in people’s minds is the first part, “Celebrity pastor is a bully.” That’s what the news media wants to report on. That’s what will remind people of old wounds.
Here’s what I’m wondering about all of this…
In this particular instance, must we really care what some pastor on the west coast writes to his followers on Facebook? Yeah, a few thousand people read it, but then he writes something else about Jesus being a cage fighter with tattoos or whatever and his insensitive remark fades away.
Very few people who could actually be offended by his remarks would have actually read them. He’s going to keep making them, and the sooner we leave him alone with his remarks and his gang of followers, the better. The perception of an assault from outside of his ranks only strengthens him and convinces his macho followers to ignore any calls for change (see the Backfire Effect).
Is there another way forward?
I have a couple of examples in mind, but the most powerful example I can think of is the “It Gets Better Story” in the aftermath of a teen’s suicide over homosexual bullying. Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns shared his own story of growing up as a homosexual, and his vulnerable moment overshadowed all of the outrage and transformed that horrible situation into a beautiful step forward.
Granted, there wasn’t a celebrity or organization to target, but the story changed from teen suicide to open dialogue about supporting teens during a particularly fragile time in their lives. Instead of focusing on the offense, everyone’s attention turned to healing.
How could anyone listen to such a real, powerful story and persist in bullying someone? (Well, let’s hope at least, eh?)
I think that could provide us with a good path forward in this particular case.
While it would be appropriate to confront a pastor in our own congregation, a nationally known celebrity who makes offensive remarks is another matter. Offensive celebrities need to be drowned out by a counter-message so that they can fade into their own obscurity—especially since this pastor’s personal brand is being offensive.
We need to drown out his message because once we confront him publicly, we give him free publicity that he probably wants and spread his message to people who don’t need to hear it. I doubt very much that he cares about critics outside his congregation and affiliations. He probably doesn’t even have time to consider it.
Therefore, the best way I can think of countering an offensive message, such as the one delivered on this pastor’s Facebook wall, is to tell stories of Jesus’ radical love and inclusivity and how those stories have shaped us—how we’ve put his love into action. This macho pastor would probably want to punch himself in the face if he ever understood the extent of Jesus’ radical, inclusive love that accepted sinners who were willing to repent.
That is, he’d punch himself in frustration for underestimating the love of God.
Dealing with celebrities and public figures is not the same as dealing with someone in your community. We can personally confront someone in our community, and if they want to be part of our community, they will reform. Celebrities don’t have the same things at stake.
Celebrities thrive on exposure. They draw their power from attention. If we deny this pastor the oxygen of attention, his flame that burns so many can be reduced to a tiny spark that few will notice or care about outside of his immediate circles.
And while we may think we’re somehow standing up for someone by opposing this man, the truth is, we really aren’t adding anything constructive. We are just telling others what we’re against. We need to oppose offensive remarks with real neighborly love to people around us, creating stories that overshadow what this pastor has done.
This is not the easy way forward. It will cost us our lives to create stories powerful enough to overcome messages of intolerance, hate, and fear. But the costly path of love is the only way I can think of changing what this pastor writes on his Facebook wall.
Perhaps one day this pastor will ask for examples of the best ways his readers have been loved in a time of need. He’ll only do that if we give him something to write about.