Thursday, December 20, 2012

Knowing your audience: the politicization of tragedy and how to avoid it

I was shocked and saddened, as were most of us I'm sure, by the recent shooting of young school children in Connecticut. I have a little girl in kindergarten, two more little girls in grade one, it's unfathomable. But it saddens me to see this tragedy becoming politicized, to see people being torn even more, in the event's representation by warring political factions. I'm still sorting all this out, and I don't have a lot of time today to get into everything that's been going through my mind, but a couple of speakers and responding comments,  have caught my attention in the last couple of days. I'd like to put them up, in context, and if anyone cares to have an intelligent discussion, I'd be happy to oblige.  The first was James Dobson's comments, which seem to be igniting a firestorm of reaction, and secondly a short talk by William Lane Craig, that seems to have angered some listeners.

There you have them, in context.  I had read some comments and I thought "gee, these are two people that I listen to, or have listened to, and "vitriolic" or "disgusting" are not the words that come to mind for me," when thinking of them. What's going on there, I wondered. So I thought, I'm going to listen to what they said, and draw my own conclusions.  The interesting thing that I noted, when listening to James Dobson, was that a good part of the show was actually quoting research that noted a link between the breakdown of the family and mental illness in young people. Interesting, I must say, that I don't hear anyone who is criticizing Dobson discussing, or even acknowledging that research. I've seen this pattern before, the person's words are taken out of context, and an ad hominem attack follows, without bothering to meet the person intellectually or spiritually. The latter part of the show, to me, came across as Dobson drawing a connection between a spiritual deficit in society with these kinds of occurrences. Dobson himself said that he wasn't speaking politically. I heard him as speaking to a largely Christian audience, and appealing for a spiritual response, namely prayer. I identify largely with what Dobson is saying on a spiritual level, and my sense of him over the years is that he comes from a generation where there was more of a homogeneous sense of values or religious persuasion. Where I would part ways with Dobson, is that I don't see that kind of similitude happening now, lol, and that's where words fail me. In short, I think he is speaking spiritually, to a spiritual audience of people who agree with him, and I can agree that we need to get back to those core values, but I also see that a gay person/ or more secular minded person listening to what he is saying, may very well hear and conclude, that he's blaming this on them personally. I don't think that's how he means it, the emphasis in protestant Christianity is always on individual responsibility, and what I hear him saying is that WE as a country need to...but the U.S. is not a Christian country is it? But more than that, we must ask, is that what we want people outside the church to hear, especially in the face of tragedy when people are already suffering?  What about the Christian message of grace?  What about compassion?  What about forgiveness and redemption? As a Christian, the main message that I would want people outside the church to hear is that God loves you, God wants to have a relationship with you, to welcome you. Sadly, we often seem to miss the mark on that.

As for the latter's comments, what I see there is Craig trying to get across that with the incarnation, the message of Christmas, is that even in great suffering we have a greater hope, that God is not distant, but a friend who suffers with us, who lives and walks among us. I fail to see why anyone would find that offensive. For me it's a source of comfort, that God isn't just some impersonal force, but a person who knows me intimately. But that's my thoughts for now, just that maybe we (in the church) need to be more careful, that we need to be aware of how we may be coming across to people outside our frames of reference, that we need to know our audience. Maybe secular people can also appreciate that people do occasionally speak from their personal beliefs, which include a spiritual reality for many of us. And maybe we as Christians need to be more sensitive that not everyone is going to share our beliefs, not everyone is a Christian after all, and we need to remember to ask ourselves, what would we want to hear when we're standing outside in the cold, would we want to be left outside, or would we want to be welcomed in. On that note, I listened to this last night and was touched by it, take care, God bless and Merry Christmas.

John Piper reading "The Innkeeper."

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