(Update: Since the post, I have returned my Twitter account to unprotected status.)
The purpose of this post is to respond to Twitter inquiries or complaints by referencing this link in my Twitter replies. The ability to insert a link is preferable to the tedious redundancy of long threads. Consistent with my method of rule making it does not require how you must think, speak, and act. It explains how I hope to think, speak, and act…when I am at my best.
I voluntarily suspended my Twitter account on January 7. When I reopened it, the first thing I did was unfollow and block a large number of followers. Prior to this I had only blocked two people in five years. When I have time, I will block and unfollow more. I suspect both my following and followers will end up under one hundred.
I deleted the Twitter share button from this site. I ask others not to share these essays on Twitter. I won’t punish anyone for it if they do, but I won’t facilitate it. I simply ask that readers respect my preference. I prefer to choose which essays to post on Twitter and which accounts can see them. Twitter culture has an extremely low tolerance for nonconformity. Post the wrong thing and reputations are ruined, people loose their jobs, lives are threatened, and cities burn. The Twitter Troll is a particularly vicious animal, and I try to minimize my encounters with them. All other social media shares are welcomed. Share all you like on Facebook, Instagram, MeWe, Reddit, or anything else out there.
Why Do I Use Twitter
I consider Twitter the most toxic and least helpful forum in all of social media, so one might ask, “Why do you have an account?”
I use various social media for various purposes. There is a community that I can communicate with best through Twitter. I look to engage in discussions in Christianity (specifically Wesleyan Anglicanism and – with rapidly declining interest – the state of the United Methodist Church). Despite our declining numbers in the U>S, one can still find Christians everywhere. Some prefer to communicate through Facebook, some are on Reddit, a few prefer to communicate through direct message or private email, and there are those who use Twitter. The groups overlap but each platform is unique. Communication with each group is helpful even when we disagree…especially when we disagree.
Because, I Could Be Wrong
All Christians need a community that can correct us when we are in error. On matters not essential to the faith it is likely that I am in error on a number of things. My denomination has lost the ability and desire to correct anyone…even on matters essential to the faith. I still need such a community. One of the ways I compensate for the loss is by reaching out to members of the global Church through social media.
I have found some people on Twitter of great intellect and spirit filled passion who are willing to share ideas and experiences. Sometimes, they cause me to moderate a position. Sometimes, they cause me to hold more firmly to an ideal that I was ready to abandon. Sometimes, they correct me in an error. Sometimes, they affirm I am on the right way. I benefit when a seminary student posts a word.doc of a paper they have submitted. I am interested when a parish clergy shares a trial they are experiencing. I discover essays and articles that are published in obscure places. Occasionally, I share something that I hope may help others. Sometimes, I make a fool of myself. (I also enjoy the humor. If I could follow only one account it would be Lloyd Legalist.)
Twitter, Church, Politics, and Culture
However, this is admittedly an off-label use of the medium. The reason that I use Twitter is not the purposes for which it is intended. It is designed for use by safe-space seeking like minded people as an echo chamber for political and cultural commentary. For me to share political opinions on Twitter would be akin to someone walking into a church and debating the pastor on a sermon point. Very rude no matter the truth of the argument. When it comes to politics and culture, Twitter is a secular church where people come to be encouraged in their beliefs. They are right to expel those who disrupt the service with contrarian ideas. I will try to refrain from strictly political or cultural commentary unless invited into the conversation by one who has demonstrated Christian character.
Yet, any discussion of Christianity in general or Wesleyan Anglicanism in particular has inherent political and cultural significance. The people with whom I communicate by choice understand this. They also understand that Christians will make different choices in candidates while looking at the same evidence and pursuing similar goals. People I follow, or who I allow to follow me, will respect that principle. (See: Church, American Politics, and Lent)
I understand that no matter what I do the comments I make may be shared beyond my community and it may find a way to the safe-space people who do not understand. That is regrettably unavoidable unless I am eventually banned by the official Twitter overseers. In the interim, here is how I aspire to conduct myself.
I Answer the Question, “Whatabout?”
Like any question “Whatabout” can be used illegitimately. It depends on whether one is an honest inquirer or a dishonest inquirer. Dishonestly, it may be used to justify bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior. “You didn’t do anything to Johnny when he broke the window, so why am I being punished for staying out past curfew?” It is also used dishonestly to avoid or confuse the conversation. A tactic of the dishonest inquirer is to elicit many words from a person through a barrage of disconnected questions until they can collect sufficient sentence fragments form disconnected answers which can be reassembled to make it appear that their opponent is irrational. To be clear, the dishonest inquirer perceives the other as an opponent–not as a partner in discourse.
Any question can be used dishonestly. The fault lies in the inquirer and not in the type of question. “Whatabout” is no more or less susceptible to being used dishonestly than any other type question.
An honest inquirer is looking for information. Depending on the answer to their Whatabout, they may understand the proposition better or even be converted and adopt it. A dishonest inquirer seeks to justify their own position even with tactics of avoidance and confusion. They have no intention of altering course regardless of the answer. I eschew dishonest inquirers. I answer Whatabout questions.
I benefit from answering Whatabout. In addressing the question I am confronted with a possible exception to the rule that may require modifying the rule…or may render it null. The Whatabout question also alerts me to potential unintended consequences of the proposition. Whatabout tests the proposition’s universality.
Oh, how I wish the following point could be stated succinctly enough to fit on a bumper sticker or internet meme! When presented by an honest inquirer, it does not matter whether I consider the premise of a Whatabout question to be of equal importance to a premise in my proposition. That is a subjective judgment. What matters is that the inquirer considers it important. If it is a small thing then I should have no trouble answering. If it is an honest inquiry then I should take the time to answer it. At least, I should do so if my intent is to explain and persuade and not to avoid and justify. I will not categorically dismiss the Whatabout. Answering it is for my benefit.
Others may choose to dismiss the question. That is certainly a popular choice, but it speaks to me of the person’s honesty, integrity, and value as a partner in discourse. More than thirty of the accounts I blocked on the first day were because I reviewed their profile and saw how they treated the Whatabout question. Sadly, some of them are respected academics, but they are not helpful partners in dialogue.
Presidents Are Not Popes. Congress Is Not The College of Cardinals
Secular governments seek to make people more governable–not more holy. If you want to explore the idea of a constitutional theocracy I’m open to the adventure.
If you voted for a different Presidential candidate than I did and encouraged others likewise, then I start from the assumption that you were not electing the head of the Church. I will not ascribe to you the heresies and blasphemies of that candidate. Whether the President addresses the nation with quotes from the book of Palms (sic) or Two Corinthians (sic), I will not take that as evidence of your Biblical illiteracy. When his actions inflict harm on others I will not accuse you of unchristian behavior. I do not look to the behavior of the candidate you supported as evidence of your faith because I do not believe you voted for the person as a representative of the Christian faith. I suspect you made a utilitarian choice for the most effective administrator of the country, even though it was different from mine. I can simultaneously respect that choice while disagreeing with it and still not question your faith.
I understand that while Christians are permitted to participate in the selection of America’s emperors we are not offered legitimate Christian moral choices. Our American political system is never going to produce a choice between a Benedictine monk and a Jesuit priest. In the best years, we get to choose between a Diocletian and a Constantine. When that happens I consistently choose Constantine with neither apology for my vote nor endorsement of his theology. There is an argument that the church is made stronger and purer by Diocletian. I do not agree that we have to murder babies to make the church stronger or that we must deny Christian shop owners a livelihood to purify the church. But, I could be wrong. I am open to that discussion.
In selecting America’s emperors we make a utilitarian choice because we are only offered utilitarian choices. If, however, one asserts that their candidate was The Moral Choice and/or that the other was The Immoral Choice then they have unquestionably defined their vote as electing a representative of the Christian faith. Thus, every heresy and harm committed by the candidate is rightly attributed to the individual. It is possible that for the person for whom every election must be a moral choice then their only choice is not to participate.
Of Course I’m Snarky…I’m a Boomer…and Get Off My Lawn!
I enjoy humor – even when irreverent or self deprecating. I am offended by none.
I grew up with Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, Laugh In, and the original SNL cast. We negotiated our way through the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War, Mutually Assured Destruction as a legit defense policy, the assassination of one President and the impeachment of another. We took it all seriously while enjoying a great soundtrack and a lot of laughs. When responsible adults tell you to duck and cover under a school desk for protection from an atomic bomb, then you either see there is humor in life, or you become Bernie Sanders. I am not Bernie Sanders.
I see humor everywhere. I hope I always will. Even on dark and tragic days (I have seen my share) I have always found time to laugh. Those who believe humor can be offensive will be offended by what I say. My hope for you is that you will one day find an imagination that is greater than your bitterness.
When I was seven, there were Soviet missiles parked four minutes from my bedroom window. When someone tells me that a charcoal grill in Los Angeles is an existential threat to penguins in Antarctica my response may have more than a hint of snark. It’s not that I don’t believe you nor appreciate the ramifications, but I am not shutting down my world and draping myself in black to mourn the situation. If that offends you, then I suggest that when you close this window you go back to your Twitter profile and block me…and get off my lawn!