Patrol readers on swearing, evangelicalism and more

FROM TIME to time, though not as often as we’d like, we publish some of the thoughtful letters we get from our readers. We do our best to personally respond to every email you send us, but we think it is important to occasionally share those exchanges with our broader audience. We believe email is the best medium for intelligent dialogue between Patrol writers and readers, and want to reward those of you who take the time to put down your thoughts and sign your name. (Go here for an explanation of our feedback philosophy, including why we don’t put comment boxes on our articles.)

Note: The following emails have been edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness. We have omitted significant portions of some correspondence, but have not in any way altered the writer’s tone or intent. If you want to see your letter in a future column, send it to feedback@patrolmag.com. Your name may be used unless otherwise specified.

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I am so happy, relieved, encouraged, and impressed  to no longer feel alone (amongst a handful of close friends here in San Francisco) in my "angst of being a believer in the modern world." You have a new friend on the West Coast.

—Katy Daniel

Editor’s respose: Many thanks. We’re happy to see some West Coast cities performing strongly in our traffic numbers lately. A little more word of mouth and you all will be challenging New York’s domination in no time.

 

I used to enjoy reading Patrol, but a holier-than-thou dismissiveness has permeated your recent work. This piece ("Get Over It") does not seem to speak out of a love for the church, but out of bitterness and hurt, likely caused by the church. It’s a parting shot, a middle-finger that assumes no personal responsibility. And the moment such pride settles in, you’ve ceased to do anyone any good. It's easy to be a cynic, guys. But it's a whole lot harder to stay in the trenches, and display the humility and courage you advocate. Let me encourage you to do more of the latter.

—Clay Anderson

Editor’s response: We realize that cynicism is cheap and, of all people, we know what it is like to remain in the trenches when it would be much easier to desert. However, we would urge you to take a closer look at our wording, and hope you would notice a difference between off-handed dismissal and intentional, reasoned rejection. Despite the fact that all of Patrol's editors have great affection for the people who have walked beside us in the evangelical church, relentless self-criticism is the only way that any group, movement, or institution can remain true to its values. And we see nothing wrong with occasionally—and sometimes harshly—rebuking figures and ideas that stand in the way of that ideal. It doesn’t happen nearly as thoroughly and frequently in Christian media as it should.

 

If you guys really want to claim the badge of evangelical, how about some honest theologizing? Otherwise, you might as well be the hip site for young urban Mormons. I loved Patrol when it hit, but the attitude versus substance is suffocating. There is no discernible faith orientation other than experience. And what is the deal with never having comment boxes on controversial pieces?

—Joseph Martin

Editor’s response: As we try to make quite clear, we have no interest in the term “evangelical.” We accept the label “post-evangelical” mostly out of convenience, though it is only a rough way to describe the ragtag collection of evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and agnostics we represent. Without meaning any disrepect, we’re glad to hear our “faith orientation” is elusive—that’s precisely the point. Patrol is a culture magazine, not a theological journal. We try to capture what is happening in individuals’ lives and heads and predict how that will shape the groups and cultures we are all a part of.

As for comments, please refer to our statement here. We regret that the now-ubiquitous comment box has mostly failed as a means of productive discourse. Our content is carefully curated, and we demand a serious amount of thought and effort from our writers. It is unfair for them to face a public flogging at the hands of people who do not have to so much as identify themselves, and can undermine the authority and class of a piece in just a few inflammatory sentences. Commenting may have become a "right" in the Web 2.0 world, but its most shining accomplishment is to degrade everyone who produces and consumes information online.

 

I just wanted to briefly comment on your article "The Right Turns.” While Chuck Colson has certainly contributed to the madness of right-wing political idolatry polluting the church and the resulting corruption, etc., I think it would be fair to point out that Mr. Colson has always, always put his money where his mouth is by working with prisoners and their families in a loving, caring, Gospel-centered, nonjudgmental way. His Prison Fellowship ministry has always appeared to be a much bigger priority than anything else, and his BreakPoint commentaries, while occasionally veering into the territory of right-wing screeds, often highlighted important social justice issues for people who might otherwise have never heard of them. So while I recognize that your article was a little brief, I felt like you could have given Chuck a little more credit.

—Matthew Loftus

Editor’s response: Points taken. We do indeed respect Mr. Colson for the significant amount of non-partisan work he has done, and regret that we did not make the fact clearer in our piece.

 

I don't know what's happening; you guys are getting worse and worse. Its not at at all the fun and interesting read from earlier days. The articles are way too focused on offending or making fun of Christians, which I'm all for in correct application. A prime example is the Christians and swearing article. The whole piece is yet another stinging indictment of Christianity not being able to keep up and be hip enough. The most laughable/saddest point is where Dave Bazan is used as somehow ahead of the curve. Dave Bazan who has renounced his faith completely and fallen into alcoholism and a biting criticism of faith that is laced with an arrogance that does not come close to masking the pain that Bazan has put himself through.

Please get back to interesting, informative, and even correctly done critical pieces. This self-absorbed, hipper-than-thou junk just isnt cutting it.

—Zach Ames

Editor’s response: As Orwell wrote, “to see what’s under one’s nose requires a constant struggle,” which is both a justification for and condemnation of our editorial voice. Without a restless internal watchdog, the Christian community can become remarkably smug self-absorbed; without reminders from readers like you, so can we.

We would, however, question your interpretation—in which you’re not alone—of the swearing editorial and our perspective in general as being primarily concerned with “hipness.” If we wanted to be hip in our social and professional circles, we would have forgotten about religious faith long ago. We are not impressed with “Christian hipsters,” a loose group of people who seem to think a glass of wine and few f-bombs makes them more “authentic” than those "regular" prudish Christians. We make certain arguments about language, liberty, and intellectual honesty because those issues matter in real life, not because we are concerned about someone thinking us "hip."

 

Your most recent editorial (“Losing their Salt”)—which I hoped would, eventually, get to "the point" mentioned in the deck—seemed nothing more than a nose snub at those petty evangelicals who have failed to engage the very grown-up world, the one that requires an "almost masochistic devotion to honestly sorting through the horrors of our time." As if one of the horrors of our time isn't language used as violence, in the form of half-truths, slander, deception, imprecisions, and yes, vulgarity. The editorial never articulated a defense of harsh language, because it actually fails to take language seriously. It seems to suggest that, in the face of so many serious existential problems, young Christians don't and shouldn't care about what comes out of their mouths. Their ascendance to "a whole new level of intellectual openness" has freed them from the shackles of juvenile fixations like, you know, human communication. I find this line of reasoning descriptively and theologically false.

I'm all for urging the church to have conversations that take both the English language and the intelligence of listeners seriously. I found that this editorial did neither, and used a chance for what could have been a robust defense of harsh language as an opportunity to excoriate evangelicals for, well, being evangelicals.

—Katelyn Beaty

Editor’s response: We are very sorry you concluded from our editorial that we don’t take language seriously. But we think there is evidence both within the text of that piece and in the greater body of work that Patrol publishes to refute that claim.

Clearly we understand the power of language and the ways it can be used, both for good and, as you aptly suggest, for violence. We address that when we say, "In an adult world of strong ideas and strong language, puerile fixations on ‘bad words’ and partisan allegiances are no longer even part of their consciousness." And we continue in the next paragraph, "When they do address language, they typically make use of far more weighty arguments …" This is an indication that not only do we understand that language is intricately tied to strong ideas but that young Christians must address the issue of language as such.

The other point—that our intention is merely to "excoriate evangelicals for being evangelicals," though we can see how Patrol's "edgy" tone could lead you to make that assumption—misses the point of what we are actually doing: calling young evangelicals, or people who grew up evangelical but no longer identify as such, to task by reminding them of their responsibility to strive for a deeper understanding of their place in the world.

 
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