Holy sh…er…crap! What a week it’s been. Since last Friday when we published our second “Friday editorial” we have been delighted by the discourse that it has prompted. Immediately after running the piece we received a lot of compliments and support for our stance on what we perceived to be the non-issue of swearing among evangelicals. Many people agreed with our sense that the focus on four-letter words had spiraled out of control and appreciated our attempt to reign it in by pointing out that, for most of us, it just doesn’t matter that much.
But just as quickly as the praise came in, so, too did we receive some earnest criticism from readers who took issue with the editorial. The emails, tweets, Facebook responses and blog posts that challenged our opinion were very much appreciated. Both Sessions and myself love knowing that we stimulated a conversation, and particularly one that drew in not only many readers, but also many of the largest and most respected evangelical periodicals as well. Most of the responses were well-crafted, fully realized and, if not completely convincing, at least challenging. Of course there were those that were less so, those reactions which were insulting and terse; none more so than being referred to as “pathetic and dumb” by a tweeter from a prominent magazine.
Where we have been happy to dialog with people, from those that responded online to personal friends here in NYC and beyond, we have done so on the grounds of mutual understanding: the reader fully comprehends where we are coming from and what we were trying to say and then takes issue either with the subject itself, or the way we said it. Where we have been disappointed and let down by the direction the conversation has taken is where we are most unfortunately misrepresented. I believe this is the case in a recent blog post on the website of the magazine First Things.
There are minor misrepresentations, such as referring to Patrol as “an online journal for hipster evangelicals.” Without getting into it too much, this mischaracterization shows not only a lack of understanding as to what Patrol is, it also misses completely that “hipster” is not just a label for people who like music you’ve never heard of and dress kind of funny.
But that was a minor misrepresentation. The more disturbing examples begin with the piece’s title, “Swearing as the New Intellectualism” and continue through to the conclusion where we encounter this bit of misreading, “Patrol wants us to ignore the question of swearing altogether and simply accept the fact that all the kids are doing it.”
One would be hard pressed (and, in fact, the author of the piece never does attempt it) to make the case that we desire to frame swearing as any kind of intellectualism. But it is certainly an attention-grabbing headline. I understand that this faulty assertion is based on our observation that younger evangelicals seem to be more concerned with loftier intellectual pursuits, but it misses the point entirely. Swearing is not the new anything, we are saying, because it simply doesn’t matter in the face of the weightier issues of our time.
In light of this, the mischaracterization that we at Patrol are concerned with what “all the kids are doing,” really is just a low blow issued to delegitimize our position as intelligent and engaged observers of evangelical culture. Certainly we are young (the same Twitter post that called our article as “pathetic and dumb” also called us “kids”) but, as we said in the editorial, it does not follow that we are acting out of some kind of angst-ridden rebellion.
That kind of stereotyping, however, does bring light to the larger issue at work here, one that Patrol hoped to continually shed light on. There is a significant cultural shift happening in evangelicalism. We have chosen at times to refer to it as "post-evangelicalism," a term that, admittedly, made me cringe the first time I came across it, but in light of this and other conversations, seems more and more apt.
We are proud to be a part of a global shedding of many of the ill-gotten and unnecessary baggage that evangelical culture carries with it. We are happy to shift our churches’ focus away from the reductive policing of such things as four-letter words and onto the constructive practice of living out red-letter words. No, there is nothing intellectual about swearing, but an intellectualism grounded in continually discussing such insignificant practices is not intellectualism at all, and is grinding intelligent conversation to a disturbing halt and preventing a more complete engagement with the world at large.
Don’t swear if you don’t want to. And, if you’re ever around my mom, don’t swear at all, she really hates it. If you’re an evangelical writer who wants to use your words and ideas to make an impact, whether on your fellow believers and/or non-Christian readers, get in the business of constantly moving the conversation forward. There is an entire world of ideas out there on which Christians have a unique and important perspective, let’s move beyond youth group concerns and begin to address it, indeed, as adults.
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