It just doesn’t work: concern trolling and public shaming

2879775-internet_trollI got concern-trolled on my Jesus juke blog post yesterday by an anonymous commenter who called him/herself a “concerned parishioner.” I think the intent was to make me think it was someone from my church, but people from my church know that I solicit and actually treasure their constructive criticism. I can sometimes be a pretty sarcastic, cynical person, but this person’s sarcasm was dripping like a Niagara Falls of vinegar. And what made me sad was to think of how ineffective this “concerned” parishioner’s communication was and how foolish I must have looked when I have been crazed in a similar way at what I perceived to be the astounding arrogance of other people (whose hearts I did not know).

Prophecy is a very treacherous calling. I believe I have a genuine call. Whether or not I am faithful to my call is a different question. There is a ton of flesh mixed in with the spirit. it’s very hard to discern between my own delight in self-justification on the one hand and the wrath of God that really does enter me when I see things that are ugly and unjust that blaspheme the name of God. Just because I have some of the former doesn’t mean that I am excused from the call to name the latter.

1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” That is the key distinction between trolling and prophecy. Trolls love to talk about other peoples’ evil hypocrisies (especially when they say, “You know, I really don’t enjoy doing this” and try to give themselves an air of sober gravity). Prophets are able to rejoice when the truth is revealed without being intoxicated by hate, even towards those who have hidden the truth. The difference becomes clear when a target of criticism expresses some modicum of humility; the prophet moves into conciliatory mode while the troll gets even madder because what the troll wants is not an apology, but a purely evil object of hate to spit daggers at as long as there’s any kind of engagement.

I think when there are ugly things that have to be named prophetically, the best way to name them is to talk about sinful human behavior in the abstract without naming names. It’s best of all to name it in such a way that you really can say “we” and confess your own sin at the same time, rather than saying “they” or “you” (although there’s nothing worse than the disingenuous rhetorical “we”).

The time when naming names seems permissible is if a public figure is spreading things that are harmful to the body of Christ and that needs to be challenged (but what a treacherous thing it is for your own moral fortitude to give yourself the duty of being the personal critic of public figures!). If you must, then try your best to avoid is rantiness and sarcasm. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for satire. But part of your duty if you feel called to critique something is to do so in such a way that it can actually be received and taken seriously rather than doing it for your own personal vainglory.

Now the mistake I make time and time again, most recently three days ago, is to think that I can cut somebody down to size in an online conversation. I saw another guy displaying what I perceived to be an arrogant and patronizing tone full of Jesus jukes, and it lit a fire under me, so I ripped into him. When I went back and looked at what he had written the next day, I realized that I had read a whole lot into his tone unfairly. So I had to apologize, and it felt like a cheap apology because I fly off the handle like that too quickly all the time and I don’t seem to be getting much better about it.

In any case, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget that trying to browbeat somebody else into recognizing their error or sin almost never works. Especially people you don’t know. Why in the world do we think that a complete stranger ranting and raving on the internet would be regarded with any more seriousness than a belligerent drunk on the street corner? It only “works” on people who are more sanctified than you are and aren’t really convicted by what you’re saying so much as concerned about how wounded you sound and want to show you radical hospitality and love by engaging your words seriously.

Honestly, I listen for God in everyone who has something to say to me, because even strangers have the potential to be angels of truth. But when I hear an utter absence of love in what the other person is saying, I know that it’s just Satan talking, because Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). The more bitter my critics are, the more my concern shifts to offering pastoral care to them. Or at least that’s what I aspire to do when my temper doesn’t get hold of me first.

So if you’ve got some critical feedback for me, please share it. But don’t be a coward and hide your identity. And try to communicate in such a way that I don’t easily dismiss it; you have some responsibility there. Maybe God really has put it on your heart to point out something to me. If the reason I don’t hear what God gave you to tell me is because your words were so wrapped in sarcasm that I couldn’t take you seriously, then you have betrayed God and you best believe He will address it with you.

19 thoughts on “It just doesn’t work: concern trolling and public shaming

  1. There have been a few times when I experienced a call to speak prophetically to someone and in my case, it didn’t feel or sound much at all like when I’m pissed off and ranty. Usually, the words are biting but not at all sarcastic or funny. I never wanted to do it whereas a rant is like something I’m dying to get off my chest. I always want the person to take what I’m saying up with God for confirmation. Usually it’s something I do in private except a few times where I felt strongly lead due to the person’s hardened heart. When that has happened the message I felt compelled to share was both a call to repent and a warning that God’s patience was just about up and serious discipline was the next step (which is extremely uncomfortable because it’s a prediction of sorts and what if nothing happens?).

    Based on my experience, if you can deliver a message and be comfortable with it, it’s probably not a prophetic word. When I have done it, the anger and annoyance I might have had for the person is completely wiped away and I find myself fervently praying for them and yardstick over the suffering they are setting themselves up for. When I’m just pissy and ranty, I generally just hope the other person feels like an idiot.

    IMO, 99% of people who see themselves as speaking prophetically are just fooling themselves. A prophet holds a position, commissioned by God and can only acquiesce to the call, but cannot choose it for themselves. It’s not the same thing as being able to see what’s wrong and speaking against it. I think most people start with their own ideas, criticisms and opinions and experience what they believe is a prompting from God to share that. But that’s not actually how prophecy works. A prophetic word never starts with me, but always comes from God first.

  2. Morgan, I really hate saying this :), but I just can’t help myself…
    I was told long ago whatever a person condemns the most is often the best indicator of the person doing the condemning. As in, those most suspicious of others often are the most untrustworthy.
    I find myself often disagreeing with you, and you drive me crazy sometimes. But then I think we all must drive God crazy sometimes and He still loves us, so I know I must love you too.
    God must have a tremendous sense of humor, since we, his creatures, are so laughably silly at times.
    And you know if you can’t laugh at yourself, you lose out on the best source of humor.

    So please remember that when we begin to take ourselves too seriously. You are absolutely right in our need to go slow and thoughtfully when we speak out, to remember the line between a true prophetic voice and our ridiculous and prideful egos.
    Read Borges ‘The Theologians’ yet? Should be able to find it here.

    Jorge Borges once said if he were to join a church it would be a Methodist one.

    • Oh, it’s very true that what we know the best and condemn the most is what we ourselves do. What I would argue is the more I’m a hypocrite, the more it means I really am an expert in what I’m talking about because I have intimate first-hand knowledge. 😉

  3. Excellent piece as always, Morgan.

    I’d like to point out, though, as someone who could occasionally be described as “sarcastic” and “ranty” and sometimes that’s directed at people (although I try to be gracious)… Sometimes my purpose is benefited by sarcasm and rants, even when I’m taking a public statement to task. Sometimes it’s not entirely about dialog. Sometimes it’s simply about making the problems in an argument stark. Sometimes it’s necessary to use those tools to bring problems into the open.

    • I definitely think there’s a place for snark and humor. And the other thing is sometimes you’re not actually talking to the object of satire but to others who need to be encouraged by seeing that what they’ve been feeling wasn’t crazy.

  4. “… part of your duty if you feel called to critique something is to do so in such a way that it can actually be received and taken seriously rather than doing it for your own personal vainglory.”

    When I’m criticising some viewpoint I try – like you, I don’t always succeed – to follow a guiding principle that my objective should not be to protest but to persuade, i.e. to win the person over, and that can’t be done by force. I agree that an on-line debate is unlikely to persuade any of the participants (although, done in a good spirit, it can be very helpful to the readers) but with this approach there is at least a chance. If my aim is only to win an argument, there is none.

  5. I write about politics and not religion, but the same holds true–I have learned that it’s impossible to change anyone’s mind online. People only change their mind when they are ready to make that decision themselves.

  6. I’m glad I could inspire an entire rant/blog for you!

    You wrote, Why in the world do we think that a complete stranger ranting and raving on the internet would be regarded with any more seriousness than a belligerent drunk on the street corner?


  7. Well said, MG. Sadly, on too many news & blog sites, the reader comments are scathing and vitriolic, as well as ignorant—especially when secular cynics are criticizing everything and anything that has to do with faith.

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