When Slacktivism Doesn’t Work
I find myself starting all of my creative work with a few facts about myself: I’m from Ohio, and at one point I was training to be a Baptist minister. Not only are these facts the most efficient point of entry for anyone I meet, they also tend to get some of the best reactions. You ended up at this school? Wait, you study writing now? I’ll spare all the gritty details of how that came to be and skip to why those things that happened years ago matter now.
In the wake of the election, and all the madness that followed, I felt betrayed by my people: the white, Christian, midwestern people. According to Pew, “Trump’s support from evangelicals is strongest among those who attend church regularly,” even 100 days into what has been a fairly shaky presidency. And this tribe, the group I grew up in, wasn’t some amorphous christian white person, it was the people who loved me and nurtured me.
This became especially evident after I heard a sermon from the church I attended for 16 years, wherein the pastor suggested that Christians who supported Hillary Clinton should “go kill some babies and they’ll feel better.” At first I was angry that I—someone who is a Christian and voted for Clinton—was lumped into what this person assumed to be a hoard of baby-killing barbarians. But once that passed, I was angry on a much deeper level; I was angry because a person who had just quoted Jesus said something so jarring.
Naturally, I did what my gut told me was the appropriate response: I wrote a long, angry Facebook post. I linked the article, shared direct quotes, and even used the Bible as the justification for my anger.
And I got called out. Hard.
Because a lot of my friends lean liberal, there was a significant amount of outrage. People commented one after another in shock that someone could say something so ridiculous. But there was also a lot of outrage toward me for sharing this sermon, and for passive-aggressively posting on Facebook instead of taking it up with the speaker himself. Some called me a coward, others said I was inciting hatred toward Christians, and a slew of other things that I unintentionally had done.
There’s a lot that could be said about these interactions, but at the root of it, those who called me a coward were right. I had taken the easy way out, opting to hide behind my computer and say how dare you? to an amorphous, faceless you. Eventually, I deleted the post, and emailed the pastor to talk about what he had said. When he replied the next morning, he said the best way to talk about these things is in person, but seeing as that wasn’t possible, I should call him instead. He included his phone number and availability.
My initial instinct was to respond and say that I didn’t owe him that—I didn’t owe him any time because after all, he already had his time to speak. But after a day to reflect, I decided that the best thing to do was to call and face the music for what I had already said—to put my money where my mouth was.
The next morning, I got off the train five stops early and walked the length of Michigan Avenue, on the phone. Our conversation was fairly civil; I expressed my frustration and hurt with what he said and how it would reflect the faith that we shared, and he expressed that though his words might’ve been too harsh, his sentiment remained the same.
I wasn’t surprised that our views didn’t change, but what I was surprised at was how civil we were able to remain—two men who held the same faith, but interpreted how that faith should play out in politics and policy extremely differently. I was surprised that at the end of the conversation, we told each other to have a good day, and if something like this ever came up again, we would both be more than happy to talk on the phone.
It’s rare in today’s climate that this sort of discourse can happen. In the era of think-tanks, social media bubbles, and news feeds, more echo chambers are springing up than ever before; somehow, in the time period where we can be more connected to people than ever, we’re becoming more divisive and insular.
The point isn’t to police tone or to dampen outrage, but as perhaps the most informed and educated generation of artists and professionals, we should all try to reach out and be active. Donate, speak with those who disagree, and be informed.
In all fairness, I am no expert on activism. I'm inclined to angrily tweet, post, and link articles. This was my first real attempt at human-to-human interaction of this sort, and as intimidating and possibly humiliating as it can be, I'm inclined to believe you emerge on the other side more confident, courageous, and hopeful, and that counts for something.
One of my favorite organizations is The Reformation Project. If you’re a Christian who cares about LGBT inclusivity and non-discrimination, please check them out.