Thinking Out Loud

June 17, 2014

When Outrage Becomes Fashionable

Last week Leadership Journal — the same organization that publishes my Wednesday Link List — stirred up a hornets’ nest when they published an article by a former youth pastor now serving time in prison for sexually abusing a girl in the youth group.

For people who have had to deal with any kind of sexual abuse, this article struck a lot nerves, but not in the way you might think. Rather, there was a groundswell of feeling that the language in the piece elevated the author beyond what he deserves, that it appeared to be prescriptive at a time the author should not be giving advice, and that it somewhat soft-pedaled what took place using words like affair or relationship when the legal system would clearly define it as rape.

To publish or not to publishThat Leadership Journal is a division of Christianity Today, Inc. only added to the controversy.

I became aware of this taking place on Twitter — where readers seized the hashtag #takedownthatpost — and followed it early on in real time since I now have more than a passing interest in what happens at LJ and CT. Later Tweets revealed that several Leadership Journal staffers were away at the time, but eventually a three-paragraph disclaimer was added to the beginning of the story, and then, about a day later, the six-page post was removed entirely with an apology.

I think, at that point, removing the article was the only sensible thing to do.

Rather, what concerns me is something I felt while all this was going on, namely that being outraged by this particular article became a Twitter trend. People, some of whom I am quite sure have never paid LJ any attention prior to this, simply joined the bandwagon because that was the correct thing to do.Again, I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the subject the article discussed. I merely want to make an observation here that for a few days last week, moral outrage became fashionable.

protest signSocial media has the potential to raise issues that are important, but when objection to a particular piece becomes trendy, I have to wonder if the outrage stems from deeply held convictions or if the the publication that is the subject of the outrage is simply being bullied into trashing the piece. As a regular reader of the weekly column by the Public Editor of Canada’s largest newspaper, I know that “You should never have published that article,” is an oft-heard refrain.

The article had it its issues. But as I pointed out in another blog post last week, the rule caveat lector always applies: “Let the reader beware;” or more literally, “be wary.” The author wrote what he felt about the whole issue, and yes, perhaps he is in denial about some aspects of what he did. Then again, maybe he simply wanted to write something that presented himself well.

The other question is one of the appropriateness of the forum the author was given. No doubt some felt that anything in the CT family simply gave the article too much profile; but the outrage that followed would only add to the website traffic.

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So…we have guest posts here sometimes. Would I have printed the article?

I think I would have been attracted by the idea that a convicted felon — incarcerated for something he did while on staff of a local church — would want to use my blog to tell his story. The inside nature of the story, or the exclusive release of the story would probably temper my desire to do some careful editing; and communication for the purpose of making changes might have been difficult.

Faced with objection and outrage, I might at first dig in my heels; and then I probably would start thinking about damage control after several days; basically exactly what CT did.

The situation would only complicate if I were working with a skeleton staff during summer holidays.

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The writer wanted to do something that would be redemptive for other student pastors who are vulnerable to temptation.

Instead we ended up with something that was prescriptive for editors faced with the temptation to run a story which perhaps should have stayed in the closet.

 

 

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2 Comments »

  1. Don’t you think moral outrage comes as self-righteousness? To express true moral outrage one would have to be entirely moral. just like there is only one that express true righteous indignation.

    I don’t know, here is a youth minister on a church staff now serving a prison sentence. I think we could learn something from this guy. David was a man after God’s own heart, broke essentially every one of the 10 Commandments, and brought judgement on his house. Despite David pleading with God (wallowing in sackcloth and ashes) the child conceived in sin did not live. But… the next child born to David and Bathsheba was Solomon. There was a period of repentance and mourning but it didn’t last forever and there are lessons to take away from David’s story. If you can’t be a good example you’ll just have to be a terrible warning. We parade recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in front of our kids so they can sermonize “Don’t do the things I did.” There are lessons here about leadership, accountability, sinful nature and redemption. The chance for this young man to share his story could be part of the healing process. We learn from our mistakes; shouldn’t we listen to what this guy learned?

    Comment by Clark Bunch — June 17, 2014 @ 9:13 am

    • Good comparison. I think we can learn from this guy; that’s really what I’m saying here, that the reaction was, as the Brits say, “over the top.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 17, 2014 @ 9:41 am


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