Hate and heresy.
If you take any public position on the internet, you will be accused of one or both of those. I know I have.
Perhaps ironically (or tellingly), those claims most frequently come from either extreme of the ideological spectrum.
Those on the theological left frequently claim you are being hateful if you express disagreement with them, while polar opposite conservatives label you a heretic for any deviation from their established list of theological positions.
I’m not advocating a theological “mushy middle” devoid of any convictions, but I am calling for a better use of our words and more dialogue between those who disagree within orthodox Christianity.
It’s not that heresy and hatred do not exist, but much of what passes for the two is simply disagreement.
If you and I disagree, then there is a discussion to be had. But if I convince myself you are a hater or a heretic, I can safely ignore you and your opinions because they are grounded in irrationality and falsehood.
Branding someone with either scarlet “H” allows us the chance to rebuff without rebutting, to cast aside without contemplating. I don’t have to consider your opinion because it’s not worth the time.
In fact, because of the extreme nature of your point of view, I can insist that you shouldn’t even be allowed at the proverbial table for the discussion. We should not have to contend with a hate-filled or heretical position.
So in the short run, the one wielding the terms gains rhetorical leverage, at least in their own mind and within their theological circles. But it is harmful both to general discourse and, eventually, their own position.
In the end, we have no words left for what we really mean.
There are people who do actually hate others and enjoy acting on their hatred. There are real heretics seeking to poison the theological underpinnings of the church.
But if I have spent years yelling “Wolf!” and pointing at every sheep that has a spot of dirt on it, no one will listen if I call out an actual theological wolf attempts to devour the flock. I’ve bargained away the trust others have in me for a temporary advantage in online debates.
So how can we fix it? What can be done to change the tone of discussion across social media and blogs?
For those of us who write, we definitely have a responsibility to monitor the topics and themes of our writing. We must make sure we are delivering more than online bickering and finger pointing.
For all of us who read, think before you click or share. Rewarding clickbait headlines and controversy-stirring posts serves only to perpetuate more of the same. Look for something more positive to read, like and retweet.
Both writers and readers working together can change the way online content is presented and consumed. In particular, Christians can and should be seeking to build others up.
Hate and heresy clearly exist, but we are not combating them by misidentifying them.