Buzzfeed published a lazy story on Chip and Joanna Gaines, the happy home renovating couple from Fixer Upper, using sermons preached by their pastor in opposition to same sex marriage.
The obvious intention of the piece was to gin up controversy and unleash an internet mob to pressure the hosts of the popular show to voice an opinion on the culturally controversial issue. After obtaining that information, only then could socially liberal viewers feel comfortable (or not) watching the Gaineses remodel homes.
Thankfully, unlike many previous instances, most readers critiqued Buzzfeed’s story instead of their subjects. Many who support same sex marriage and even many who are gay themselves called the piece “bad journalism and bad advocacy.”
After the backlash, Buzzfeed’s editor insisted the piece was about whether HGTV discriminated against same sex couples on the show. (Despite the fact that, as they reported in the story, multiple shows on HGTV regularly feature same sex couples.)
In a snark filled follow-up, the writer of the original piece quoted from an HGTV spokesperson that the network does not discriminate against anyone. Seemingly, this will end the latest version of Heresy Hunters, the new favorite reality show of some cultural progressives.
But as a Christian, I am much more concerned about our reaction to such situations. How we handle them matters because they will be more and more frequent.
The Social Media Bully Cycle
Much of the criticism leveled toward Buzzfeed over the article is good and right. It was a bad piece with the goal of doing harm to people over conjecture and possible disagreements on controversial social issues. Those types of things should be challenged and critiqued.
However, reactions quickly moved from one of challenging the piece to condemning the writer and editor at Buzzfeed. In response to the shaming of two people, many thought the appropriate response was to shame two different people. That only perpetuates a harmful, but prevalent cycle on the internet.
Someone sees another person they may disagree—whether it be legitimate or not—and they feel victimized so they decided to bully the other person into agreeing with them. This only creates another victim who then often chooses to return the bullying.
Now both sides feel as if they are the “true victim” and the other person deserves any and all retribution. Bullying creates victims who then become bullies and the cycle goes on and on.
Many of the responses to Buzzfeed’s piece became bullying itself. Boycotts of Buzzfeed’s advertisers were suggested. People were calling for the firing of the writer (who seemingly wanted to get the Gaineses fired from their show if they believed different than she).
And the cycle goes on and on. The bullied bully. The victims victimize. Nothing changes in the never-ending cultural war … unless someone decides to end it and break the cycle.
The Power of the Gospel to Break Chains and Cycles
But as Christians we do not have to respond in kind to attacks. In fact, we are commanded not to lash back. Turning the other cheek cannot mean taking a payback swing at the other person.
This is not about being cultural doormats and never responding to those attacking Christian beliefs. We should engage in discussions and work to demonstrate the worthiness of our beliefs.
But the Christian cannot win when we allow the social media cycle to rule our response. That’s not our status. Christ has given us the identity of “more than conquerors,” which does not allow us to take up the mantle of bully or victim.
Clearly, the Christian cannot bully another person if we recognize them for who they truly are. As C.S. Lewis said in “The Weight of Glory”:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
Neither can we play the victim, however, as it removes from us the responsibility of actually engaging others.
In our culture today, claiming victimhood status often allows people to assert their opinions without fear of being challenged. While there is some merit to giving actual victims the benefit of the doubt in many cases, this tendency has saturated our culture so that anyone and everyone attempts to cast themselves as victims in order to avoid scrutiny of their positions.
The Christian, on the other hand, should welcome it. We want people looking into our claims and our faith. If what we believe is true, we have nothing to hide. Truth does not need to cloak itself in the mantle of a victim.
Yes, articles like the one at Buzzfeed on Chip and Joanna Gaines need to be corrected and addressed. But the underlying motivations of that story and our response needs more work than the homes on Fixer Upper.
The Gospel grants Christians the status and power to break the chains of sin, but also the cycles of social media. If we do not stop the incessant bullying and victimization, no one will.